The teenagers of Bunyakiri High School in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have lived their entire lives in a region at the center of one of Africa's most brutal and violent conflicts. Women and girls there also carry enormous burdens in tending farms, carrying water and firewood, and caring for families. In this environment of gender inequality, women and girls are at high risk of multiple forms of gender-based violence (GBV), including rape, domestic violence, and forced marriage.
Through a unique collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, International Medical Corps is educating and sensitizing young people about women's rights, sexual health and the consequences of GBV. It is especially important to reach young people who are still developing their ideas about gender and relationships, which tend to be more ingrained in adults. One of the ways in which we engage young people to promote peace and change attitudes and behaviors about violence is through soccer.
By bringing together groups of girls from different villages across South Kivu province to play soccer, International Medical Corps' GBV experts can reach a wide audience to educate young people about their rights under the law, such as their protection from forced marriage under the age of 18, as well as information about where survivors of sexual violence can find help our health centers. The games also build connections between communities that have been kept isolated in recent years because of violence and insecurity. As a result, young people are reached directly and also made champions within their families and communities for a more promising and peaceful future.
One female 10th grade Bunyakiri High School student told us, “Because of the [girls' soccer] matches we play, I have met many new friends from areas outside my village. I say to my family that I am the example of gender equality because I go to play matches all over Bunyakiri."
International Medical Corps has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1999, providing more than one million people with health care, health sector training, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and treatment, nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation services. Our complementary USAID-funded Care, Access, Safety & Empowerment and Behavior Change Communications projects in DRC take a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of GBV survivors, while also preventing future cases by changing community attitudes around gender and violence.