Meet Mariamu “Marie” Bashishibe. Marie is the site director of the SOS Femmes en Danger reception center in Mboko, Fizi Territory. This reception center shelters up to 30 women who are victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse, and marginalization by the community. Many of the women at the center were abducted and raped by one of numerous armed groups that infest Fizi Territory. Many of the women are the widows of soldiers and have no means of support. All the women at the center are objects to cruel derision and marginalization in their communities. They are called “prostitutes” and other harsh names, even if their experience was by no choice of their own.
“There are some women here that were kicked out of their homes by their husbands because they were raped,” said Marie, “Their husbands claim that since they were raped, they are now infected with viruses and sickness, and so they simply throw them out.”
“The community here neglects and derides these women,” she continued, “They are subject to neglect and derision. Even their families reject them. Even their country rejects them.”
Indeed, the situation of women in Congo is very poor. Marie spoke at length about this unsavory aspect of Congolese society.
“Women here are very neglected, even if they do all the work and are essentially the breadwinners of the family,” said Marie, “Women educate the children, feed them, clothe them. They are responsible for everything. Husbands sit under the trees and play Ludo [a popular board game] all day. All the while their wives work in the fields, bring back the food, and prepare the food. Men will forget they haven’t put forth any effort to provide the food, but they will certainly eat it!”
“In addition,” continued Marie, “Men will beat their wives, saying ‘don’t you know how to cook? You used too little oil in the meal!”
“The men forget their women. In Fizi, to be a wife is to be forgotten. These women have nothing. Men try to play us like pieces in their board game, doing whatever they want whenever they want it.”
Marie also told us about how girls are held back from opportunities for education by their families, and how the only future considered for girls is to be married off at a young age. If a woman’s husband runs off or dies, she is expected to marry again and keep making children, or else she will be considered a prostitute. To make matters worse, the government does little to improve the lives women in Congo, despite the fact that the Congolese constitution guarantees equal rights to women.
“In the case of the government,” said Marie, “I haven’t seen anything at all working to help us here. There is nothing here. We don’t see any improvements.”
In this atmosphere, it is easy to see how marginalization is a terrible sentence for a woman in Congo. Thus, the center is available to these women so they have a bed to sleep in, food, basic medical treatment, and shelter from the abuse of their community. However, Marie feels that there needs to be more to change the overall situation of women in Congo.
“Education is the start,” said Marie, “This has to be given to girls as well as boys. Secondly, our soldiers need to be reeducated, so that they can learn to respect our women. Thirdly, women should be able to control their finances, so women can monitor their household and keep their own money. If women are able to drive their households, men will then recognize our value and begin respecting the work we do.”
It should now be obvious that Marie is a fearless woman, speaking out against deeply entrenched chauvinist traditions and a war that has had a particularly devastating impact on women. Not often does one find someone with Marie’s candor.
Marie has been working at the center in Mboko for two years. She hopes that in coming years, SOS Femmes en Dangers will be able to provide education to the women of Fizi, giving them the skills necessary to end sexual violence and promote equality for women in their communities.
“When women know their rights, they know how to defend themselves. A woman can’t defend herself without this knowledge. An educated woman applies this to her life, and thus the situation can change.”
Posted By Walter James
Posted Aug 19th, 2009