Tag Archives: women

Koy Thomson – Women’s empowerement

8 Mar

All people living in remote and conflict-affected areas endure levels of anxiety and hardship that we would find hard to imagine. Women bear the additional burden of discrimination, domination and abuse. But with rights and opportunities, women can become powerful leaders of positive change.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard. The human capability and drive to improve your own life and those of your children is blocked daily by the humiliation, abuse and disrespect engendered for being born female. Moved by what she was seeing on the high plateau of South Kivu, Thea, Children in Crisis’ Programme Manager in DR Congo wrote:

“Women are disadvantaged by their lack of education, by the paucity of life opportunities that come their way and by the deeply patriarchal society that teaches them from the moment they can talk – to be humble and servile and focus their life ambitions first and foremost on being a wife and a mother, preferably while still a teenager. They are disadvantaged by social norms that condone their subjugation in all sorts of ways including through physical violence. They continue to be affected by the horrific legacy of a decade-long conflict in which sexual violence was used extensively as a weapon to humiliate, control and ruin lives.

Those who are lucky enough to get a good education and find themselves among the small minority of the formally employed, are more often than not crippled by a lack of self-confidence and self-belief and a reflexive submissiveness to male colleagues/men in general”.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

‘Empowerment’ is something that comes from within. It is not something we can give or do to the women we encounter. But women are telling us what helps and are surprising us with what they value the most. The capacity to save and manage money in the company of other women has been strikingly popular and by global standards very effective, in both Afghanistan and DR Congo.

Village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) in DR Congo  

In the absence of banks, post office or other basic infrastructure, VSLAs have been instrumental in enabling isolated and self-sufficient Plateau communities in South Kivu, to raise family living standards. Thanks to the carefully saved money, health costs are more easily covered; children are in school more regularly, are better clothed and less likely to go hungry. Moreover, women (who make up more than 70% of the 705 VSLA members) have seen impressive gains in their social status, participation in community decision-making and value within the household.

Our Pamoja (Kiswahili for ‘together’) VSLA project in the remote Plateau area of South Kivu, DR Congo, started in April 2014. It consists in helping set up and providing support to groups of 20-30 community members to save regularly together and then access loans from these savings.

“Men used to think of us as children who were incapable of managing money and assets. Now they have seen that we are able to better manage what we have and that we think of the future.”

 Mrs Francine Nyarukundo, Kitembe VSLA member.

 

Women’s education, training & banking in Afghanistan

Under the Taliban, nine in ten women in Afghanistan went without any form of education. Some were married off too young, written off for life. At Children in Crisis, the education of out-of- school girls is our priority, particularly in hard-to- reach areas where poverty and displacement are the harsh reality.

The trust and respect that we build within communities in Afghanistan enables us to advocate for their daughters’ education. On a more practical level, the savings groups that are run from our education centres give women access to credit and the chance to earn and save. This stops families having to send their children out to work or, especially for girls, being married at a very young age. Instead, they can go to school, have a chance to learn and chase life’s opportunities.

The literacy and tailoring classes that we hold for women don’t only enable them to read and write for the first time, or just give them financial independence. They offer a rare chance to leave the home and socialise – an opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Amy Parker – DR Congo – Picture this

30 Jan

Picture this.

Harvest time is the only time of the year when you have a bit of spare cash. One of your children falls sick, but it is in September before the January potato harvest. You have no money to pay for medical fees. He dies.

Night falls at 6.30pm and the sun rises again at 5.30am year-round. You are in absolute darkness.

Your husband has complete control over you and your family’s life.

You had four children. Three of them died. You’re not sure what of, but they were constantly hungry. Your only surviving daughter is 15 but has never set foot into a school.  

You are bored. There’s nothing to do and no reason to work. You’ll always be poor.

You are a widow with seven children. You are completely isolated from your neighbours who view you and your family as a lost cause.

Over the last eight months we have been running a pilot project with our partners, Eben Ezer Ministry International, on the Uvira mid and high Plateau region of South Kivu, eastern DR Congo. Pamoja (meaning ‘together’ in Kiswahili), is a savings and credit programme that supports groups of 20 – 30 community members to meet regularly, save and then access small sums of money from these savings. These debts are then paid back over three months, with interest, back into the group’s cash box. After 12-months the total amount is shared out amongst members in ratio to the amount they have saved.

I spent time in September last year and last week visiting different groups and talking to members about their experiences and the above scenarios are all real-life testimonies from people I met. They describe major problems encountered by people in this isolated region.

So how is Pamoja helping?

Futina

Futina

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests. Futina, a member of the same group, spoke of how she has used a credit to buy and sell sugar and oil. With some of the profits she has bought torches and batteries so that her family now have light in the long evenings.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save to improve their children’s lives between harvests.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests.

