The Most Neglected Crisis of 2017

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Written by Kathleen Campbell

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was the most neglected crisis of 2017, and the ongoing impact is shocking. 1.7 million people have been displaced due to conflict, 7.7 million people face acute hunger, and half of the population has no access to clean drinking water. In fact, 90 percent of people in the DRC are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

The DRC ranks 176th out of 188 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), which measures a country’s development based on access to education, standard of living, and whether people are living healthy long lives. The DRC is the third most impoverished country in the world and has some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality. These frightening realities have lead the United Nations to call for $64.5 million to address the crisis.

Women bear the brunt of war in the DRC where 57 percent of women are survivors of rape or physical violence. Rape is often used as a weapon of war in the DRC, but women in war-torn parts of the country actually report higher rates of sexual abuse by men they know than soldiers or rebels. Conflict in society normalizes violence. Violence invades the home, leaving women in conflict-stricken areas vulnerable to abuse both inside and outside their family.

Conflict may impact women disproportionately, but women also hold the key to addressing some of the main drivers of conflict, including poverty. When given the tools, they can empower their communities and lift their families out of poverty and conflict. Take for example, Tumaini, a graduate of Women for Women International’s program in the DRC.

Living in poverty and without land, Tumaini had to work on somebody else’s land if she wanted to put food on the table for her family. Her husband was an alcoholic and spent all of his money on liquor, leaving her as the sole provider for their family. Once Tumaini joined the WfWI core program, she learned about investing money. She entered into a rotating loan with some women in her program. With her money from the loan she bought a pregnant goat. When the goat had two kids, she traded one to get her very own land. Now she grows and sells eggplant and cabbage. She has been able to stop worrying about feeding her children every day. She is now also able to send her children to school. After learning her rights, she was able to discuss equal partnership with her husband who now contributes equally to family finances.

Women like Tumaini are bringing peace to their families and making the economy of their communities stronger. Upon enrollment in our DRC program, participants report making only $0.74 a day whereas, upon completion, they report earning $1.22 a day. Just as important, when a woman is taught about her rights, she will often become an advocate for the rights of other women in her community, creating a ripple effect. Upon graduation, 85 percent of our participants in the DRC, report having shared information about their rights with other women, compared to the nine percent who did pre-enrollment.

It has long been proven that lack of resources and poverty are major contributors to conflict and that violence and conflict in society normalizes violence at home. This is why Women for Women International works not only with women, so they are economically strong and socially empowered, but also trains men to be allies in equality and building peaceful homes.

Murhula, is one of over 9,000 participants in our DRC men’s engagement program. He now understands that gender-based violence is unacceptable and a “big problem in the DRC”. He says that since he joined the men’s engagement program, he learned to respect women. He argues many men in his country do not fully understand the meaning and emotional impact of violence and rape. He has implemented change in his own home, and now hopes that the rest of his community can understand what he now does about violence and gender roles.

When women are participating in the economy and active leaders in their communities, economies grow and peace becomes more sustainable. With the right tools and skills, women can be the solution to resolving the continued conflict and poverty in the DRC.

About the author: Kathleen Campbell is Vice President for Programs at Women for Women International.

Photo: Ryan Carter/Women for Women International.