Despite recent peace agreements, the conflict that ravaged the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades lingers on. North Kivu, in the east of the country, is still a tinderbox, and it is ordinary families who frequently find themselves caught in the crossfire between government troops and rebel factions. Communities in North Kivu live in constant fear of looting, theft, abduction, torture and sexual violence. It is women who are most at risk. It is women who are stepping up to conquer their fear and put protection plans in place.
During three years, with support from the Music Circle, Oxfam worked with vulnerable communities to set up a network of protection committees that helped to make North Kivu a safer place to live. Oxfam also provided access to health care and legal aid for survivors of violence and, through workshops and human rights campaigns, they made sure that the stigma of reporting sexual violence becomes a thing of the past.
Including local traditional authorities in the training of the committees and building relationships with rebel and military authorities —often the abusers— has been a huge step forward for the protection committees. As have the regular training sessions and public campaigns on women’s rights.
What was achieved
Louise has fled fighting several times. She and her family were living in hiding in the bush when her husband and three of her children fell ill and died. Louise and her surviving children now live in Buporo camp, where she is president of Oxfam’s hygiene committee and a member of the Women’s Forum supported by Oxfam’s wider programme in the region.
“We fled four times, all because of the war. Whenever the shooting started, we would flee our homes and come here. We used to sleep with our eyes wide open in case they struck at night. I sometimes sat down with the children and we’d cry together. I would say, ‘I’m sorry, but we must go before the rebels find us again.’ I have lost so many loved ones in the war… we lived in fear every day. There is no way you can lose so many people and not live in fear. When we went to sleep we felt as if we might die like all the others.
“Now I feel like those times are behind me. We are able to protect ourselves now. Our training means we can express ourselves clearly and now people listen to us. If I had not joined the group, I would never have learned so much. When I joined the group it was run by Eduoard, the Oxfam Protection Officer. It’s him who came with these green T-shirts. When we put them on, we felt like, ‘Wow!’ We felt proud. That day, we sang until people thought we were drunk. We felt we were free. Now, if I meet a soldier while I’m wearing my green Oxfam T-shirt, he cannot stop me because he knows I am going to work.”