Downtown Bukavu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Susanna Rudehill
The public discussion in Democratic Republic of Congo right now is very much focusing on elections. Every day we can read articles and listen to debates about possible ammendments to the constitution. Will the president accept to step down? Will basic democratic principles be respected? Will people be able to vote for the change they wish to see in their country? At the moment, this is not at all clear.
What is development if people cannot chose what way to go? What are the prospects for peace if a majority of society members are not listened to? What are the chances for justice if leaders are not held accountable? What is wealth worth if most people live in desperate poverty?
Bitangalo Brigitte, RIO and Rose Ngendakumana during one of the sessions. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna, Susanne Rudehill
On the initiative of Kvinna till Kvinna women human rights defenders from different parts of eastern DR Congo recently gathered again in Burundi to develop and deepen strategies to stay safe and well in hostile environments. It was an opportunity for activists to reflect on their own situation and share ideas on how to keep going despite immense challenges. These women all take a great risk by working to defend human rights and peace in places where respect for human rights and peace are far from a reality.
“It starts with the eggs and ends with the property!” our facilitator concluded. One of the topics discussed during the meeting was the control over women in different spheres of society. From what girls are allowed or not allowed to eat to if women can own their own property and be economically independent. We asked ourselves: Am I free to make decisions about my own body? Who defines my daily routines? What are the power relations that affect my freedom and security? And how do we find ways to free ourselves from violating norms?
Security is not only about arms and safe streets. Security is also about my personal life, my health, my voice. The most important outcome of the meeting for Christine, one of the participants, was to find strategies how to dismantle oppressive structures in her own life, both privately and professionally. For Brigitte, another participating women’s rights activist, the meeting was an opportunity realize her own value, and to respect herself on different levels.
As women human rights defenders we need to find ways to support each other to keep going. Despite immense challenges.