Empower a Girl in the Congo

by International Medical Corps
Empower a Girl in the Congo
Thousands of people sought services
Thousands of people sought services

In recent years, reports of the use of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo by both armed and civilian entities were widespread. Particularly in the eastern part of the country, sexual violence is acknowledged as destabilizing communities and eroding the social structures that protect communities and individuals. In response, International Medical Corps implemented a prevention and protection program against sexual- and gender-based violence using behavior change communication in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This program, named “Bienvenue au Changement dans la Communaute,” or “Welcome Change in the Community,” funded with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), began in 2010 and has been completed. 

To continue supporting International Medical Corps’ efforts, please visit our “A Healthier Future for South Sudan’s Families” project, where International Medical Corps is responding to the urgently needed support for health services, helping communities rebuild and restore hope.


International Medical Corps’ Final Update on Empower a Girl in the Congo

“My name is M’mukinya, chief of Nandanga village. In my village when there is a case of rape brought to my attention, the man was taxed to pay me a goat and then the lady’s parents are encouraged to receive the dowry and arrange for marriage. I never thought that this practice was wrong until 2013 when the International Medical Corps team started to reach out to our community through their various activities, including raising awareness on sexual- and gender-based violence. It was then that I realized I was doing wrong against families and my entire community.”

Since 2010, International Medical Corps has been working to reduce the level of sexual violence in communities in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, increasing both prevention and protection for individuals. To meet this goal, our teams focused on increasing community action to prevent sexual violence at all social levels and building new and positive behavior to ensure change is reinforced and sustained.

M’mukinya continues, “Through this program, they [International Medical Corps] organized many workshops, community dialogues and debates with community leaders that I personally attended. These activities helped me to understand that I was promoting sexual- and gender-based violence in my community. I decided to encourage my community to report any case of rape to the police because I do not have the ability to handle this problem. There is a law against sexual- and gender-based violence in our country and any perpetrator must be punished according to the law.  I now commit myself to play the required role as a community leader who is protecting his community, and especially women and girls.”

We reached approximately 10.3 million people, like M’mukinya, with sexual- and gender-based violence behavior change communication interventions in their communities through approaches like workshops, dialogues and debates. Our activities spanned across Bunyakiri, Kalonge and Bukavu in South Kivu as well as in Chambucha, Walikale and Goma in North Kivu. Across each area, we identified different levels for behavior change communication including the individual, community and society with its various institutions, such as government structures to create and adopt positive change. For example, with individuals, our teams worked to identify prevention strategies to promote attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that ultimately prevent violence, such as life skills training. While the project reached millions, the need to address sexual- and gender-based violence remains.

We thank the GlobalGiving community for you continued support as we work to address some of the most pressing issues across the world. 

"I thank you for changing my life."
"I thank you for changing my life."
Behavior change in the community is key
Behavior change in the community is key
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Nathalie sharing her story to her peers
Nathalie sharing her story to her peers

“My name is Nathalie. I am 15 years old and in the third year of secondary school. In February, my parents told me they did not have the money to pay for my school fees as well as my brother’s school fees. I would have to stop attending school. I realized that I was going to be a victim of discrimination and that my right to an education would be violated. I told my parents that they must make the effort to pay my brother’s school fees as well as mine, as their decision to remove me from school is a form of sexual- and gender-based violence. I am now able to continue my studies because I had the courage to stand up for my education.”

Nathalie is part of a school club, created by International Medical Corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its members lead communication activities with their peers on topics related to the sexual- and gender-based violence that can be experienced in school settings and within families and communities. Students participate in educational events like theater, individual sensitization on topics related to sexual- and gender-based violence, and debates. As we emphasize sustainable interventions, we provide gender-based violence sensitization activities for new school club members.

Since 2010, with support from USAID, our teams have been focusing on increasing community knowledge, awareness and capacity to prevent sexual- and gender-based violence at all levels, including individual, community and societal. The aim of this Behavior Change Communication program is to increase survivors’ access to services, improve quality of services, reduce vulnerability and prevent violence. Men, women, youth, community leaders, and government officials reached by the project are involved in activities that promote gradual positive change.

Mrs. Maombi, a teacher and leader of a school club, is the only women among twenty-five teachers at her school. She encourages students to report any sexual violence they encounter and sensitizes them for what to watch for. Partly because of her promotion of a safe and gender friendly school environment, the committee in charge of Mrs. Maombi’s school recently nominated her to be the headmistress of the largest institute in Walikale territory. Mrs. Maombi says she is extremely grateful for the collaboration with International Medical Corps’ Behavior Change Communication project.

Nathalie adds that, “I am proud to be a member of the school club that gave me such confidence. Any opportunity I have, I encourage my peers to never give up in similar situations and have the courage to face their parents.”

We thank you for your continued support as reach students like Nathalie and teachers like Mrs. Maombi to promote behavior change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Individual peer sensitization
Individual peer sensitization
Theater activities for International Women's Day
Theater activities for International Women's Day
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Police prevention committee in the DRC
Police prevention committee in the DRC

“In our family and according to tradition, women are created to meet any need a man may have.” Theophilus, chief of Ufamandu locality in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recalled of his previous beliefs. “Three years ago, I was invited to participate in International Medical Corps’ community awareness sessions on protection and the prevention of sexual violence and gender-based violence. As a traditional chief and very proud, I rejected the invitation, replying that sexual violence does not exist. A year later, after repeated invitations, I said I would go and listen. After two sessions, I was in a deep state of reflection. I saw that I was a prisoner of custom.”

Although the decade-long civil war in the DRC, which affected up to six million lives, officially ended years ago, the eastern region of the country remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis zones. As fighting persists, people find themselves needing to move to safer and calmer areas. As those displaced lose their property, means of livelihood, and social support, acts of sexual violence against women and children continue, which can result in forced and unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and/or emotional trauma.

