Congolese lady revolutionizes journalism to promote women's rights

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Written by Alison Walkley [Cocorioko]

Thirty-one-year-old Chouchou Namegabe is revolutionizing journalism in her native country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the face of a patriarchal countrywide mindset, a small amount of funding, and even death threats to herself and her team.  Namegabe has been brought to the United States by the Vital Voices Global Partnership to spread her story and raise awareness about rape and her fellow women in the DRC. Vital Voices is “the preeminent non-governmental organization that identifies, trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, enabling them to create a better world for us all,” as vitalvoices.org attests. To date, they have trained over 7,000 women in leadership who have gone home to train another 200,000 women themselves.

Namegabe is one of those women. She hails from the South Kivu province of the DRC, where she has personally witnessed the systematic rape and violence against her Congolese sisters as a war strategy. Instead of merely massacring villages, droves of AIDS-infected soldiers have been sent into communities to systematically rape all of the women within.

Namegabe became interested in radio and journalism as a result of these atrocities occurring all around her. For her, the radio became the best method to spread the word about these problems, especially considering the illiteracy of the majority in the Congo.

Through self-taught journalism, she used the radio as a soapbox on which to “shield all the vulnerable as she spoke on their behalf in condemnation of pervasive, devastating and unimaginable sexual violence.”

Namegabe told MediaGlobal, “I started in 1997 working in a radio station. The DRC’s first war broke out in 1996, the second in 1998, the third in 2004 and it continues today.” When reports of sexual violence started coming in, Namegabe felt, “as a journalist, I couldn’t stay without doing anything.”

Due to the taboo surrounding sex and sexual activities in Africa, Namegabe was unsure how to go about discussing rape, especially on the air. When she began broadcasting the first testimonies of rape victims, reactions were strong.

“It was a shock,” she said. “We needed to desensitize the community…Quoting testimonies was the only way to denounce this crime on women.”

Namegabe went on to explain that the DRC rapes have nothing to do with sexual needs, which is what she and many others thought at first. “It’s a tactic to destroy communities,” she said. “Women are being raped in front of their families, in front of their children, in public… Our duty is to use a microphone to denounce it.”

And that is just what this activist has done, raising awareness internationally, from The Hague to the United States and beyond. In 2003, she founded the South Kivu Association des Femmes des Medias (South Kivu Women’s Media Association, or AFEM-SK) as a response to the tragedies in the war-torn DRC. In addition to the five million deaths in Eastern Congo, over one million rapes have been reported since 1998.

According to their website, afemsk.blogspot.com, AFEM-SK “specializes in the production of rural as well as urban radio shows with a major focus on women either from radio clubs or in the position of local social activist. This group also produces news reports from the field and sends news back to local radio stations.”

To date, Namegabe has enabled over 400 rape victim testimonies to be recorded and broadcast over the airwaves of ten DRC radio stations with which she has partnered.

“We want rape to end, to stop,” she said. “We’re not looking for a miraculous solution, just the political will to end it.”

When questioned about who is benefiting from Namegabe’s efforts, she responded, “To break the silence helps first the victims; it’s the first step to heal their internal wounds… It helps those still hiding. They come to us, thinking that they were the only ones… It helps the community. We touch everybody.”

In March 2009, Namegabe received the Vital Voices Global Partnership Fern Holland award. Such awards “honor courageous women leaders who have overcome poverty, human trafficking, violence against women, and other forms of discrimination to promote positive change in their communities.”

In her acceptance speech, Namegabe said, “Breaking the silence is just the beginning…. We need to teach women to stand up and use their voice.”

If you are interested in donating to AFEM-SK, or learning more about Chouchou Namegabe’s association, visit afemsk.blogspot.com or vitalvoices.org; or email

afemsk@sudkivu.org

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