Empowering widows of armed conflict in DR Congo
Among the women COFAPRI has been empowering since 2009, a high proportion are widows – survivors of the unending armed conflict atrocities in DR Congo. Many of these women are young and left with children to feed.
COFAPRI approaches more widows of armed conflicts for empowerment
By Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI
Since its creation in 2009, COFAPRI has been using all means possible to reach out to the village children, girls and women survivors of the unending armed conflicts’ atrocities in DR Congo since the topple of dictator Mobutu in 1996.
In fact, among the women COFAPRI has been empowering so far (roughly 350), there is a big number of widows (150). These widows are classified in three categories:
- Those whose husbands died naturally because of a disease;
- Those whose husbands were killed in their families because they wanted to protect their wives or daughters and even sons from being shamefully raped in public;
- Those whose husbands were taken war hostages and never returned back.
Many of these women are young and were left with children to feed. Feeding a family yet these women have no specific job becomes an issue. Some of them had decided to involve in prostitution; they had faced social and family problems because living with no man in DRC is seen as a punishment in some cultures. This makes some of these widows lose hope and confidence. Their situation worsens when some families decide to chase them away. In DRC, a woman is valued if her husband is alive; in most cultures, when the husband has passed on, the widow goes through a lot of challenges caused by her in-laws. Some get tortured saying they killed their husbands. This way of blaming the victims is a habit among many DRC communities; a raped woman is falsely blamed for being raped. They say she did it willingly to bring shame to her family in-law and the community. Others call her a prostitute. Also, a woman whose husband has died is blamed for having killed her, which often causes her to through severe torture, such as being shaved forcibly all her hair, not wearing shoes, not having access to food or drink for a given period. In some lenient families, and if the woman had children with their deceased son, the widow is forced to remarry one of the brothers of her late husband; in case she refuses, she is then blamed for having killed her husband.
A woman with children is valueless in many cultures of DR Congo. The children are the reason for all women to exist in families and even in communities. Without children, a woman is useless, and she is given lots of bad descriptions: she eats a lot but cannot have children; she is so fat just for eating; she is there to fill the toilets pit; she was made for eating only…. . All these hurdles widows go through pushed COFAPRI to think of empowering them. Their situation worsened with the unending wars.
COFAPRI has been empowering them to involve in income generating activities, such as sewing, animal rearing, small business and cultivation. They also learn literacy and numeracy in order to do well their activities. They do these activities in teams and by village in order for the members to comfort those in such situations.
Many had started selling their bodies for survival but thanks God, they are now able to do some activities that are more valuable. Working on different activities in groups helps them help them to regain their confidence and their womanness, as well as recover the love they have lost. They also learn how to manage their activities so that they become financially independent.