Since the height of the conflict, International Medical Corps has been committed to supporting the Congolese Government and other partners in the fight against sexual- and gender-based violence in volatile areas in eastern DRC. Our behavior change communication project reaches men, women, and youth. International Medical Corps also encourages religious and local leaders to play a role in preventing sexual and gender-based violence within their communities. To date, we have reached 2,609 leaders with training to create and adopt new attitudes and perceptions about sexual- and gender-based violence. As a result of this work, there has been more concrete movements, like undertaking advocacy action at the provincial level to protect women and girls, which can continue for years after the end of this project.

Our teams do not stop there. We are also working with police officers and law enforcement officials, training 4,146 officers and officials on how to prevent sexual violence. We are helping to establish police prevention committees to continue the critical sessions on sexual- and gender-based violence with their peers. The police prevention committees discuss the impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence, early marriage, consequences of out of court settlement, consequences of harassment in the professional environment, and different forms of sexual violence.

Theophilus has taken the key learned messages back to his family. He says, “I explained to my family that no work will only be completed by my wife and the girls within our family. We must help each other. Girls and women are not our slaves, but human beings. At first, my brothers were very hostile because they felt that their power was threatened, unlike my wife and my sisters who jumped for joy.” Today, his brothers also perform household tasks. “I sincerely thank International Medical Corps for this humanitarian action. I especially thank the community facilitator, who managed to remove me from this prison of customs.”

With the generous support from you, GlobalGiving, and other donors, International Medical Corps is making lasting behavior change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, empowering both men and women to stop sexual- and gender-based violence and save lives.

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Behavior Change Communication
Behavior Change Communication

With generous support from GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is using behavior change communication (BCC) to prevent, and protect against sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. BCC is an interactive approach which utilizes communication strategically to develop and maintain positive attitudes, practices and norms. In DRC, we have identified messaging that is effective in improving behaviors related to sexual violence in the eastern region of the country. To date, we have reached more than 226,000 men and women using tools such as debates, mobile screen plays, and one-on-one sensitization, to create new attitudes and perceptions around sexual and gender-based violence.

We deliver our programs in close partnership with religious and community leaders, and with government structures such as schools and police services, to combat sexual violence. Espérance’s experience below illustrates the reach and impact of our program.

“Before International Medical Corps’ 16-week peer-to-peer discussion session engaging men to prevent violence against women, my husband did not have any consideration for me. He would beat me if I refused to have sex with him and return from work very late at night, reeking of alcohol. He is a teacher, but I never knew his salary. When I did ask what his salary was, my husband responded claiming I did not have a right to know and my role was cooking food for our two children. Without a space to speak openly about my concerns, I struggled for four years and suffered in silence.

One day the chief of our village spoke to my husband about International Medical Corps’ activities. My husband attended a meeting, and then surprisingly invited me to come along for the second. During this meeting, the facilitator explained the need to engage men in conversation to prevent violence against women. My husband registered for the 16-week discussion session. Within two weeks, my husband began coming home earlier – at first, I thought he was sick. A few weeks later, my husband was bathing our children – I thought he was going to look for a new wife. Then, my husband explained that he is learning positive behaviors in the discussion sessions and trying to change. I was still not convinced.

International Medical Corps’ discussion facilitator explained what my husband was learning and my husband began sharing the subjects discussed each week. Three months after the program began, my husband asked for forgiveness for his bad behavior, promising to be a better husband and father. Then, he showed me his payroll. I was so surprised, I cried. Since that day, our family lives in peace. I am even providing a source of income to my family by selling shoes. I thank International Medical Corps for this miracle in my life and in my household. I recommend this approach be spread everywhere to help other women to regain joy like I did.”

With continued support from GlobalGiving and other generous donors, International Medical Corps is creating lasting change and having a long-term impact, particularly for women in the community, by harnessing positive dialogue and action around women’s rights in the family and society. Many women in the Congo are now participating in decision making; community members are gathering to prevent sexual and gender-based violence; children are reporting sexual harassment and abuse; policemen are refusing bribes; and local radios are broadcasting topics related to such violence.

Preventing sexual and gender-based violence
Preventing sexual and gender-based violence
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Deep-rooted change within individuals and communities is needed to address the needs of women and their families and International Medical Corps is initiating that change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The following story told by a husband and father is just one example of our success.

“My name is Rashidi. I was in charge of collecting taxes in the mining zones in Walikale. We used to make a lot of money which was often used up in buying alcohol and engaging in promiscuous behavior. I did not have the concept of saving. I lived for the day because I knew that I would get more money the next day. I never cared about my wife or my children.

“When the job at the mines ended, I was left with nothing. I heard people talk about men’s discussion groups and decided to join because I was curious to know what they were about. During the discussions about negative masculinity, I realized that I was my biggest enemy. I decided to stop drinking alcohol and concentrate on improving the status of my family. I started helping my wife on the farm and involving her in making decisions.

“In August 2014, I got a part-time job conducting an assessment for an NGO. I was paid $30 and for the first time in my life, I shared the money with my wife. She asked for $20 to start a business of selling fish and I gave her the money. Her business has grown and from the profits, we decided to buy two goats. I have been able to start my own business as well and together, we plan to buy a piece of land and build a house. In one year, we have been able to acquire property from a start of $20, something that I was unable to do when I illegally earned $3,000 per month from the mines.

“I thank International Medical Corps for having started this program and I would like them to reach more people with this work.”

With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to initiate programs such as these and help people like Rashidi change his life in constructive ways. Not only does this work positively impact individuals and their families but it also leads to lasting change for entire communities.

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International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
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Development Office
Los Angeles, CA United States

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