Through the organisation AFEM, Douce Namwezi N'lbamba works to increase the awareness of women's rights in DR Congo's South Kivu province – an area constantly ravaged by armed groups. Photo: Cato Lein.
Through the organisation AFEM, Douce Namwezi N'lbamba works to increase the awareness of women's rights in DR Congo's South Kivu province – an area constantly ravaged by armed groups. Photo: Cato Lein.

"We can not just be journalists, we need to be activists too!"

The Second Congo War ended in 2003, at least on paper. But despite the truce, Douce Namwezi N’lbamba, then 15, saw how young people around her continued to be recruited as child soldiers. A desire to contribute to change, made her turn to radio.

Already as a young child, Douce Namwezi N’lbamba became interested in the media. So when she got the opportunity to be involved in a radio program, with the purpose to discourage children and young people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to join armed groups, she took the chance. It was not long before she had advanced to the position as radio presenter.

Today, Douce Namwezi N’lbamba is 26 years old, and in addition to working as a journalist, she is one of the driving forces behind The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisation AFEM which was founded in South Kivu – a war-torn province in eastern DR Congo.

“When I read about AFEM and their vision, I was impressed and decided right away to join. I have always felt a great responsibility in the role as radio producer. If I’m the one who write the script and talk on the radio, I am also the one who can bring change. We can not just be journalists, we need to be activists!” says Douce Namwezi N’lbamba.

Highlight women’s stories

She says that she wants to use her journalism to highlight women’s stories. At the same time, she sees it as an opportunity to monitor the actions of politicians and decision-makers – to be able to influence and contribute to change. But as a female journalist, raising your voice in a country where women traditionally have not been allowed to speak publicly, has been a tough challenge.

“I am expected to be silent about the ongoing oppression of women, because it is considered shameful to talk about. In Congo, the media have long been the privilege of men. Only men have had the right to be heard and to have opinions. I try to get more women’s voices on the air, to show that men and women have similar thoughts and opinions. It is not a person’s sex that matters.”

According to Douce Namwezi N’lbamba, not much is reported in national media about how women are affected by and suffer from conflicts like those surrounding the mineral trade in DR Congo. She often tries to discuss this problem with her male colleagues, but usually gets dismissed. Women journalists are seen almost as a kind of criminals, she says.

“I meet many people who dislike what I do. They see me as a fair target. People tell me that I am a bad woman and should keep my mouth shut. In Congo, you are regarded as a bad woman if you are not at home cooking and having kids. Since I do not play by the rules of society, many people get outraged. At the same time, there are many others who support me and what I do, which is an important driving force for me.

Dream of equal world

There are many obstacles in the fight to improve women’s rights in DR Congo, says Douce Namwezi N’lbamba. One is the legislation, since many laws contribute to the continued discrimination of women. In 2013, AFEM presented a memorandum to the national parliament in an attempt to change the Family law, which among other things hamper women’s right to inheritance. Since then, some articles of the law have been rewritten. For example, an article which had the wife obliged to follow her husband wherever he went; she now have the choice to decide whether or not to go with him. AFEM are still in contact with the Members of Parliament who endorsed the memorandum, and a second discussion on the Family law will soon take place in the Senate.

Douce Namwezi N’lbamba says that she can see small improvements on women’s rights, but she thinks progress is much too slow. At the same time she says that a lot has happened in the last ten years. The proportion of women journalists has increased significantly and more and more women dare to stand up and talk about their rights, even though they go against their tradition and culture. They in turn become role models for other women.

“I dream of a gender-equal world where men and women have access to the same political and economic rights, in which equality is a reality and not just a concept written in policy declarations.”

“Kvinna till Kvinna’s support is really important for AFEM. Among other things, it has enabled us to work in the remote area of Shabunda in South Kivu, where few other organisations have wanted, or dared, to go before. I myself was scared of what would happen when I went there, but I reminded myself of my dream, and I knew that the women needed me there,” says Douce Namwezi N’lbamba.

Ravaged by rebel groups

Shabunda is to the surface the largest area in the South Kivu province. It is seriously affected by armed rebel groups ravaging the area. Although the population is estimated to be over one million people, communication with the rest of the country is very poor. For some years, AFEM has been working with women’s rights and political participation in the region. They provide training in democracy, human rights and UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

“Many women in Shabunda are not aware of their rights. It was a real eye-opener when the women told me that they looked at education and health as privileges, not rights. It is a difficult situation to change, but we try to push local authorities to become more self-sustaining in their efforts to strengthen women’s rights.”

The word is beginning to spread about AFEM, and the organisation receives many inquiries from women journalists in other parts of DR Congo, asking for support to pursue similar projects. Now, AFEM is planning to expand from simply operating in South Kivu to become a national organisation, and perhaps even begin to cooperate with other women’s rights organisations internationally.

“AFEM is growing, and besides from highlighting the situation of women by using media, we want to promote greater gender awareness and gender balance in the whole country. I am convinced that media is an important tool for change,” says Douce Namwezi N’lbamba.

Filippa Rogvall

Updated in: 2015-06-04