Over the past 18 years, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced ongoing conflict, with escalating sexual violence capturing the attention of people everywhere, including funders and the international media. During these cycles of conflict, rape has been used as a weapon of war on a massive scale and many initiatives have been set up over the years to assist women survivors. It is good to see efforts dealing with this situation, but more action is needed to tackle its underlying root causes.
Fonds pour les femmes Congolaises (FFC) is the first and only non-governmental Congolese women’s fund. We fund and mobilise women around the country to conduct advocacy for peace with key players, like the government and the international community. While sexual violence may be on the agenda, supporting women to access decision-making positions and to fight for peace has, to date, been under-prioritized by many actors interested in DRC’s issues.
We have seen efforts to bring about peace from both the international and national community; there have been numerous negotiations and agreements over the past years, including the recent peace negotiations in Kampala. Yet the number of women delegates at these meetings has been low or almost nonexistent, even though women have been the primary victims of these conflicts and thus are well placed to call for the restoration of peace.
Our work in funding grassroots women’s rights organisations has shown that there are women who fight and are bold enough to run for and be elected into formal decision-making positions such as local government. Unfortunately this ratio is low because these women often lack sponsors and many still need training to overcome the numerous obstacles on their path so that their voices get heard and their recommendations are acknowledged in, for instance, negotiation spaces.
At FFC, we believe it is important to provide women with the necessary tools to take up their rightful place in the political arena. Therefore, as well as direct grantmaking, we also provide civic education to political parties and encourage them to make their lists for election candidates comprise at least 30% women. We also encourage women’s rights organizations to promote peace in their communities by sensitizing young people and discussing the disadvantages of joining the rebellion and by creating an alliance with churches so that they can spread peace messages. For this purpose we train and fund organizations so that they can spread messages of peace, train other women candidates, and raise awareness in their communities about the importance of voting for women candidates during elections.
Nevertheless, many grassroots women’s organizations in the DRC are not able to raise the financial resources they need to do their work because they are not well trained in technical skills like fundraising, writing grant proposals and creating reports. This has led many organisations to work without sufficient means to cater to different women’s needs in their community. To meet this need, FFC provides capacity-building support to these organisations. For instance, we train organisations how to write reports and how to fundraise. We also give them financial support so that they can implement their planned activities. To date, of the 60 local organizations we have trained and funded over the past two years, 20% have been successful in raising funds from other donors.
Given that the DRC is a large country and we have a relatively small budget, we cannot fund all groups working on women’s rights. As such, we call upon other funders to invest in training for local women’s groups and assist them so that they can successfully implement their work, which is important for the sustainability of women’s rights efforts in the country and to reduce dependency on large international NGOs.
While there is international attention for the DRC, there is still little funding available to take successful local initiatives to scale. During the French summit in October 2012, FFC hosted 25 women from the eastern part of the DRC to come and talk about the violence they witnessed during these cycles of conflict. The women came to Kinshasa and met with representatives of various embassies, as well as the French president, François Holland. It was important for these women – many who have survived sexual violence themselves or witnessed other acts of violence – to speak up during the international French summit because many international actors were present, making it an opportunity not to be missed. Their stories made all the more real why peace needs to be restored. While this activity was a great success, we think it is important that on an international level the voices of women in the DRC are also heard and taken into consideration when making decisions that affect their lives. We see it as imperative that more funding goes towards enabling women to participate and advocate in international spaces, like the International Criminal Court, so that they can advocate for the restoration of peace in the DRC – in their own voices, with their own stories.
On the whole, we at FFC believe that women need to be empowered to access decision-making positions and to be able to effectively fight for the restoration of peace in our country. We are convinced that peace is a necessary condition for reducing sexual violence in our country and for enabling women to secure their human rights.
Nyota Babunga is fundraising and communications manager of the Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises (FFC), which was legally registered in May 2010 and awarded its first grants in 2011. Its mission is to support women and girls of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and particularly those at the grassroots, to build their movements and advocate for their rights, highlighting the right to a life without violence. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.