In Congo, Women Put Power Behind Rejoicing

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On International Women's Day there's no better place to be than Bukavu, in the troubled eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The outfits are spectacular, the dancing is spirited and the horn orchestra keeps playing through the rain.

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Thousands of women marched in downtown Bukavu to commemorate International Women's Day.BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo (WOMENSENEWS)--The streets here are usually a drab combination of dust and mud. But on International Women's Day, which took place March 8, they were awash in color as thousands of women, dressed in their finest, came to celebrate.

Although this place is often associated with the world's worst rape crisis, women throughout the east, especially in Bukavu and Goma--the provincial capitals of South and North Kivu--use the occasion to show they refuse to let victimization define them.

"I think there is great progress because women have proved that after so often being a victim, she can fight," said Justine Masika Bihumba, coordinator of Synergy of Women Against Sexual Violence, a network of 35 women's organizations in North Kivu. "She's found she can speak out against what's happened to her."

On March 8, the day started under a bright, hot sun as thousands of women converged on downtown Bukavu to celebrate International Women's Day, which marked its 100th anniversary of declaration this year. Each group of women dressed in coordinated outfits of swirling, patterned purples, rose-pinks, burnt oranges, cabernet reds and cool shades of blue.

The women of the QG 10th military regimen of the Congolese army led the parade, still in their olive green uniforms. Despite their uniforms, they sang and danced with the same spirit as the rest.

"We're soldiers, but we're women," said Lt. Faida Katete. "We are ready to gather strength with other women for the development and protection of women."

Participants came from local organizations--including those representing soldier's wives, pygmies and advocates for rape victims--international nongovernmental groups and U.N. divisions. They marched for peace, equality and an end to the rampant violence against women that has come to define the verdant eastern corner of this vast central African nation. All the groups held signs bearing their names, some signs including anti-rape and anti-violence slogans. Other women explained in interviews with Women's eNews their reasons for marching.

Marching in the Rain

Clouds formed several hours after the parade began, growing darker. The rain poured down in a torrent, but most women continued to march, moving en masse down a street that became a milk-chocolate river. They continued to keep pace with the steady beat of a horn orchestra. After about an hour of unrelenting rain, the crowds began to disperse. The event concluded by 3 p.m.

Christine Karumba, Congo country director for Washington, D.C.-based Women for Women International, said she prefers an event with specific outcomes.

This year, her organization met with Rwandan women in Goma, on the border between Rwanda and Congo, to stand together as examples of how women cross divides to end violence and encourage peace. Congo and Rwanda were once at war.

Similar demonstrations of solidarity were held around the world, under the "Join me on the Bridge" campaign, organized by Women for Women.

Bukavu's women will gather again in October when the city hosts the culmination of the World March of Women. Created in 2000 by women from Quebec, Canada, the event occurs every five years, said Josee Kusinza Nyenyezi, secretary for the coordination of the World March of Women for South Kivu.

The World March, whose secretariat is based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, was established to combat violence against women and the feminization of poverty, Nyenyezi said.

Nyenyezi believes it's good for women to take one day to exult.

"8 March must also be an opportunity for people who cried much to rejoice," she said.

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