What’s Going on in DRC?
What’s Going on in DRC?
Setcheme Jeronime Mongbo is Country Director of Program Quality in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Raised in Benin, Mongbo felt privileged to grow up with a father who saw the value of educating both boys and girls. She eventually received two masters’ degrees in economics and international development and she’s worked to promote women and girls’ rights in Benin, Ghana and Mali. Currently Mongbo works in the DRC where gender-based violence is among her deepest concerns.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work for CARE International in the DRC?
The DRC faces a range of humanitarian, emergency and development issues that leave women and girls vulnerable to violence. From where I’m sitting, even when everything is urgent, you still have to prioritize and I think a top priority must be protecting girls and women’s rights and specifically their sexual and reproductive rights. It’s also important that we bring youth to the table to participate in the governance of their own territories and provinces. These are the young people who will be most affected and they must have input in the decisions made about their lives.
Gender-based violence is a daunting problem, how do you approach it from a development standpoint?
CARE has a very good, unique approach in working toward human dignity by placing women and girls at the center. The basis of our work is women’s economic empowerment because when we empower women economically, it gives us the possibility of elevating their leadership. When they have a voice, they are less harassed. They face fewer threats in terms of sexual and gender-based violence because they can speak out about what is happening and they know where to go for help.
We are supporting women and girls to know their rights and bringing in boys, men and other partners and making them aware of these rights too. We are also working to give women more tools to safely plan how they’re getting children and how they’ll educate these children. We’re not saying that women will not have children. It’s just to decide when and how many. This is critical to how they manage their lives and economic activities and how they contribute to the governance of society.
Another key issue in the DRC is that we must raise more awareness about the sexual and gender-based violence that’s happening in the Kasai.
Are you talking specifically about rape?
Yes, rape especially. There is a lot of silence around this subject by the people who are affected because they fear for their lives when they encounter this violence. We are encouraging them to speak out but when they do many of them are reliving the violence. They need assistance and services to recover, but currently those services aren’t necessarily available to them. CARE and other big organizations are helping but the funding to Kasai has not met the need and it’s been difficult to mobilize resources.
What are the greatest opportunities you see for change in the DRC?
I think human beings are the greatest opportunities. Those opportunities come from the commitments made by local and international people who are willing to confront harsh situations, confront the insecurity out there and just do something about it. No one can say, “I have the full solution to sexual and gender-based violence,” but seeing the eagerness and courage of development and humanitarian workers who are willing to try is very encouraging.
When we go in the field or into the context of disasters like the ones in Kasai, Lubero, Masisi, and Rutshuru, you meet the people who have encountered so much violence, loss and hardship. And still, they stand up and welcome you. They smile and say ‘we are happy that you have come all the way to us.’ Rare are the people who will come and sit down and listen to us. So many people, when they come, they don’t sit and when they go, they don’t come back. What we need is for supporters to come back.
Are you optimistic about the DRC’s future?
The DRC crisis has been long standing and people are feeling desperate, more outside the country than inside. People who take time to listen to what we are saying and witnessing in warring communities, help us feel optimistic that we can find solutions. I believe we should continue using our best knowledge to build human capacities. We should continue bringing in solutions until we overcome the last obstacles to respect, human rights, access to basic needs and sustainable development. It may take years but this is achievable as long as we have the human energy that I’m seeing in the country.
The other thing that encourages me is that DRC is about 85 million people. It’s the most populated French country in Africa and the second largest country in Africa. It is bordered by nine other countries and this is critical because just as we say we cannot leave women behind, we also must say that we cannot leave DRC behind. DRC is very critical to Africa’s development because our contribution is important.
What do you want American readers to know?
That their psychological, financial and in kind support, along with the awareness they are raising, is very important to us. Their support is helping hundreds of thousands of lives in DRC, giving hope to people and building peace. We’re working around governance and we’re seeing communities coming together. When communities come together, it means less uprising of crime and militia. It’s when they’re not coming together, when those small, contentious groups create their own militia to defend their own communities; that’s where the trouble is.
Your support is helping bringing pieces of a country together in DRC and we rely on this support. I would also like to ask them for more attention to Kasai and to the women and girls who are being used in the conflict. Virgin girls are being used as front liners because there is this cultural belief that bullets won’t enter the bodies of girls, but these girls are dying. We need more support to stop this and we thank you also for what you are doing to help us.