Andrette is 38 years old, and has 2 children. In 2010-2011, she spent three months at the SOS FED center in Mboko. Andrette is from Chonu, a small village near Mboko. She is a survivor of sexual violence. When I met Andrette, she was seated in her front yard with her mother-in-law, slicing up chunks of chalky manioc.
Andrette had been raped by three men while alone in her fields. After the incident, her husband expelled her from their home, and then soon left for Misisi, Fizi Territory, to work in the mineral mines. Before leaving, Andrette’s husband told her that he would probably “find himself another wife” in Misisi.
Unfortunately, husbands abandoning their wives is a fairly common phenomenon in South Kivu, not necessarily limited to survivors of sexual violence. Since men enjoy nearly total impunity in Congolese society in terms of sex and relationships, they are not often held accountable for spousal abandonment, extra-marital pregnancy, infidelity, polygyny, or domestic violence. This demonstrates the value of SOS FED’s reintegration work as not only beneficial to survivors, but also fighting against the gender inequality that is rampant in Fizi Territory.
Andrette stayed with an aunt for one and a half months, rarely venturing outside the house. She had also become an object of derision in the community, and people would often point fingers at her and say “there is the woman who is the wife of the soldiers”. After hearing about SOS FED from a radio advertisement, Andrette went to the SOS FED center in Mboko to receive psychosocial and socioeconomic assistance.
In order to reintegrate Andrette, Wilondja met with both Andrette’s family and the family of her husband. Wilondja said that this work was difficult, since Andrette’s husband still was not present. On 3 occasions, the mwami brought the two families to the SOS FED center so that Mariamu and Wilondja could speak with them and convince them that the incident was not the fault of Andrette, and that she should be re-accepted into their family. Andrette was present at one of these sessions.
Eventually, both Andrette’s family and the family of her husband were convinced to re-accept Andrette and not blame her for her rape. However, there was still the question of Andrette’s husband, who was still in Misisi and appeared to have possibly abandoned his wife and children for good. Andrette’s younger brother traveled to Misisi and confronted his brother-in-law, telling him that since he already paid the daute (sum of money a groom must pay to his bride’s family) for his sister, he needed to resume his responsibility as a husband and father, instead of shaming both families by abandoning his wife for no good reason. Andrette’s husband returned to Chonu, and met with the two families, Wilondja, and the mwami. There were 4 sessions between all the concerned parties before the husband was convinced to re-accept his wife, and Wilondja accompanied the woman to Chonu so she could be reunited with her husband and the rest of her family. Currently, Andrette’s husband has returned to Misisi to work, but Andrette lives in her house and is very close to her in-laws. Both her brother-in-law and mother-in-law expressed their satisfaction that she has returned home.
Andrette continues to practice communal cultivation, with two of her friends who are not former SOS FED beneficiaries. In addition, due to sewing skills learned while working on the Ahadi Quilt project, Andrette has begun sewing and embroidering sheets as an income-generating activity. She is still in contact with two other women who were SOS FED beneficiaries with her.
With the money earned from SOS FED communal cultivation, Andrette invested in the necessary capital to sell palm oil in the market, thus earning even more income for herself and her children. She says that in the past she was the object of scorn, but now people in her community see her as a “femme initiatrice”, a resourceful and inventive woman who uses her ingenuity to seek out development opportunities and provide for herself and her children.
It is quite the difference to see Andrette, once confined to the house and too shamed to even be seen on the streets, now a woman who is a beacon to her community, perhaps inspiring other women to reject gender inequality and a mentality that always blames the victim for acts of rape. As well as healing, SOS FED is producing advocates, women who can return to their communities and serve as examples of feminine strength and courage.
When I asked Andrette’s mother-in-law if I could ask her a few questions about the return of her daughter-in-law, she chuckled and said that I should give her some money for food if I wanted to ask questions. I pointed to the heap of manioc in front of her, but this did not cause the woman to even blink. She said, “Look, I have manioc, but no fish to go with it!”
In keeping with the joking nature of our dialogue, I offered to go to the lake and catch some fish for her. The elderly woman grinned and shrugged.
“Better just to give me the money, then I can go to the market and get the fish myself,” she said. Everyone present had a good belly laugh.
Posted By WALTER JAMES
Posted Oct 7th, 2011