On Tuesday, August 11, Women for Women International Founder and CEO Zainab Salbi sat down to speak with Jim Lehrer of PBS: The News Hour about the realities facing women living in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She spoke about the daily struggles faced by Congolese women, saying that "In Congo, we have hundreds of thousands of women who are taken as sexual slaves, where they are raped as frequently as possible by rebel and soldiers and where they are forced to clean and cook and carry their ammunition and food for free, or as a slave."
To read more about Salbi's analysis of Congo and to read how she envisions the way forward, please enjoy the following link:
Honoring Honorata – A Journey from Rape Survivor to Advocate
Honorata Kizende’s past is marked by incredible hardship, horrific violence, social isolation, and near death destruction. And yet, it is also an account of survival, strength, and testimony to human strength.
At the 2008 Women for Women International awards gala in New York almost 800 guests celebrated Honorata, a Congolese rape survivor and graduate of the organization’s program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She received this year’s Woman of the World Award for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war.
“All of us are humbled while we stand in front of you. You have taught us all and you have taught me about courage and resilience. And if Honorata can stand up after going through what she has gone through, who are we not to?” said Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, after handing the award to Honorata.
Honorata had been a sex slave and kept in captivity by armed militias in eastern Congo for almost a year. She was repeatedly gang-raped in public. After she escaped, the stigma of rape made her family reject her. Alone and destitute she found refuge in a friend’s house and was raped again when armed men looted the property. This time her daughter had to watch.
Today Honorata Kizende runs a small tie-die business with a group of women who pooled their resources. And she has decided to break the silence. Honorata is advocating for an end to sexual violence and calls on members of her community to restore the rights of women who have gone through rape and stigmatization.
Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein presented Honorata with a scholarship for a six week entrepreneurship course at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
"We know that when you invest in women, we transform not only the person, but also families, communities and, ultimately, countries. It is that multiplier effect that we believe is fundamental to long term, sustained economic growth," Blankfein told the audience before handing the scholarship to Honorata Kizende.
The gift is part of the investment bank’s 10,000 Women initiative (www.10000women.org) that was created to enhance core business knowledge and provide the women in poor and emerging markets with the tools they need to grow their businesses and positively change their local communities. Women for Women International awarded the Citizen of the World award to the investment bank for this program.
Dressed in a traditional outfit made from fabric from her own business, Honorata thanked the audience, her sponsor, and Goldman Sachs for their support.
“I am very happy that Women for Women International has connected me with Goldman Sachs’ initiative that cares so much about the improvement of the lives of women,” says Honorata. “After the training I am planning to improve my business and organize my life in a better way. Hopefully, I will be able to identify new opportunities and can use my knowledge to train other women in the Women for Women International program.”
Honorata’s personal highlight of the evening was the surprise reunion with a woman she had once looked after when she was a teacher at a girl’s school. Faida Mitifu, recalled how Honorata Kizende helped her to adjust to boarding school and became a pillar of support before their ways parted more than three decades ago.
It is a tale of two women, whose lives could not have turned out to be more different. Faida Mitifu went to the US to study and get a PHD. Today she is the Congolese ambassador to the United States. Honorata stayed in eastern Congo and became a victim of war, violence, and rape.
“Honorata has been a victim of the tragedy that has been unfolding in the DRC for more than 10 years. And yet Honorata today can see the future. It is a great pleasure to see my big sister, my mentor, whom I have not seen for more than 30 years,” Faida Mitifu said before the two women embraced each other.
“She Touched My Heart” – A Sponsor Meets Her Sister, Honorata
“When I am walking the roads in my country and I am all by myself, I know there is a woman out there, who cares for me,” says Honorata Kizende, a Congolese survivor of horrific sexual slavery and violence. She was talking about her American sponsor, Mariama Hadiah, a women she had never met and only knew from exchanging heartening letters across continents.
Congo Panel Representatives“I don’t have a lot, but I want to help,” Mariama Hadiah and her sister Honorata Kizende (left). They met at the 2008 Women for Women International gala in New York.
Mariama is Honorata’s sponsor and has paid for her Women for Women training that enabled her to become an advocate against violence and a business woman. The proceeds from Honorata’s small tie-die shop that she runs with a group of rape survivors and program graduates has put all of her children through school.
