Solidarite des Femmes de Fizi pour le Bien-Etre Familial "SOFIBEF"
- is a local women organisation supporting:
- the promotion of women's human rights
- the promotion of mental health of women victims of women's human rights violation (including domestic violence)
- the promotion of children's human rights.
We are not a grant making organisation.
SOFIBEF operates in Fizi territory, south kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire). We support women communities from the following villages: Tingi-tingi, Kikonde, Kazimia, Yungu, Fizi, Mboko, Makobola, Minembwe and Baraka.
The problem which gave rise to Sofibef Project
Today in every single village throughout Fizi territory, there are many women silently suffering the effect of consequence of women's rights violation. This violation takes many forms: between husband and wife at home, between man and woman in society, in family life and in the community including violence against widows, handicapped and elderly women. There is physical violence, psychological violence, socio-economic violence, environmental violence and political violence. Many women - too many women - live a "culture of violence, brutality, oppression, depression, marginalisation, exclusion, intimidation, distrust . . ."
The area registers a noticeable imbalance between man and woman. This imbalance which expressed itself under various shapes in the course of history results from alienating traditions mounted by men, some State actors, religious fundamentalists, traditionalists and a good number of extremist activists who disregard feminism in order to maintain women in a state of inferiority, including poor treatment of female students in schools, and women workers in work places.
In our community, 80% of the girls end their schooling at primary education level where they learn a little reading, writing and calculation. Apart from schooling, which she abandons too early, the still young girl is used to look after their smaller sisters and smaller brothers at the moment when the mother is kept busy elsewhere (in the field, in the kitchen) and more often, for some teenagers, they work like their mothers. Marriages are precocious without any previous education, which creates a gap between the girls, and the young boys who see themselves privileged and resort to towns where they find educated girls who have studied. For want of education, family easily collapses. Children are not well fed, lack hygiene, and there are often dissension, which end in divorce. In Fizi, many women widows are denied their inheritance rights. In many cases, either property records are destroyed, or the women themselves are unaware of their rights and unfamiliar with the legal system.
Additionally, it has to be remembered that since the beginning of the so-called liberation wars in our country during the past few years, Fizi women have known painful political transfer. The weapons proliferation, many of them illegally held by civilians, are used to frustrate, threaten, traumatise and violate women's rights. Rape, torture, women's imprisonment or used in soldiers' barracks and/or sexually, and domestically harassed by both soldiers and armed civilians was rampant. A great silence surrounded the issue.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence were widespread during war. Women were gang-raped, held in sexual slavery, raped with sharp objects, and in other ways sexually mutilated. Women victims were imprisoned in their homes or kept in the headquarters of their torturers as a "feast" for militia men (Mai-Mai), rebels, soldiers, policemen. Some women were forced to follow their rapers into exile as the only means of escaping death. Others were forced to watch as their family members were killed by the rapists, and left to live with the sorrow of absolute loss.
Most of the survivors of the Congo liberation bloodletting war were women and children, they were the most vulnerable groups in this conflict although they were rarely party to starting the conflict or actively taking part in it. The consequences of sexual violence during this period of conflict are often far-reaching and will take generations to recover. Many women survivors continue to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV/AIDS. Some women sustained injuries resulting from attempts to induce abortion or injuries to their reproductive organs from the rapes. The emotional trauma of having to cope with the birth of unwanted children has thrown many women in Fizi into deep depression. This depression accompanied with the sorrow of loss and hopelessness for a stable future has brought many women to suicide. Two-thirds of Fizi post-conflict population is now female, and many of these women are traumatised, widowed, and looking after their own and orphaned children.
Not only women are physically and psychologically attacked; even some of their organisations are banned or threatened by armed groups as they also participated in the fight against dictatorship, oppression and exclusion. Gender discrimination exists at all levels. Fizi traditional society has limited women's accessibility to knowledge, education and resources. In turn, this has increased the incidence of disease and malnutrition and has limited women's participation in decision-making and development.
Before such an indecent situation, the poor Fizi women do only resign themselves without knowing how and where to present themselves in order to make the least claim and denunciation against unpitying and violent men. Then a group of women (Sofibef) thought it was more powerful to try to bring about a change in women's status by working together.
Faced with this vile situation of oppression and brutality, Sofibef whose main mission is to contribute to the promotion of women's rights in this territory could not remain indifferent. It hopes to arouse and support, through this program, the effort of women peacemakers so that daughters of this area reanimate their consciousness and defend validly their interests.
There are women in Fizi, thanks to Sofibef initiatives, who know they have a stake in establishing justice and an atmosphere of reconciliation in their communities and families. They can rise above their sufferings. Because they realise that women are responsible for the well being of their families and communities, they are custodians of peace initiatives. This program has to be understood as an "Action Campaign for Peace" to promote a culture of peace at local and regional levels, and to strengthen women's power and their role within Fizi society. As combatants, women's human rights activists and mothers will play an important role in working to establish equality, freedom, and peace and reduce women's emotional trauma. Women constitute 70% of the Fizi population. By virtue of their number, they are able to be key change agents in this society. But, they need the support of the international community in order to find security and peace for Fizi.
This project is aimed at the future familial life, that is, to inform Fizi population about female human rights because we are fully convinced that women's human rights have to be first known in order to be recognised.