During the 16 days of activism, UN Women Executive Director visits DRC
On her first official visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is taking part in a series of high-level meetings and public events as the world marks the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
On the final day of her mission to DRC, the Executive Director had a formal visit with the country’s Minister of Women, Family and Children, Lucie Kipele Aki Azwa, who had already accompanied her to Bukavu and participated in a number of activities. The Minister asked for UN Women’s support in expanding an awareness-raising project on early marriage and for the organization’s support in drafting a national strategy and action plan on women’s economic empowerment. She also outlined her Government’s vision of involving women in the development of infrastructure in the context of the SDGs and its resolve to end violence against women. The Executive Director expressed, on behalf of the NGOs she met, the need to align DRC’s electoral law with the Constitution to ensure women’s political participation, and asked for the Ministry’s collaboration.
Back in Kinshasa, on the third day of her visit the Executive Director met with the UN Country Team, representatives of several UN agencies and of the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, emphasizing joint work and new strategic directions. She learned about the country’s challenges in confronting sexual violence, its growing refugee crisis, and she discussed UN Women’s new agriculture flagship programme with FAO and WFP.
The meeting was followed by a special “orange the world” march and speaking event at the Theatre de Verdure, in which hundreds of Congolese women, men and youth took part, as part of the 16 Days of Activism.
It included messages from women, youth, national and provincial gender ministers, the Personal Representative of the Head of State in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, and public figures, punctuated by entertainment—music, theatrical performances and a sport competition (Zango)—as well as a keynote address by Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Following the orange march, the Executive Director visited DRC’s Prime Minister, Augustin Matata Ponyo and discussed a range of relevant issues.
The Executive Director also took part in a High-Level Advocacy Meeting, introduced by Minister of Women, Family and Children Lucie Kipele, who stressed the importance of addressing sexual and gender-based violence and including women as important stakeholders in economic development and reconstruction.
The Personal Representative of the President in charge of the fight against sexual violence and child recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, emphasized the government’s progress on the fight against impunity and increased prosecutions of military and police.
Speaking on behalf of civil society organizations, President of the Cadre Permanent de Concertation de la Femme Congolaise (CAFCO) Rose Mutombo noted the use of rape as a weapon of war and improvements in legal structures for women, including a law for the protection of children, law on women’s parity in politics, and the ongoing review of the country’s family code.
In her keynote address, the Executive Director welcomed progress made in growing the economy, dealing with gender-based violence, and in dealing with other profound issues affecting the country, while stressing the need for sustained action: “I need to tell you that the struggle is not over, so stay with it until we have been able to deliver, through the Sustainable Development Goals, the change that the people of the Congo and the people of Africa deserve.”
The event concluded with a speech by the Prime Minister, in which he stressed the government’s commitment to eradicate the scourge of violence that has brought shame to his country. He said that prevention should guide the country’s response, through maintaining peace and security, and emphasized the Government’s commitment to implementing Security Council resolution 1325, on women, peace and security.
Also on 5 December, the Executive Director attended a dinner for UN staff, donors, NGOs and private sector partners. The finalists of a 16 Days art competition on ending violence against women were displayed and first–third place entries were prized. The competition was held among students of DRC’s School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux Arts).
On the second day of her mission, the Executive Director—accompanied by local and regional UN Women staff and the head of Gender in the provincial administration—met with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence at the Panzi Hospital and Foundation in Bukavu. The hospital, which receives a daily average of 20 female rape survivors, offers specialized psychological and medical treatment, judicial and socioeconomic support, sexual education and self-defense courses, as well as leadership and job-skills training.
The Executive Director and her delegation visited a variety of the hospital’s services and met an 11-year-old girl there who is pregnant as a result of rape. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka encouraged all of Panzi’s personnel to carry on with their hard work, which UN Women will continue to support. She also invited the Panzi Foundation to support replication of this model of comprehensive services to other provinces where women and girls are also suffering.
Returning to Kinshasa on 3 December, the Executive Director took part in an interactive discussion with members of civil society to discuss their partnership with UN Women and exchange ideas on advocacy and solutions for women’s empowerment in DRC.
On the first full day of her mission, the Executive Director travelled from Kinshasa to Goma and Bukavu, DRC. Upon her arrival in Bukavu by helicopter, she was greeted by enthusiastic orange-clad women’s groups singing in Swahili: "Go and say to Phumzile that we say no to violence against women. Our mama, UN Women, go forward, we are all behind you."
She met with high-level officials including the Governor of South Kivu Province, Marcellin Chissambo (centre) and his cabinet, which includes four women ministers out of 10—the highest proportion in the DRC. After the courtesy visit, the Executive Director met with South Kivu civil society organizations and survivors of sexual violence. They urged her to support their advocacy initiatives and help lobby the international community to intensify efforts aimed at: ending conflict in the DRC; ensuring women’s full inclusion in all conflict-resolution and recovery efforts; implementing international human rights instruments to protect the rights of women and girls; and lobbying for the establishment of a national reparations programme for survivors of sexual violence.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in an interactive session with UN Women partners and civil society organizations that work to confront sexual and gender-based violence. The gathering featured dancing and a series of theatrical and cultural interludes.
Two young women, both holding babies who were conceived by rape, told their stories. They were followed by dramatic skits that delivered strong messages through dark humour—such as a father, whose daughter was raped, lamenting over losing the dowry he would no longer receive (and cows he could no longer buy) since his daughter had lost her “value”. The Executive Director thanked the women survivors who “despite your pain and trauma sill have the courage to stand up here and tell your stories.”
Throughout the day, the Executive Director underlined the importance of galvanizing international, regional and national attention around the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC, emphasizing the links between women’s security and protection and their participation and leadership in all aspects of public life.