Their first meeting took place at the 2008 Women for Women International New York gala, where Honorata received the ‘Woman of the World Award’ for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war. Their encounter was emotional for both. Honorata embraced Mariama, calling her ‘my sister’ and during her acceptance speech told almost 800 people in the audience that she owes her livelihood to her.
“It was humbling. She touched my heart. And I felt very fortunate when she gave this beautiful speech,” remembers Mariama. “Honorata gave me a lot of hope. I thought if she can go through so much, I certainly can hang in there as well.”
Mariama, a former middle school teacher from California, has health problems and currently lives of a small disability allowance. A devout Buddhist the 59year old has committed herself to working toward world peace. Sponsoring Honorata through Women for Women International is a means to this end. “If we help mothers, we help children, and, ultimately, we can rebuild whole societies,” says Mariama. “I don’t have a lot, but I want to help.”
Despite her own situation, Mariama worries about the larger impacts of the current financial crisis. “It is going to be hard for people to see the purpose of giving. But I believe that we are not going to be happy if we have millions of people in the world who continue to suffer.”
Honorata has dedicated her life to breaking the silence. She speaks on behalf of tens of thousands who have been raped in her home country and is asking everybody she encounters to use their political and financial influence to help bringing an end to the violence in her country. For Mariama Honorata’s story is uplifting and a proof of the power of human strength.
“She is a teacher. She is showing us all how strong each of us can be.”
Women for Women International Holds Policy Briefing on Women in Conflict-Affected Areas
Karak Mayik, Country Director in Sudan explained how agriculture has become an income opportunity for women in South Sudan. Next to her Christine Karumba, DR Congo Country Director, and Tony Gambino, Africa scholar.
January 27, 2009 - Washington, DC – Speaking on helping women in the midst of an ongoing conflict, Christine Karumba, Women for Women International Country Director in DR Congo, says, “Rape has been used by everybody in our country and devastated the whole community. ‘Peace,’ ‘negotiations,’ and ‘reconstruction’ are words that are disappearing from our vocabulary.” Despite the ongoing violence Women for Women currently supports 7,800 women in the country through direct assistance, training, and livelihoods opportunities. During the recent violence, many women were not able to reach Women for Women facilities, and are still reported missing from the program.
Women for Women country directors from six countries shared their experiences of overcoming conflict, destruction, and poverty in some of the most challenging environments around the world.
At a policy briefing hosted by Dominick Chilcott, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy and moderated by Tony Gambino, a prominent Africa scholar, the country directors spoke about how to put women at the center of development and encourage active participation in local and national decision-making.
"It's a fact that over half the worlds population are women and if their full potential is not realized.” Dominick Chilcott, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy, in his opening remarks.
Dominick Chilcott said in his opening remarks, "It's a fact that over half the worlds population are women and if their full potential is not realized the Millennium Development Goals to which the British Government is very attached will not be met by 2015."
Sweeta Noori, who runs Women for Women International’s Afghanistan program, highlighted the country’s progress through implementing laws and policies that protect women’s rights. Considerable obstacles remain, including security threats and at times misguided foreign interventions. “I see an island of peace where international forces are providing some security, but in many areas women are still not well off,” Noori says. “Women are still treated as property and families marry their daughters off to pay debts with the dowry.” Despite pervasive poverty among socially-excluded women and their families, many donors and local politicians are failing to include women’s voices both at the political and grassroots level into their decision-making processes.
Women for Women International country directors spoke about overcoming conflict, destruction, and poverty in some of the most challenging environments around the world.
Entrenched patriarchal attitudes and seemingly out-of-touch politicians often inhibit women’s participation in economic opportunities traditionally reserved for men. In South Sudan, an underdeveloped area with chronic food insecurity and a fragile peace agreement, country director Karak Mayik and her team have just launched a large-scale women’s commercial farming project that will fight poverty and hunger by training 3,000 women over the next three years to grow and market commercially viable crops. “We were all used to receiving food from the World Food Program, but now I think we might be able to give some back,” she says, adding that women in her area have started to understand the long-term value of education and skills development over cash handouts.
“We have come a long way. We learned how to dig up money from the ground.”
Women for Women International provides over 50,000 women around the world with direct financial aid, emotional support, life- and vocational- skills training and employment opportunities in sustainable income generation projects. Women are educated about their rights and graduate equipped with new skills that enable them to make a living for themselves and their families. Each of these women is laying the groundwork for a stable community, and each of them has turned from a victim of war to a builder of peace.
Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo are calling for assistance and strong international leadership to prevent further deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in the country's eastern provinces. Panel discussion hosted by Women for Women International in New York Thursday.
"The climate of impunity is problematic and an obstacle to a stable peace in eastern Congo. Although the challenges of reforming and building a functioning law enforcement and justice system are huge, it will be the key of stopping violent attacks - including sexual violence - on civilians"
Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo are calling for assistance and strong international leadership to prevent further deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in the country's eastern provinces.
Congo Panel, Women for Women International Oct 2008
Tony Gambino, an expert on development issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said in New York at a panel discussion hosted by Women for Women International that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council need to take a 'No More Victims' approach towards the humanitarian crisis in Congo. "Because it is clear that the Congolese authorities are incapable of protecting the population, we need to get engaged. The universally accepted principle of 'the responsibility to protect' applies to Congo and we must follow through on it," Gambino said.
Gambino is the author of 'Congo: Securing Peace, Sustaining Progress', a special report published this week by the Council on Foreign Relations in which he argues that the U.S. should focus on ending rampant violence and insecurity in eastern Congo and promoting broad-based environmentally sound sustainable development. "The current UN mission in eastern Congo needs the necessary personnel and mandate to fulfill its central role in stopping rampant violence and helping to build capable security forces," Gambino said on Thursday. "Without this civilians won't find protection and peace."
Tens of thousands of civilians are currently fleeing a rebel advance on the provincial capital of Goma, bringing the number of recently displaced people to over 150,000. Neither the 17,000-person strong UN peacekeeping force nor the Congolese forces have been able to prevent a breakdown of the ceasefire that has brought the province close to full-scale war. The displaced are leaving behind most of their belongings and are staying in makeshift camps without access to water, food, and basic health care.
Also addressing the panel, Women for Women International Country Director Christine Karumba said that fear among women in eastern Congo is rising. Many have endured and witnessed gross sexual violence and are afraid that mass rape will further increase if the country returns to war. "The women we are working with don't want to lose what they have achieved," Karumba said. "It is very precious to them." She warned that the area would be hit by a serious food shortage if people are unable to harvest their crops due to displacement. Any loss of income would worsen the situation of the desperately poor civilian population in the eastern part of the country, Karumba added.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo rape has been used by almost all parties of the conflict as a weapon of choice and observers have found that it is now also spreading among civilians as a means of intimidation, torture, and exercising power. The lack of protection through local law enforcement and security authorities is increasing fears of sexual violence escalating. The effects of brutal attacks on women are long-lasting and frequently leave them with severe physical and psychological problems that often remain untreated. The stigma of rape makes many survivors and their children destitute after they are rejected by their families and communities.
Mike VanRooyen, Co-Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI)--which is conducting both clinical work for rape victims and research in eastern Congo--said during the panel discussion that focus group discussion with survivors have shown the need for economic support to women who are trying to rebuild their lives. The HHI research has also found that although men do not often speak out against the rape epidemic, they are deeply affected by the fact that they are unable to protect women and girls from the attacks.
Panelists agreed that perpetrators need to be brought to justice. "The climate of impunity is problematic and an obstacle to a stable peace in eastern Congo. Although the challenges of reforming and building a functioning law enforcement and justice system are huge, it will be the key of stopping violent attacks - including sexual violence - on civilians," VanRooyen added.
Since 2003, Women for Women International has served more than 18,991 Congolese women and another 102,551 family and community members in this region. Through a holistic program that includes rights awareness and life skills training, income generation assistance, and vocational and skills development, women are able to create stability and self-sufficiency amidst an otherwise chaotic and volatile environment. In 2007 alone, the program reached 9,489 women in the communities of Bukavu, Goma, Fizi and Baraka in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo. Women for Women International also conducts Men's Leadership Training programs that aim at educating religious, traditional, and civic leaders about the consequences of sexual violence on women and whole communities, with the aim of turning men into advocates of women's rights.
Women for Women International's project Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild, makes it to the top 5 in the American Express Members Project. To nominate this project for potential funding, please go to Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild. Please click the link on our project and click Nominate — and ultimately vote so we may share in the $2.5 million in funding from American Express. If you do not have an American Express website login, just click “Guest Member” provide a little information and you can then Nominate and vote.
Thanks for your Support!
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.
Thanks to 88 donors like you, a total of $8,251 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving.
Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
Still want to help?
Support another project run by Women for Women International that needs your help, such as:
Online Marketing Coordinator