Teach 4200 women in the Congo (DRC) basic literacy

by Women for Women International

Basically literacy training is only a small part of WfWI's year long holistic training program for participants in DR Congo. Read below for exerpts from our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations report on the successes of program participants and the challenges they continue to face.

For the women of eastern DR Congo, a conflict more deadly than any since World War II has brought years of displacement, impoverishment and a cruel campaign of sexual violence as a tool of war that continues unabated today. The conflict has:

  • Contributed to the deaths of more than 5 million people
  • Left 2 million more displaced and
  • Resulted in more than 1,000 women and girls raped each month in some areas.

In policy discussions and news headlines, we rarely hear of the stories of these women–the real heroes in the daily struggle to keep families safe and children fed. Instead, we often hear discussions about the frontlines of war, about military strategies and troop numbers, without acknowledging that real life still goes on during war.

The Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo Report

The stories of WfWI - DR Congo participants underline the importance of women’s full inclusion in securing peace and development. Their recommendations call on their government and the international community to take leadership in ending nearly two decades of conflict that has decimated women’s bodies and entire communities, so that the work building a more peaceful and prosperous country can begin.

Their tales of survival and perseverance are a searing case study in the importance of the three P’s, the core tenets of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security:

  • Prevention of conflict
  • Protection of women and girls
  • Participation by women in peace processes

View Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: DR Congo report highlights below, or read the full report to take a deeper look into Africa’s deadliest conflict through the eyes of the Congolese women.

Violence and Insecurity

Since 2004, Women for Women International-DR Congo has helped more than 58,000 Congolese women survivors of war and conflict.

The women we spoke with point to rampant violence and insecurity as major impediments to their physical and mental health, and to the survival of themselves and their families. Nearly half fear working outside their homes and believe insecurity is the worst economic problem facing their communities.

When asked what needs to be done to improve the situation, women say they need:

  • Increased security so that they can leave their homes to work and so that their children can attend school and enjoy community life.
  • Leaders to tackle the culture of impunity where perpetrators of sexual violence roam free in the country.
  • Urgent measures to protect them from the violence perpetrated by the many dangerous and shifting eastern DR Congo militarized groups.

Livelihoods and Education

Due to husbands’ deaths, displacement or rejection of victims of sexual violence, Congolese women are increasingly called upon to serve as primary breadwinners and heads of households. Yet, they are trapped in a double bind in which they cannot leave their homes to trade in markets and farm in fields for fear of attacks.

In the context of the horrific violence in eastern DR Congo, the importance of investing in women’s livelihoods programs is often overlooked. Yet, data from the survey demonstrated the importance of livelihood in improving women’s lives. Women who earn even a small income see dividends in their physical and mental health, nutrition and wellbeing of their families:

  • Of the women who earn $1 a day, less than 30% eat two meals a day. This number increases to more than 50% among those who earn more.
  • Women who earn more are also more likely to save for their future, promoting stability and improving the quality of life for women and their families.
  • Women also point to livelihoods as helpful in preventing violence: “Husbands rarely find reasons for beating their wives when they return home to some warm food and a clean house, a task that becomes easy when wives are earning,” one focus group participant shared.
  • Women emphasized the need for targeted economic development programs that help women, such as job-skills training with micro loans to support their economic, physical and mental well-being.

Health and Well Being

Exposure to prolonged violence and poverty has resulted in one of the worst health indicators in the world. Women still die from childbirth and easily-preventable, pregnancy-related complications like obstetric fistula. The region is also home to a less-recognized yet urgent mental-health epidemic: for instance, of the women surveyed who make less than $1 per day, 70% think of hurting themselves.

Women demand concrete, practical recommendations for improving the severely inadequate health services sector. They want free, affordable and accessible healthcare. For the future, they want an increased focus on building capacity through more technical training facilities.

Participation and Decision-Making

Women in our programs report more rights awareness and higher rates of happiness, family decision-making, physical and emotional health and living conditions compared to women who have not participated in our programs. They also earn 40% more money, suggesting the power of group participation and skills-building opportunities for women.

When asked about what’s important, women highlight the role of rights awareness in women’s empowerment. Without adequate knowledge and resources, women cannot demand for their rights and for greater government accountability.

Meet the Washindi/Camp Bien Aime Women's Group, a class of 20 women participating in WfWI's training program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the course of the year-long training program with WfWI, the women will receive training in basic numeracy and literacy skills, health education, rights awareness, business skill training and specific vocational skills.

Washindi is a women group from Camp Bien Aime district, a poor district where most inhabitants are load carriers, most children do not go to school, and people have one poor meal a day at night.  Washindi is a Swahili name which means the Winners.   They justified the choice of this name saying that their enrollment in the Women for Women International sponsorship program will enable them to overcome their hardships and become winners in all the challenges. 

These women group declare that all the topics were important but they were mostly moved by the business, rights and anatomy related topics. Here are brief bio's on two of the participants.

Bibich Kahiriri is a married mother of 9 children of whom 6 go to school.  She sells fish with a capital which has increased from $30 to $50 thanks to her participation to the Women for Women sponsorship program.  She lives in her family in-law.  The profit she makes from her small business enables her to feed her children and to meet her other needs. 

