This piece speaks for itself. The DRC/Democratic Republic of Congo is a massive country, with massive problems – but also with people working their hardest to address them with bravery which cannot be overestimated.
In the piece below, some names of people and their location have been abbreviated to random initials in inverted commas to protect privacy; we were provided with the full names.
Hubert Masirika of COMEN is scheduled to speak (visa permitting) at an INNATE seminar in Belfast on Men and Violence on 12th September 2018 – see news section in this issue.
By Hubert Masirika
Congo Men’s Network (COMEN) is a Congolese (DR Congo) Non Governmental Organisation committed to prevent sexual and gender based violence in engaging men and boys to positive masculinities and positive fatherhood. It also works in the fields of conflict resolution and community violence reduction, while fighting HIV /AIDS through Sexual and Reproduction Health sensitisation. It operates in 6 of the former 11 provinces, including the North Kivu province where its headquarter is located (Goma), the South Kivu, Kinshasa, Ituri, Maniema and the Equateur provinces.
COMEN works in partnership with UN agencies (UNICEF, UN WOMEN, MONUSCO), international non governmental organisations (Alert International, Care International, Sonke Gender Justice, American Jewish World Service, Diakonia Sweden, Genderforce), as well as local /national organisations and church structures.
With UNICEF, CARE International, International Alert and Diakonia Sweden, COMEN organises dialogue groups of men and boys on topics related to behaviour change to prevent violence in general and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in particular.
With MONUSCO, it implements projects to reduce community violence in enabling ex-combatants and vulnerable youth at risk providing vocational training and earn a living. Gathering these categories of people around a common objective improves their relationship for a peaceful cohabitation.
Projects funded by UN WOMEN focus on strategies to build community self protection mechanisms in implementing several committees, including early warning systems, synergies uniting community and security sectors leaders, community members and the civil society organisations work together to protect themselves against evil doers.
Through UNICEF funded projects COMEN provides capacity building to other UNICEF partners in positive masculinities approach to prevent violence and in integrating the Gender dimension in all their responses targeting infant soldiers and other children associated to armed groups.
COMEN is also the focal point of Men Engage DR Congo, which is a network of 26 national organisations benefiting with funds from Sonke Gender Justice to address gender equalities issues.
Funding from the American Jewish World Society (AJWS) enables COMEN to sensitise religious and community leaders to engage themselves in the violence prevention through positive behaviour change. These decision makers play a capital role in their communities to end violence and restore sustainable peace.
Violence in the DR Congo context
Violence is any action against a person/a community with the intention to harm. With half a century of internal and external armed conflict and bad governance, the DR Congo has faced all types of violence, including crime related violence and customary/culture related violence. Crime related violence refers to war crimes, ethnical extermination and any sort of man-made disasters. This is illustrated by ongoing massacres like in Beni, Kasai, North Kivu, the Katanga, the Ituri, More than seven millions of deaths are referred to. This is certainly the most under reported crime which has ever existed. The customary or cultural violence includes a set of practices which have been accepted as normal because of pre-established mechanisms favouring inequalities between different social stratifications. We may cite the patriarchal system, for example, which allows a lot of privileges to men and causes inequalities between men and women.
The DR Congo is the most prolific in armed groups among the conflicting countries in the world. Men and violence All armed groups are led by men.
Out of the 25 candidates at the presidential position elections, there was only one courageous woman and her candidature has been rejected.
Men are at almost 90% in the parliament and the senate
Only one woman out of 26 province governors has been appointed.
Very few women have decision making positions in the security sectors (the army, the police and the so many intelligence services)
In other words, MEN ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR any positive or negative event related to security/violence.
These include domestic violence together with a large range of several types of violence such as economical, psychological, physical…
Perpetrators of rape and other kinds of violence are at more than 90% men, though men are also direct or indirect victims of violence.
Positive masculinities and fatherhood
Perpetrators of violence, be it criminal or cultural are men at more than 90%. And yet men are not born to be violent. Apart from the violent behaviours, there are also positive behaviours we have to upraise, while eradicating the negative ones. These are positive masculinities. If in a given society 90% of known violence perpetrators change behaviour and become gender/non violence activists, that community will become a violence free community.
Most children involved in armed groups (militias and government troops) have got a sad family background. It is usually children from a monoparental family, or who have been abandoned by both parents. Their family education had been negatively controlled to the extent that they lost hope in a better future and became what they are - a social problem.
COMEN’s approaches are determined by the project design according to the terms of references, including the objectives agreed on by the donor organisation and the implementing partner (COMEN).
With projects funded by UNICEF, UNWOMEN, Diakonia, Alert International and CARE international COMEN implements dialogue/discussion groups of 10 to 20 men gathering around two community facilitators, a man and a woman. For six months, they meet once a week to discuss for one to two hours about issues related to gender equality. The community facilitators have previously attended a week training on gender based violence, prevention strategies including positive masculinities and fatherhood. These group discussions animate awareness of the negative effects of violent behaviours in general and the benefit communities get when they are free from violence. Together with these men’s group discussions, COMEN also organises radio interactive debates on themes related to gender based inequalities and community strategies to prevent these inequalities. Visibility devices carrying sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) prevention clues are spread in the communities.
Apart from the above mentioned visibility clues, COMEN also organises ambush theatres and mobile cinema all over its project sites.
The Community Violence Reduction (CVR) project funded by MONUSCO has three components, viz. granting a vocational training to earn a living, provide to ex-combatants and community youth at risk a job opportunity to earn some money and a psycho-therapy component, including trauma healing and positive masculinities and fatherhood for a positive behaviour change. Having these former enemies in contexts of ethnical conflicts spend their days together, work together, interact and share the same vital objectives (earning a living, for example) is an efficient way to reduce violence within the communities and to restore peaceful cohabitation among ethnic conflicting militias. These CVR projects do not target men only but also vulnerable women in the communities.
