I wanted to write a quick word about one of Arche d’Alliance’s programs which I have just recently begun to learn a little more about. In attempting to support the most vulnerable populations in Congo, Arche d’Alliance has done well to address the plight of the rural woman here through the GENARDIS program.
Essentially, GENARDIS is meant to counteract many of the unique disadvantages rural women in Congo face and take practical steps to promote gender equality. For example, women and girls here and in many resource-poor countries are often unable to study, so GENARDIS runs programs in literacy (69 newly literate in just two years). In addition, women living in the rural areas are often uninformed of their rights and thus unable to exercise them, so GENARDIS has begun human rights training sessions in even the most remote villages to stem the tide of rampant and unpunished sexual violence which prevails throughout North and South Kivu. Rural women are also more likely to be cut off from economic self-sufficiency, and GENARDIS confronts this reality by offering micro-credit and small business start-up loans exclusively to women living in rural areas, especially those who have lost their husbands and family (49 new participants in the last year).
The great thing about GENARDIS is that it provides rural women with options, which is all too rare in Congo. Better still are the results, as these options presented to Congolese women have not gone to waste. At a recent meeting, one of the rural women participating in GENARDIS testified to the success of the program, saying that because of a seemingly insignificant loan given by Arche d’Alliance to start a small road-side shop (actually a table) she has been able to ensure her children’s education, which is something no one in Congo, especially in rural areas, takes for granted.
However, there was a very instructive article in the New York Times this week (see “Rape Victims’ Words Help Jolt Congo Into Change, October 18, 2008”), concerning the rape crisis currently at epidemic status throughout Eastern Congo. The article mentioned that the United Nations has declared the sexual violence targeted against Congolese women “the worst in the world” with the author adding that the violations have been characterized, “…by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place riven by civil war and haunted by warlords and drug-crazed child soldiers.” Showing the relation between the sexual violence crisis and the current increase in hostilities throughout the East, the article summarized, “Poverty, chaos, disease and war. These are the constants of Eastern Congo. Many people believe that the rape problem will not be solved until the area tastes peace. But that might not be anytime soon.”
It is true that even forward-thinking programs like GENARDIS which create real change in the lives of women and their families can not work to their full potential until the East is pacified, and the cease-fire is enacted and honored. Everyone in Congo, including the women of the GENARDIS program, depend on some semblance of peace and security in order to make the most of the options micro-credit, education programs, and the like can offer. Speaking with any member of GENARDIS, it is certain that when given the chance to operate, programs promoting women in Congo really do work to change society for the better and address the needs of the most vulnerable populations.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Oct 23rd, 2008