Last weekend, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was once again in the spotlight, but this time, the story was more upbeat and a little unusual for a place that is globally known as the “rape capital of the world”. The French-speaking part of the world gathered for the 14th Francophone in the capital city of Kinshasa. In preparation for the meeting, the capital saw drastic transformation, undergoing a significant beautification program that was way overdue. Its downtown roads were repainted to the colors of the event and many crumbling buildings were refurbished to impress the dozen or so of heads of states and government officials who visited.
Despite all its shortcomings regarding good governance, democracy, and security, the Congolese government showed the world what Kinshasa once was and what is still possible, reminding all of its beauty during the 60s and 70s when it was known as ‘Kinshasa la Belle” (Beautiful Kinshasa).
If you were looking at the photos of all the Laurent Perrier champagne that was served at the head of states reception, you wouldn’t know that for the past 16 years, the DRC has been the arena of one of the most unspeakable humanitarian crises and that millions of people have lost their lives during numerous invasions by neighboring countries, foreign militias, and local fighters. Even today, more than 1.7 million people remain displaced and thousands die of preventable diseases every month.
But it is Congolese women, who represent half of the population, that have been fighting this war with their bodies and souls.
And it was one heroic women’s group that refocused the beauty of the summit on the unspeakable horrors in the DRC today. The Congolese Women’s Caucus made sure that the guests and heads of states wouldn’t forget about the suffering of the Congolese people. Wearing black and holding signs, these women showed up at the National Assembly to demand accountability and clear actions from the Congolese government and international community to bring an end to the conflict and restore normalcy in the lives of the people. Despite the great risk to their safety, women at the National Assembly stood up and confronted the world for their broken promises and crocodile tears regarding women– the victims of sexual violence.
Perhaps it might come as a shock to some people that Congolese women are capable of standing against their government and the world.
All too often in Western media, Congolese women are perpetually represented as victims or bystanders, unable to participate in peace and state building processes.
On the contrary, women in the DRC have always been part of the struggle and have provided solutions to the many cyclical crises that have occurred in the DR Congo from the colonial period to today. Congolese women have always been active players and solidly held up their “half of the sky.”
Since Congolese independence over fifty years ago, women have been the bread winners, the community organizers, the entrepreneurs and job creators that have provided hope for a return to stability. It is in part because of their roles within the community that women have been directly targeted by different armed groups, in their effort to bring the DRC down.
Though there are those who dismiss the DRC as simply a failed state, the people– particularly the Congolese women– have proven to be resilient in such a hostile environment. After tending to their wounds, they lift themselves up to go back out there and start all over again, trying even harder to hold their half of Congo for a better tomorrow.
Nita Evele is a Congolese activist and the Vice-Chair of Congo Global Action, a grassroots alliance that advocates with the Congolese people to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous Democratic Republic of Congo. She works tirelessly to bring the voices of the Congolese, especially women and children, to the American people and policymakers, to try to end the suffering and the war that still devastating DRC.