Local protection committees in the Congo
Claudine is breastfeeding her youngest daughter when we find her in the meeting room of the Danish Refugee Council’s office in the city of Kitchanga, in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Claudine is one of the original members in one of the two protection committees that were formed in Kitchanga in October 2014, as part of a project funded by the FBA and implemented by the Danish Refugee Council. The project aims to empower women and promote their participation in peace and security forums. Within the framework of the project the Danish Refugee Council arrange trainings, meetings, dialogue and mediation facilitation, and awareness raising initiatives through media to strengthen the capacity of women to actively participate in these forums.
– When I heard about the initiative to form the committee, I felt the urge to participate. After having learnt about the objective of the committee, to address local security issues and advocate for the increased participation of women in the community decision-making, I volunteered as a member of the committee. I felt a call to help others, Claudine says.
Before joining the committee Claudine was obeying her husband, just like many other women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She did not dare to demand any influence in decisions about the household, not to mention speaking up about women’s protection issues in the public sphere. Now she has the courage to discuss both with her husband and other stakeholders in Kitchanga, such as the police. She has learnt about women’s and children’s rights and has convinced her husband that their girls also need an education. Today their girls are going to school in the afternoon, just as the boys already did before. Claudine and her husband take decisions together and her husband is supportive of her work in the protection committee.
– I have a more active role in the community of Kitchanga now, Claudine says.
During the interview, Claudine is shy in the beginning, answering our questions with a simple yes or no. But she slowly works up her confidence and starts speaking more. With a warm smile, she tells us that she feels happy when she’s working with the committee.
– Being in the committee has helped me, and others, to become stronger. I feel proud to be able to help others with their problems.
In the committee, Claudine has received training on subjects such as human rights, advocacy techniques, early warning systems and responses to sexual and gender-based violence, the role of the police, mediation, and complaint mechanisms. She uses the skills when handling the issues that the community of Kitchanga brings to the committee. Among other tasks, she accompanies victims of sexual violence to health clinics to receive PEP kits and treatment of injuries, she mediates with husbands of rape victims who according to customs want to send their wives away, and she negotiates with the police to properly assume their role protecting the population rather than harassing them.
In spite of having worked only for a few months, the committee is already known and trusted by the population in Kitchanga. Through sensitisation activities and good examples, such as contributing to the removal of illegal check points where the police or the army used to demand donations from the population, the committee has already gained a good reputation. Claudine is proud to share her work with us and we could have easily talked to her all day. But eventually she has to go. She walks away holding her head high and carrying her daughter tied to a straight back. There is no doubt that Claudine will continue her work in the committee and it is evident that the Democratic Republic of Congo benefits from inspiring role models as herself.