Women from Mandeleo group in Kahololo village told me of the small but significant changes happening in their lives. As members of the saving group, they are now able to contribute money to their families’ affairs and as a result, their husbands are starting to include them in discussions and decisions about the running of their households for the first time.

Rose, a member of Tujenge group, has used credit to pay for school fees for her one remaining daughter to start primary school. She hopes that this will mean her daughter has a brighter future. Members from groups in Butumba and Gitigarawa spoke to me of finally having something to aim for. Before Pamoja, many villagers would sit idly all day long with nothing to do. Having to save every other week means group members are now actively looking for work so that they can go to meetings.

Notiya

Notiya

Cultural expectations in this region require people to be able to provide visitors with tea and food. Neighbours stopped visiting Notiya soon after her husband died as she couldn’t afford any refreshments for them. For years she has been ignored, struggling to keep her children alive. Notiya told me that being a member of her savings group has meant she is now able to receive visitors as she should. Her fellow savers have become her family, she is no longer the poor, shunned widow. She is once again a valued member of society.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families' affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families’ affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

 

Pamoja is an example of what poor communities are capable of with technical and moral support. We have six months left of the current project, and we will continue to work hard with our groups and track progress and challenges. It has made me absolutely determined to ensure that we are able to widen the programme to other communities on the Plateau, as well as staying with these original groups so that they can carry on taking charge of their own and their families’ futures.

DR Congo – International Day of Rural Women – Sylvie Lokenze

14 Oct

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

To mark and celebrate the International Day of Rural Women Children in Crisis would like to introduce to you one woman who we very much admire. Sylvie Lokenze works for our local partner NGO, Eben-Ezer Ministry International (EMI) in DR Congo.  As Programme Manager of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, Sylvie works hard to give women in remote and rural eastern DR Congo a better life. She is passionately dedicated to ensuring that girls are given the chance to go to school and play a part in improving their region. 

 

(The following is a transcription of a telephone interview recently conducted with Sylvie.)

Tell me a little about you – name, age, family, childhood, studies, work

I am Sylvie Pokeeni Lokenze, 23 years old and firstborn to an un-married couple of a female secondary school student (20) and a teacher (30). They tried to make it work as tradition asked them too, but they didn’t manage. I was born after they separated and lived with my mother’s family until the age of 10. My mother managed to complete her studies after I was born, her family was very proud of her because she was amongst a very small minority of girls who got their secondary school diploma in her village at the time.

I started school in 1995 but the war started very quickly (in 1996) and the security and financial situation of my family deteriorated. My mother therefore decided to take up work as a teacher and eventually taught at my school. I studied more quickly than other children, worked hard at school and everyone said that I took after my mother. I felt loved.

In 2001, my mother remarried and a little later on they moved to a town in North Kivu. I then went to live with my father in Bukavu. On the outskirts of Bukavu there was a technical school, run by the Catholic Church. My father wanted me to go there after primary school. He signed me up but it was a very difficult school and girls were discouraged from attending as there were only technical subjects (mechanics, woodwork, electrical engineering). I managed to finish the 2nd Grade (with difficulty!) after which I was guided to specialise in vehicle mechanics rather than machinery (the latter was my father’s preference).

Sylvie Lokenze

Sylvie Lokenze.

 

Lots of things happened during my 6 years at secondary school. Six years that weren’t really happy, but the worst time was a certain Saturday when I learnt from one of my uncles that my mother was in a very poor state and was waiting for me at my grandma’s. She had come home to give birth to her 3rd child with her husband. The baby wasn’t planned and was born in the same hospital as me. Sadly he died some months later. My mother suffered a lot and at the end she had difficulty in recognising me and my three brothers. At the time of her death I was on a work placement in a garage in Katana village. I was one of the last hear of her death and I arrived 3 days after her funeral in August 2006.

In 2007, my father found another job in Uvira. I stayed with my uncle so I could finish my mechanical studies – I only had one year left. I had work placements in mechanics and I also followed an office management course. I managed to get lots of temporary work at the ICRC (International Red Cross) as their mechanic to earn some money. I started an undergraduate degree in IT Maintenance in Bujumbura. On returning to Uvira, I started working as an IT trainer and got an internship with a microfinance organisation and eventually I became Client Manager. At this time I signed up to an MA in IT and Management – I developed excellent competences in financial and client management.

I then applied to the post of VSLA manager at EMI and I was selected. I was so happy, as this opened the door to my dreams: to work in the development and humanitarian sector, to participate in intercommunity development, to be involved in peaceful resolution and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable, especially Congolese women.

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo.

 

Tell me a little about the Plateau – describe the landscape, the climate, the distances etc

Formed by many magnificent hills and peaks, covered by a carpet of velvet grass and wild flowers – once you have reached the summit, you have the sense that the world has transformed – you breathe a pure and unique air.