Judith Mulumenkana is a married mother of 5 children of whom only two go to school because the other 3 are not school aged.  She lives on selling small fresh fish  with a capital that goes from $20 before joining the Women for Women sponsorship program to $45 after receiving business related topics and the monthly sponsorship funds.  As her husband is unemployed, she is the one to take care of her family by feeding, clothing, schooling children, paying medical fees and other basic needs of the family.   

Kasheke Group
Kasheke Group

Meet the Tuhimizane/Kasheke Women's Group, a class of 20 women participating in WfWI's training program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the course of the year-long training program with WfWI, the women will receive training in basic numeracy and literacy skills, health education, rights awareness, business skill training and specific vocational skills.

Tuhimizane women group live at Kasheke district in the surrounding of Bukavu town.  This group was selected from a vulnerable district after a community assessment conducted by the sponsorship team.  People from this district have no source of income; they are unemployed and live on carrying loads either in the market or at the beach.  Only a small number of women do small trade with a very little capital. 

This group is composed of 20 women who wanted to create a women’s network in order to develop friendship.  Tuhimizane is a Swahili name which means let’s awake awareness of each other.  These women justified the choice of this name saying that alone, one easily forgets or her duties but if there is somebody to awake the conscious, one takes courage and may evolves in whatever she undertakes. 

Despite the hard situation within their households, the women are moving forward.  Read on for stories of a few of the group's participants.

Byamungu, Aimerance,a married mother of a 4 years boy sells fresh milk with a capital of $10. Before joining the program, she used to do business without any calculation.  After receiving the business related topics, she now has the notions of profit and loss.  Thanks to these notions, her capital increased to $30.  Now she easily pays her monthly rent, feeds her family and meets her other family needs.

Gisele M’kazige is married to a husband who left her since 3 years now and he went to live at Burega, a village located at 300 kms drive from her location.  Gisele sells sorghum flour with a capital which increased from $10 to $20 after she got enrolled to the sponsorship program and received the business related topics.   Gisele declares that despite the absence of her husband, she tries to meet her family needs of which food, the $8 of monthly rent and other basic needs. 

Chantal Nawezsa M’buhendwa is a married mother of 5 children of whom 3 go to school. Her husband sells small items at Walikale in a different province in North Kivu.  She used to borrow money in order to sell palm nuts with a capital of $10 and could only take the profit and give back the capital.  Thanks to her monthly sponsorship funds, she has her own capital of $30.  She is now working for herself and takes care of her family peacefully.

Josephine in front of the WfWI offices
Josephine in front of the WfWI offices

Meet WfWI - DRC graduate Josephine. Learn how she has transformed her life, and the life of hundreds of women in her community, after participating in WfWI's year-long holistic training program, which includes learning basic numeracy and literacy skills, health education, rights awareness training, business skill training and vocational skills training in a specific vocational track. 

When Josephine, the family breadwinner and mother of 8 girls, joined the Women for Women International program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she was desperate to earn an income to feed her children. During the 12-month program, she learned about commercial farming and agriculture. When she graduated in July 2011, she began cultivating two plots of beans.

Using her newly acquired business skills, Josephine taught 200 women from her village how to cultivate beans. These 200 women organized themselves into groups of 25. They formed a coordinating body and elected Josephine as the president. They've engaged two teachers from the group as volunteers to teach basic literacy. This group uses their income to re-invest in their agricultural businesses, send their children to school and feed their families.

Josephine's dream is to have a small home and to continue to pass on her business savvy to women in the surrounding communities. Twice a week, she makes the long trek to the Women for Women International commercial farm to tend her plots. She walks, eight kilometers each way, to help make her dream a reality.

Meet WfWI - DRC graduate Nabintu. Learn how she has transformed her life after participating in WfWI's year-long holistic training program, which includes basic numeracy and literacy skills, health education, rights awareness training, business skill training and vocational skills training in a specific vocational track. 

Nabintu's life was completely changed by the war and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Married to a husband she loved and raising their three children, Nabintu was happy with her life, despite the conflict going on in their country. One night, while her husband was away, a group of men who were part of the Interahamwe broke into her house, and two of the men raped Nabintu. They kidnapped her and five other women from her village, leaving her children behind alone. For days, the women were forced to walk, not knowing where they were headed. One woman who complained that she was tired was shot and killed by the men.

After arriving in a strange village, Nabintu was traded away to another man for 12 charges of bullets and a box of beer. For three months, the man held Nabintu as a prisoner and used her for sex anytime he wanted. Upon hearing that other people in his village wanted to kill Nabintu, however, he helped her escape to Bukavu. Once free, Nabintu tried to return to her husband, but he said he could no longer live with her because she was considered the wife of the Interahamwe and was carrying her captor's child.

Nabintu went to live with her mother and her three other children, but food was scarce, and Nabintu was forced to carry heavy loads while pregnant, earning less than a dollar a day. A few years after the birth of her fourth child, Nabintu heard about an organization that helps socially-excluded women like herself, and decided to join Women for Women International's year-long program. Learning vocational and business skills allowed her to start her own small business making popular local drinks; with the help of her sponsor, she saved $15 each month to reinvest in her business. Most importantly, Nabintu learned to value herself and to consider herself a person equal to others.

The encouragement she received from Women for Women International's staff and the women in her group helped her overcome her past abuse and look toward her future.


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Organization Information

Women for Women International

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.womenforwomen.org
Project Leader:
Lyndsay Booth
Online Marketing Coordinator
Washington, DC United States

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Thanks to 87 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.

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