The Democratic Republic of Congo has become renowned for incredibly high levels of sexual violence. Oxfam partner CEDIER has been working to engage men in the DRC, to tackle some of the widespread beliefs and practices which contribute to making this such a dangerous place for women.
Over the last 20 years, the DRC has been characterized by internal armed conflict both at local and regional levels. Sexual and physical violence has been widespread and targeted both men and women throughout the conflict.
Whilst the state struggles to protect its population from abuse from armed groups, state officials and other civilians alike, local communities have worked to organise and mobilise themselves to counter the violence. From this, organisations like CEDIER (Centre pour le Développement Intégral de L’Enfant Rural) have emerged.
In the absence of the State, CEDIER’s credo is to raise awareness at the local level to progressively change the way communities think. A good example of this is the strategy of using training and participatory activities to target community members and ultimately persuade them to change their views on harmful practices. CEDIER does not only involve both women and men in awareness-raising sessions but also traditional leaders (also called ‘Bagingi‘ in the local language). These personalities have great influence in their communities.
Augustin recalls one memorable situation that made a change in their approach. One day, during an awareness session about women’s rights and inheritance rights, one male participant said:
‘I would prefer to go to jail rather than splitting my inheritance between me and my sister – I cannot accept that, she is a woman who is already living with another man, carrying on domestic activities, and she does not give anything back to her own family’
CEDIER is playing an important role in turning whole communities against early-marriage, and in the prosecution of perpetratorsThis example drew Augustin and his colleagues’ attention to the power of traditional beliefs within communities. Debating is important so we can bring more arguments to the table, he reflected. Now this man is one of the best awareness-raisers in the community.
Through dialogue and mutual participation CEDIER aims to change minds and ultimately foster greater peace and security within communities. They are also playing an important role in turning whole communities against early-marriage, and in the prosecution of perpetrators. Bowing to pressure exerted by the community and the legal framework taught, wrongdoers acknowledge their faults and agree to pay their fines.
Some legal decisions meet serious and violent resistance. CEDIER also tries to tackle this violence as there are few police officers with limited awareness of the role of the judicial system in the fight against these practices.
Augustin is philosophical; he knows that implementing peace is a long process. With the absence of the State change must come from the bottom to the top. In the context of discrimination and violence against women in the DRC, working with men to change attitudes is proving to be a very positive protection strategy.