Empower a Girl in the Congo

by International Medical Corps
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

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.

Behavior change communication is a major focus of International Medical Corps’ work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Deep-rooted community change is still required to prevent, address and overcome gender-based violence and International Medical Corps is making progress towards initiating that change. The following is just one example of these efforts.

“My name is Claude , I am internally displaced and living in Mugunga camp since November 2012. I’ve been married to my wife for 17 years and we have four children. I used to beat my wife for any reason, like when she refused to have sex with me or cooked dinner too late. I thought it was the main way to enforce my power as head of the family. I did not care about how my wife feels and never took her view into consideration. I did not know that I was a perpetrator of sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) until I joined a Men’s Discussion Group initiated by the Behavior Change Communication project in April 2014 in our camp. I realized that I was perpetrating SGBV gradually. I participated in discussions. During the whole process of 16 weeks, I learned the meaning of violence against women, who is a real man, the consequence of violence on me, my family and the community. I also learned how the positive behavior of a man benefits himself, his wife, his children and the whole community. This knowledge motivated me to change my behavior toward my wife and my children, and I started promoting dialogue in my home and seeing its benefits. I understood how my wife was suffering deeply because of my behavior. After 16 weeks I decided to maintain my new behavior, given the harmony in our household, the happiness of my wife and my children. I keep managing my anger and using dialogue as a way of avoiding any kind of violence against my family. I also keep a positive attitude toward the women in our camp. This really helps me because my wife is now running her own business and makes her own decisions with her money. My children are allowed to remain in school since I am now willing to pay their school fees. In March 2015, we were asked to elect a Chairman for Mugunga camp community. I was surprised to be encouraged by my neighborhood and many people in the camp to stand as a candidate. I accepted and was elected as Chairman. This became possible because of my new attitude towards my family, and the entire community has noticed. My wife is sometimes asked by her friends to share the secret that contributed to my behavior change. I really thank International Medical Corps for this approach that brought peace in my household and helped me to become who I am today. I now understand the benefit of behavior change.”

With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to institute such initiatives and will be able to continue to implement programs that help people like Claude and his family. Not only does this work positively impact individuals and their families but it also leads to lasting change for entire communities.

Behavior change communication is a major focus of International Medical Corps’ work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Deep rooted community change is still required  to prevent, address and overcome gender-based violence and International Medical Corps is making progress towards initiating that change. The following is just one example of our efforts.

“My name is Justin. I have been the principal at the Bitobolo Institute since 2006. Institute of Bitobolo is a religious affiliated school. According to the policies, it is strictly forbidden to accept a girl who is pregnant or has a child. This has been the practice since its inception in 1991. I have witnessed change ever since International Medical Corps established a school club and started sensitizing teachers and students on Gender Based Violence (GBV). During the school year 2013-2014, the project helped the school management to revise the code of conduct for teachers to strengthen prevention and protection of students against sexual violence. As the first line authority of the establishment, I strived to popularize this new code of conduct among teachers to ensure strict compliance.

I was concerned about the issue of teenage mothers and the fact that the school was discriminating against them. For some, the pregnancy was a result of rape or early/forced marriage. This was GBV and we were denying them opportunities just because they were girls. I made the decision to mobilize other colleagues to advocate with the school in Bukavu which is responsible for policy formulation and review to change the policy that was discriminating against teenage mothers. We were lucky that the school in Bukavu had also benefitted from similar activities and had been inaugurated as a gender friendly school. We got verbal approval to start enrolling teenage mothers in the school. We are currently organizing meetings with the student-parent committees to encourage girls to enroll in school. Since then four teenage mothers who had been refused to continue school in 2011 are newly enrolled and are attending classes. The enrollment of girls in the school has increased from 17% of the 150 students and now we have 80 girls (53%) enrolled in the school. I have also seen a reduction in the cases of GBV in the school. During the 2011-2012 school year, we had five cases of sexual assault by teachers and classmates. However, after the establishment of the code of conduct, I have not heard any cases reported.

I am very happy for these improvements and I recommend that International Medical Corps intensifies sensitization and involve more schools in the prevention of GBV for the well-being of our community and in particular for the well-being of the girl child.”

With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors International Medical Corps is able to institute such initiatives and will be able to continue to implement programs that follow through on Justin, and many others’ desire for change in their community.

Vocational training has been a key component of International Medical Corps’ Care, Access, Safety and Empowerment (CASE) program in Eastern Congo. The goal of the program is: “to protect vulnerable populations from physical violence and abuse to assist the Congo in its stabilization and gradual transition from a post conflict country to a developing one.” The program aims to increase access to and quality of medical, psychosocial, social, legal and economic services for survivors of sexual and gender based violence, and build community capacities to reduce vulnerability to future acts of violence and was designed to respond to widespread sexual violence in Eastern Congo which was greatly attributed to civil strife and presence of numerous armed groups who use rape as a weapon of war. As a critical component of this response, vocational training empowers women and reinforces their place in society. This is a crucial step in giving the women of Eastern Congo their dignity back and to begin empowering future generations of women in the country for years to come.

The following is just one success story from a participant at a vocational training center supported by International Medical Corps.

“My husband could never let me make a decision or even state my opinion regarding the management of the home. This is especially on decisions regarding financial management of the household. Since he is the only one who earned money, he could do whatever he wanted with it. He decided when me and the children could and could not eat and what we ate. Sometimes he would punish me by not buying food. This caused a lot of suffering to the children.

I attended a training of several activities that were organized by International Medical Corps at the community center. The people in charge of the community centers talked about vocation training but I never had any interest. I had a belief that women should only concentrate on making baskets and knitting children’s cloths. Skills such as tailoring, masonry and carpentry seemed out of reach for me.  I continued to participate in the “women’s” activities but I was not happy. I was referred to the Rambo vocational center which had started operating with assistance from International Medical Corps after it was looted by armed groups almost 3 years ago.  I saw other women enrolled in tailoring who were making very beautiful dresses. I took a keen interest and started to learn. After eight months, I graduated and started making dresses for my neighbors. It took 12 months for me to save enough money to buy a machine with which I was able to start a tailoring shop at my house. I now have a small business and with the dress making, I earn at least 4500 Congolese Francs ($5) each day.  I apply the business principles I learned during the business skills and entrepreneurship training I got from International Medical Corps of innovation and ensuring customer satisfaction by delivering what the customer wants on time. This has helped me build confidence with my clients in the community.

I am now able to make sure my children have food to eat, clothes to wear and that they can access health care when they are sick.  I am happy that the vocational center is functional again and that it will continue to help other women who are in a similar situation as I was in.”

With the generous support of Global Giving and other donors International Medical Corps is able to empower women in the Congo, restoring their dignity and place in their communities.

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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.internationalmedicalcorps.org
Project Leader:
Los Angeles, CA United States