Ella Mindja Ga Muderhwa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) is a lobbyist and advocacy officer at SOS Information Juridique Multisectorielle.
Congolese women face multiple discriminations resulting from backward customs, traditions, prejudices and in some cases from their own ignorance and that of the members of their community. Perceived as objects, as chattels belonging to their husbands, women are denied access to education, so that they lose out on inheritances, property, etc. This practice is favoured by customs and traditions, but it is also entrenched in the national legislation. The Family Code has led to women’s lack of legal capacity, and was not revised until July 2016.
It is the winds of gender equality which have enabled women in the Congo to take charge of their own lives, and even to bring about changes in their communities. They now have a window of opportunity to assert themselves and to rid themselves of the label of subservient subjects with which they have been branded for generations. The country’s various wars and conflicts have made this process more difficult, as women became victims of rape and sexual violence, sometimes leaving them as widows at a young age and burdened with children.
I work for SOS Multisectoral Legal Information (SOS Information Juridique Multisectorielle – SOS IJM), a not-for-profit association aiming to help improve the level of knowledge about human rights, fundamental freedoms, and their effective implementation. We guide and accompany women towards becoming emancipated and autonomous. We raise awareness of their rights, which many do not know that they have. Even when they are made aware of them, they often refuse to assert them for fear of being excluded from their communities. Next they need to be taught a culture of entrepreneurship, which we instil in them. This is important for their social integration, in particular if they have been victims of rape or sexual violence.
We teach them to read and write for the first time, in a gradual and informal way. These classes help them take care of their own income-generating activities. They also provide knowledge, skills and qualifications so that they can claim their rightful place in their communities. Teaching this gives them self-confidence, permitting them to engage in regular work, stand up to unjust, damaging social constraints which define the scope for action that is open to them. This encourages them to send their children to school, be they girls or boys.
Adult education has a vital role to play because it enables women to catch up on what they never had the opportunity to do and to ensure that they have a future, whilst at the same time fighting against inequalities between men and women. And this is a struggle which will benefit the country’s development.
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