When I was about 21, I had a slogan that I thought summed up what I wanted to do with my work in the women’s movement: I wanted to “give a voice to the voiceless.” I felt it explained what my heart wanted most and made it easier to express to others what I so yearned to do with my career. It felt harmless enough.
Until one cold winter day in Washington, D.C., I was talking with my friend, someone who shared my passion for the movement, and she called me out.
“They aren’t voiceless,” she said. “They have a voice, they just don’t have the opportunity to be heard. No one is listening.”
Of course, I knew this was true, but I never thought about how potentially degrading and disempowering it might be to say that it is my duty to give a voice to the voiceless, when I know very well that the women, men, and children I want to help certainly have a voice of their own.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the women who live there themselves admit that it is the “worst place to be a woman or girl,” they are using their voices to connect with people around the globe and demand an end to the sexual violence that has been plaguing their civil war for more than a decade.
One year ago, Neema Namadamu started the Maman Shujaa Media Center. Maman Shujaa, or “Hero Women,” is located in South Kivu, the site of many mass rapes and attacks on women.
Neema sought to create a space where her Congolese sisters could connect with each other and with the world to share their stories, memories, and resources. The center, which one year ago hosted only a few women, now serves approximately 1,250 women a month.
Neema explains: “We are from all tribes, all backgrounds, all professions, all situations, and we are together! We are for one another, as women. And we are drawing men to our cause as well. Police, military, and government officials join us. Pastors, lawyers, doctors, and administrators are here. From university students to grandmothers, we are breathing life into everything around us.”
The Maman Shujaa Hero Women of Congo are working with World Pulse to raise awareness about their struggles, their dreams, and what they are demanding from the international community: that rape in conflict be considered a crime against humanity.
You can see one of their videos here, created for their sisters in South Korea who are experiencing the same threat of sexual violence:
In the conversation about international women’s rights, it is imperative that we focus on the positive, the empowering, the movement. For years, stories about Congo have mainly focused on the tragic realities on the ground. Today, there is change and beauty coming from within.
For more on the organization and to become involved in the conversation, visit Worldpulse or read Neema’s story here. I can’t possibly express the progress that’s been made the way she has. So let’s listen to what all the women of Congo have to say.