Between discrimination and empowerment: testimony of a human rights defender in DRC

10.10.2018

What does it mean to be a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo? What does everyday life of a human rights defender look like? Our colleague Ghislaine Bisimwa recounts her situation in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu.

The context in Eastern DRC is tense in this pre-electoral period. These tensions are compounded by structural difficulties: for a large part of the population, access to food, health, education or even drinking water and electricity is difficult.

In the most remote areas of Bukavu, insecurity is at its height – and women and girls are the first victims. They are exposed to rape, for example when they go and collect water at nightfall.

Structural inequalities fuelled by retrograde stereotypes

Gender inequalities and discrimination against women are everywhere. Congolese women have integrated from an early age that they are worth less than men. Retrograde customs and stereotypes persist and continue to deprive women of access to health, education and even their heritage.

When it comes to civil and political rights, the population has been educated not to trust a woman. Even when one of them tries to run for office or an important position, she is often discouraged by her peers and by men.

Women open up more easily to another woman

In my work, being a woman also has advantages. My relations with victims are facilitated, especially those who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence, most of whom are women. In our investigative work, for example, they open up more easily to me. Sometimes they even use words that touch their intimacy, which they would not use in front of a man.

This is the part of my work that I like most: In the trial preparation phase, when victims confide in me, I harbor the hope that they will soon have their rights restored.