Community, political and religious leaders play an important role and have a considerable influence as far as decision making within their communities is concerned. This influence is usually negative because most conflicts are ethnically based. If these leaders are well sensitised, they can help eradicate all the evil roots of violence within the communities. That is why COMEN is sensitising these targets with the funds from the American Jewish World Society.
As recommended in the United Nations Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1325, COMEN works together with a platform of women’s organisations in peace restoration in the conflicting areas of Rutshuru and Lubero territories. Women have to be associated to all steps for peacebuilding. When men are thinking about the dividends they will benefit from the conflicts, women are thinking about their husbands, sons and properties they lose in those conflicts.
COMEN also organises some punctual actions for a very limited period. Among these we can mention:
One Men Care Campaign funded by MenEngage Africa (Sonke Gender Justice) on positive fatherhood,
“Mouvement Rien Sans les Femmes”, a coalition of gender organisations, of which COMEN is a co-lead. It advocates for parity in the electoral process.
COMEN is also consulted by UN agencies, international and national organisations (UNICEF, International Alert, Heal Africa) to provide capacity building to their partner organisations and staff on issues related to gender and prevention strategies.
COMEN has trained 440 community leaders who are all working in 200 dialogue groups.
Members of the trained dialogue groups start their own groups of discussion and by the multiplying effect sensitise more and more people on positive behaviour change to free their communities from violence.
The weekly radio debates it organises with 5 radio stations are listened to by the whole communities in Beni, Kirumba, Rutshuru and Oicha. Visibility posts, banners and leaflets are scattered in all COMEN project sites. This ensures at least 2 million people are reached by the projects.
Success stories collected at the end of each project show that a great change has occurred in the beneficiary communities. This is attested by individual testimonies or through public community debates/dialogues, monitored and organised by the communities, a forum where all the community members are gathered to discuss issues related to gender equality, conflict resolution and community violence reduction like some examples below :
COMEN approach for positive masculinities and fatherhood has been a great success, throughout the whole project sites. This includes Muslim leaders adhering to the new ideas. El Hadj ‘W’, responsible for the local Islamic community, declares that there is no shame for him to share domestic tasks such as washing the children, cleaning the house with his wives, what he could not have imagined some times before.
‘X’ (40 years old) was one of the most feared among the militia troops leaders. He had no hesitation when it came to killing a person. All his life he has been indifferent to ethnical based militias whose unique objective was to fight any other person from a different ethnic group. Not only was he violent towards everybody but also towards his own children and wife. Thanks to the COMEN CVR project, he has decided to change. He helps his wife in domestic tasks, takes care of his children and has consideration towards other community members. With the little money he has earned, he bought a plot with a small house to shelter his family. He uses his leadership skills to advise his mates for a positive behaviour change.
‘Y’ (39 years old) is a member of one of the COMEN dialogue groups. Before he joined the group, he used to abuse his wife and family through economical and domestic violence, stealing his wife’s money to buy beer and pay for prostitutes. As a consequence his family lived in acute poverty. With the change through positive masculinity and fatherhood, he has considerably improved his living conditions.
Mr. ‘Z’, local chief of his village, is one of the most conservative of the local leaders in the territory. It is one of the most affected villages by armed conflicts in the last three decades. At first, he was very resistant and opposed to our innovation for a change in the traditional beliefs as far as gender inequalities and community violence are concerned. He said we had come to impose western conceptions and uproot tradition. After some months of sensitisation, he understood the relevance of the project. During the community dialogue COMEN organised in his village, he officially and publically recognised that he was mistaken and that he would give full support to the COMEN project to eradicate all forms of violence in his community.
Beni Territory Administrator Amisi Kalonda invites all his population to unite in the fight against sexual and gender based violence on the one hand, and against all forms of violence on the other hand. Mrs Marie Doxie Nepanepa, territory Social Affairs Officer, added that women should not be left aside in this fight. They have to join men’s efforts and give them full support.
Rutshuru Territory Deputy Administrator Liberata Buratwa recognises how COMEN training on community protection and violent prevention strategies has helped her reinforce her skills in tackling ongoing conflict actors in both the Rutshuru and Lubero territories. Together with a platform of women’s organisation with technical, logistical and financial support from COMEN these brave women and COMEN staff dare to sensitise these war lords to release infant soldiers among their troops and cease hostilities which destroy their own communities.
At the beginning of each project COMEN takes enough time to explain the relevance of the project to the community and brings everybody to understand the project for its ownership. So all beneficiaries are prepared to volunteer and do not expect any other benefit than to see the positive change expected in their community.
After the project funds have ended, community facilitators continue to gather old and new members as they understand the relevance of the behaviour for positive change in their community.
The biggest challenge is the huge amount of work and means needed to address violence related issues.
As to the violence coverage on the national territory, COMEN work is but a drop of water in a lake. More attention has to be allocated to this response.
The logistic aspect is also a serious concern. DR Congo roads are among the worst in the world.
Violence and gender inequalities are mostly due to conflict of interest and privilege. The stakeholders of the violence issues and gender inequalities are also the ones profiting from the monopoly in the access and control of resources and decision making. They have no interest to stop violence and gender inequalities unless otherwise sensitised,
Conclusion and recommendation
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country overwhelmed by internal and external violence due to several factors including the struggle to access to and control resources, as well as to conflict of interest. Over the last three decades, more than seven millions unreported deaths have only worsened the situation, yielding into an infernal vicious circle of violence.
The work to reduce violence in DR Congo is very huge. We would recommend that more actors join their efforts to cover this “heart of darkness “ as Joseph Conrad would name it.