Umoja FM

Protecting Women - Valuing Girls in North Kivu

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Day 9 of #16DaysofActivism

By Jon Hargreaves

I photographed the billboard above recently in a remote village in North Kivu in the DRC. It depicts two men molesting a woman with the words: “You wouldn’t do this if it was your mother, would you!” It is a stark reminder of the widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated in this country, notably as a weapon of war and coercion. Ravaged by over twenty years of conflict, with 3.7 million internally displaced people, UNWomen estimates that over 1 million women have been raped in the DRC.

HCR’s partner station in North Kivu, Umoja FM seeks to prevent and respond to sexual violence by building community resilience and changing attitudes about the value of women and girls, especially their education. The station runs programmes which provide counselling and trauma healing for survivors as well as advice for young people. In a meeting with listeners a few weeks ago I heard many stories of how the radio station has made a huge difference since 2016, when it was launched by Feba UK in collaboration with HCR and a local NGO, Esader.

One listener said: “In Watalinga (district) there was an attitude that we had to marry our girls at a very young age and so there was no point educating them. But the radio has changed all that, and I should know, because I used to think like that.” Another said that although many NGO’s had come and gone, the radio is always with them, helping them, bringing new ideas.

Station Manager Baraka Basweki told me, “We are changing community attitudes towards the value of women and girls. As one person changes so they influence another and another - you can feel it is different now.”