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NGO Works to Empower Women in Eastern DRC

Humanitarian agencies say women are bearing the brunt of the conflict in the eastern DRC, facing violence, including rape, as they try to care for their families.

Christine Karumba is country director for the NGO Women for Women. From Bukavu in South Kivu Province, she spoke to VOA English to Africa about the situation in eastern Congo. Most of the displaced are in North Kivu Province, which Karumba visits in the next few days.

"We know that more than one million…people have been displaced. The conditions in which the women are living now in the camps are really not human because there are some who have to walk for many hours to reach the closest IDP (internally displaced persons) camp…camps which were not accessible for any humanitarian support or assistance. There are children and women who can spend three to four days without…food," she says.

But they need more than food. Karumba says, "They need shelter. They need proper sanitation and medicine because…when you are spending nights under the rain, because this is the rainy season, without any assistance, without any proper sanitation…they are having diseases…like cholera. They need access to medication to prevent diarrhea."

Many of the women fleeing the fighting have been raped. "Women have to cross some bush where there are some rebels…and gun people…. So women are being victims of rape and this is ongoing. Not having access to exact data, but many women who are coming to the camps have been denouncing that they have been victims of even rape," she says.

Women for Women operates a number of programs in the eastern DRC, teaching vocational skills and encouraging them to exercise their rights.

"This is, I think, the glue. This is the most important part of our program because we believe that strong women build strong nations. If at this stage, we can empower women on the grassroots (level) to know their rights, this can be the beginning of a change because change must start somewhere. And if the voices of these women on the ground are forgotten, then we cannot expect to have a strong nation," she says.

For example, she says that some women she's met don't know they inherit their husband's property when he dies. "When the women are ignorant, they don't know which institutions to go to claim…(their) right…. So it's like somebody who is alive, but the person is already dead," she says.

She says the training programs empower women to challenge Congolese authorities and say, "Look, we can't continue like this. We have to be accountable to what is happening to the women in the eastern Congo."