It is no secret that in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women face incredible obstacles. Decades of conflict and insecurity has caused mass displacement, high civilian casualties, and greatly reduced the educational and economic opportunities for women. Sexual violence has reached epidemic proportions, with one report indicating that an average of 48 women are raped every hour. In recent years, there have been numerous stories of women and girls being abducted from their homes and forced into sexual slavery.
The situation is undeniably grave. But perhaps what’s worse is that all too often in local, national, and international conversations Congolese women have been reduced to nothing more than victims waiting to be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just ask the women behind Fonds pour les femmes Congolaises (FFC), one of The MATCH Fund’s current grantee partners. FFC was established in 2010 to fund grassroots women’s rights organizations across the country that are working toward putting an end to sexual violence against women and building peace.
Meet the women driving change in DRC.
Five years later, FFC does so much more than just provide funding. They are working to amplify the Congolese women’s movement by connecting women’s organizations from around the country. They are bringing cohesion to a national strategy for women’s rights and are playing a critical role in building a nation-wide women’s movement.
Today, FFC is located in Kinshasa, but supports organizations in eight provinces, including the war-torn regions of North and South Kivu, where sexual violence is commonly used as a weapon of war. Since 2010, FFC has supported more than 140 women’s organizations across the country.
Times change, but priorities remain the same.
Ongoing conflict and insecurity in DRC mean that holding on to hard won gains can be a challenge. FFC reports that sexual violence has actually worsened since 2010, with continued impunity for perpetrators leading to an increase in the number of cases – no longer primarily committed by militants, but also soldiers and civilians.
FFC is inspired by the fact that in some of the most dangerous and difficult circumstances, women continue to work together. Survivors of rape are becoming agents of change. One woman who had been raped by soldiers turned to her education as a way to heal. She has since become a lawyer who is now supporting cases similar to her own.
FFC also remains committed to engaging more women in decision-making processes. They have been working with communities to encourage more women to run in the June 2015 elections. As part of the campaign, they are educating voters to elect not just women, but candidates that will make real commitments to advancing women’s rights.
Julienne Lusenge, founder and director of FFC
At the centre of this incredible organization stands Julienne Lusenge, a fearless women’s rights activist who has been advocating for women’s rights in DRC for years. In 1998, she began to document and publicly speak out against cases of sexual violence in response to a wave of attacks against women in her community. She called on leaders of rebel groups to stop using rape as a weapon of war. And she worked with communities to be supportive of survivors of sexual violence.
The MATCH Fund recently met with Julienne to learn more about the work of FFC. When asked what Julienne wanted Canadians to know about her work, she had three things to say:
- Women in DRC are not just victims waiting to be rescued, but capable and driven agents for change.
- Getting more money into the hands of grassroots women’s rights organizations will be critical to driving social change.
- The support of Canadians is deeply appreciated and even a little goes a long way.
Julienne Lusenge will be at SAW Gallery on Thursday, January 22, 2015 for Beauty in the Middle: Women in the Congo Speak Out, a photo exhibit featuring the work of Pete Muller. This exhibit presents the stories of grassroots women’s rights activists in Democratic Republic of Congo. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here. If you are unable to attend, but would like to make a donation to support the work of FFC, please visit our donate page and indicate you are donating as part of “Beauty in the Middle: Women in the Congo Speak Out”. And be sure to check out the online exhibit.
***Please note this event has now passed.