Thousands of women who have suffered from sexual violence or stigmatization from living in extreme poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo are reclaiming their lives, thanks to a joint initiative between World Vision and Heal Africa.
The initiative Wamama Simameni, which means “Women, stand up” in Swahili, helps women to meet their physical, psychological and financial needs so that they will be better equipped to participate in their communities.
Bernadette Munihire claims Wamama Simameni saved her life and “gave me hope when I thought everything was lost.”
Eleven years ago, Ms. Munihire’s family was attacked when a rebel group came upon their village one Sunday afternoon. “As soon as I heard the gunfire, I immediately ran outside and was horrified as I saw my parent’s house burning,” she said. “When my sister ran to the house to save them, the rebels put a bullet in her head.”
Ms. Munihire went on to experience being kidnapped, raped and forced to carry equipment. She managed to escape the rebel group when another rebel group attacked them, but was not able to take her daughter with her.
After three years at Wamama Simameni, Ms. Munihire has received medical and psychological care and gained skills in sewing and cultivating mushrooms.
“While all aspects of the program are equally important, we need to ensure women know their rights and advocate for them,” said Mamie Lofembo, World Vision’s coordinator of Wamama Simameni. “For example, girls are not always treated like boys, they don’t always have access to education like boys do, but we want to teach women and communities that girls have the same rights as boys.”
To facilitate changes in gender attitudes and practices, Wamama Simameni has created local committees that will champion the rights of women.
Now that she has experienced some healing, Ms. Munihire is now “standing up” and taking good care of her other children. “I apply what I learned with Wimama Simameni at home and because of this, I can afford to send all my children to go to school, and I am able to hope for a bright future for them,” said Ms. Munihire.