"I know my rights as a woman and no one can take that away from me"

DR Congo
September 2015

Assignment for Oxfam Novib

Before Sakina Masuruko got involved in the Ligue des Organisations des Femmes Paysannes du Congo (LOFEPACO) programme in 2009, she lived an insignificant life she says. "I really did not do much and felt rather useless. The people in the community looked down on me." An attitude that changed completely. Full of enthusiasm and confidence, Sakina passinately talks about her successes in recent years. Successes that would not have been possible without the help of LOFEPACO.

LOFEPACO is an organisation that defends and promotes the rights of women in rural areas. It strives for equality between men and women by increasing their participation in the economic, social and cultural life. This is much needed in a society where the opinions and rights of women often are not acknowledged. Denise Kombi, LOFEPACO office manager in Goma explains: "Many women for example are not officially married. As a result, they cannot inherit the land and house from their husband when he dies. The property goes to a male relative of the husband, leaving the wife empty handed. Many of these women are simply unaware of their rights. This is one example of the things we try to teach them. They have rights and those rights need to be acknowledged."

Sakina Masuruko tells how LOFEPCO taught her to be a strong and independent woman who is able to make her own contribution to the household. "Like other women in the program, I was given a goat for breeding. And I learned how to successfully grow beans. The program really changed our lives. Before, we did not always have enough money to put food on the table. Every day was a struggle to survive. Though my husband did want me to work, I simply did not know how or what I could do. Here it is normal that only the husband works and that he is supposed to provide for his family. But after LOFEOACOs help, my husband and I work together now. We are equal. Both of us are responsible to put food on the table and together we take decisions," Sakina explains.

Also for Ndasimwa, a mother of seven, the relationship with her husband greatly improved. "I know my rights as a woman and no one can take that away from me. I grow cassava and in the past my husband would sell the harvest and spend the money. But not anymore. LOFEPCO taught me how to convince my husband things needed to change. We split the profits now. He is responsible for paying the children’s school fees and my task is to take care of the food. And with the profit I made, I was able to buy a piece of land. I built a new house and I even opened a savings account," she says proudly.

The program has not only significantly improved the life of the women, but also that of their husbands. The men are amazed by the newly acquired skills and empowerment of their wives. And they do not see this as a threat, but rather as enrichment. After all, they also reap the benefits. In fact, many men now want to follow the program themselves!

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