"In our culture we see women as an object"

DR Congo
December 2015

Assignment for Oxfam Novib

"I was a violent man. I hit my wife when she did not obey me fast enough. I never helped her with the housework because I always considered that a woman’s job. In our culture we see a woman as an object, a tool we can use. But I am a changed man now. The We Can campaign made me realize I was wrong,” says Papa Longa.

Gender inequality and violence against women and girls is a major and widespread problem in Congo. Girls are less educated than boys and women often do not have equal right to inherit property.  They are considered inferior to men. To address the problem Oxfam Novib supports the We Can campaign, which was launched in 2008. Via mass communication, public gatherings and personal house visits the campaign aims to change the fundamental attitudes and social beliefs sustaining it. A social movement that targets all aspects of society including the army, police, local authorities and religious leaders who often enjoy much respect from the community.

The problem domestic violence is deeply rooted in the Congolese society and therefor the process of change is long. “It took me six years before I finally was a changed man,” Papa Longa explains. “For me the violent way I treated my wife was normal. This is how my father raised me and how I saw he treated my mother. The campaign members really made a big effort in making me realize time and time again that men and women are equal and that I should denounce violence.”

But not only the men, also the women need to change their values, beliefs and behaviour. Papa Longa’s wife Amuli Nzinjire explains what the campaign meant for her: “We have been married for eight years now and although the violence was difficult for me to cope with, I considered it as normal. My husband was the boss in the house. But one day he came home and asked me to stop cooking. He wanted to take over. I refused because I considered it to be shameful when a man does a woman’s job. I was raised like that too and it took time for me to change. But now I realize men and women are indeed equal.”

Chantal Bilulu, a human rights defender from Bukavu, also emphasises the role of women in sustaining the gender inequality in Congolese society. “I know many examples of women oppressing other women because of their cultural beliefs. I experienced it myself after my husband passed away. We had a good marriage and were both change agents in the We Can campaign. But after his death my sister- and mother-in-law started spreading rumours about me. They threatened me with violence and wanted to take the car and the house. They believed they were entitled to it. Luckily I was warned by my neighbours and able to leave on time with my children to start over somewhere else.”

Suzanna first heard about the campaign on the radio. When she saw a man at the market wearing a campaign T-shirt, she approached him. “I wanted to know what they could do for me because my husband was a violent man too. He often beat me and was very rough when we were having sex. One time when he was drunk, he stabbed me damaging my liver after which I needed surgery. And in the house, I had to do all the work. Even when I was eight months pregnant and carrying another baby on my back, my husband would just sit there and do nothing.”

She convinced her husband to participate in the program and her life has changed for the better. Now she is determined to help others change too. But because change is a long process that requires constant repetition and a lot of guidance, it is a difficult task to fulfil. “Many people we try to reach live in remote areas. But we do not have enough funding to pay for the transport to visit them. And the key to successfully change their violent behaviour is to advise and assist them regularly. The fact that they heard about the campaign and acknowledge the importance of it, is simply not enough. This kind of behaviour does not change overnight.”

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 Papa Longa:  "I am a changed man now. The We Can campaign made me realise I was wrong.”

Papa Longa: "I am a changed man now. The We Can campaign made me realise I was wrong.”

 Suzanna:  “One time when he was drunk, he stabbed me damaging my liver after which I needed surgery.”

Suzanna: “One time when he was drunk, he stabbed me damaging my liver after which I needed surgery.”