Often watered by heavy rains, a gentle and dry wind blows constantly, the Plateau temperatures are much lower than in the lowlands. On the Plateau, everyone knows each other and are incredibly loyal which means that they welcome a stranger as one of their own.

The only thing is that it is an isolated zone, as if cut off from the rest of the country. Its people have little access to humanitarian assistance or to development opportunities.

Dependent on a ‘local’ administration 100km away, the Plateau hardly ever benefits from governmental assistance and is classed as an obscurity by the State. Road access is nigh-on impossible for the majority of the year, and besides, the roads only cover a small part of the Plateau. This has resulted in very slow development and accentuates the physical and ‘emotional’ distances between Plateau and lowland dwellers.

A playground for rebel groups, the Plateau has suffered crises of war and intercommunity cohesion is still fragile and at risk due to interethnic conflict that still exists in this region.

Whilst houses in the same village are physically close, even if socially there is a gap, between villages there are huge distances and you have to walk for hours to reach them.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

 

Tell me a little about the women of the Plateau – their lives, opportunities, challenges and hopes.

Daily life for women on the Plateau is difficult due to the role they play in the household. Domestic chores vary from the easy like washing up to the more complex and arduous such as collecting firewood – and they are not able to complain.

The work in the fields that they do, which is a constant, is the principle means of food survival in the household but their integration into the management of their income is not automatic.

Plateau women are in their majority illiterate and they find themselves excluded from socio-professional development. Even though they have the intellectual capacity and a huge socio-economic potential, they are not included in decision-making which has created an inferiority complex leading them to be unaware of their capacities and strengths.

These women fight for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family but have very few opportunities to reach their goals. They want to have and enjoy their rights, but how to get there? When even the most fundamental of rights, like the right to education and/or male-female equality are a long way from being understood and honoured?

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

Are there tasks that are just for women – which ones and why?

Yes!

For example, rendering the houses, collecting firewood and fetching water, finding food for the family, cooking, washing up, laundering clothes. Making sure the house and children and clean and the hardest of all work – fieldwork (cultivating, seeding, weeding, transporting seeds to and produce from fields…). To the good question ‘why’, perhaps an inappropriate response is ‘because these tasks are deemed to be easy’ – and that in the eyes of men.

We have to compare ‘male’ work such as looking after and milking cows and cutting the grass in the fields before the women come and hoe, plant and weed them.

How is fieldwork? At what age do girls start to work the fields?

Fieldwork requires maximum force, getting up before day breaks, working in cold and wet conditions (many times the ground will be rock hard with frost), sometimes you have to walk for hours simply to reach the fields and harvest, you have to transport the products back home and then on to market which are situated many km apart. In brief, a long-term endeavour that necessitates courage and sacrifice and without which survival on the Plateau would not be possible. Girls from around the age of 10 are expected to help their mothers in the fields. There are many cases where girls will have to work before and after school.

Why should rural women and girls be educated? If they are just going to end up in the fields, what is the point?!

Of course!

Educating girls is just as important as educating boys – it is their right and it gives them the opportunity to participate in the transformation of living conditions; not just for women and girls, but for the whole community which is still a long way from being full of rights and development.

Education opens the doors to success in their own life by diversifying their life choices; spending your whole life in the fields is not a choice for all women, rather an obligatory burden that has been put on their shoulders. Further, the community needs their participation in many other spheres to complement men’s participation; so far, man alone has not managed to get very far with the development of the region.

Through attending school, a woman reinforces her intellectual potential and acquires an additional capacity to reflect, a profound understanding of her rights and responsibilities which allow her to fight for respect and consideration within society.

 

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Associaiton

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Association.

 

Do you think that life on the Plateau is changing? For the good? For the bad?

Yes, I have seen a positive change on the Plateau, even in the short time I have been working there. And I think that a huge amount has changed since Children in Crisis  & EMI started working there.

In effect, the Pamoja (VSLA project – Pamoja means ‘together’) project has given a value to women on the Plateau: Firstly through opening up the possibility for women to lead their groups and secondly giving them the possibility to be a holder of financial capital which is a way to be self-sufficient and to be proud of having a place in society.

Nowadays, a woman can count on her own funds without having to approach her husband for authorisation on how to spend any money coming into the household. She has social assistance from her group if she needs it, hope for her projects and believes in a better future for herself and her household.

What else can I say about the benefits of previous projects? In the past, going to funerals or to the market would mean taking children out of school. Before people didn’t know that they should be sending their girls to school – today it is the opposite. People from different ethnic communities didn’t used to be able to discuss and positively dialogue around differences whereas now they are starting to cohabitate positively…

Generally speaking, life is no longer as it used to be thanks to the effective monitoring of change. Reinforce this change, and the future will be even better.

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot.

 

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