In 2006, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) updated many of its laws for the first time since the 1940s. Crimes such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are now punishable by law. However, this important step toward increased social justice means little to an uninformed, often uneducated populace. Those most impacted by this informational deficit are of course the women of Congo. This is especially true in rural, coffee-producing states like North and South Kivu.
The Challenges Facing Women of Congo In Congo, women typically conduct 80% of the coffee field work. This includes planting, picking and processing the coffee that eventually makes it into our morning cup. These activities, culturally considered as women’s “ duty,” must be executed in conjunction with overseeing all domestic chores such as maintaining the household and caring for children. Men are responsible for taking the processed coffee beans to market. Often, they are also solely responsible for family finances and decision making. Over half of all girls who attend primary school in Congo are eventually forced to drop out. Not surprisingly, only about half of the country’s female population is literate, compared to nearly 80% of its male population (by contrast, the US has a 99% literacy rate for both men and women).
Despite decreased war violence in Congo, gender-based violence (GBV) continues to increase.
OTG’s Collaboration with Congolese Coffee Communities
For the past 3 years, On the Ground (OTG) has been working to improve the lives of coffee farmers in the South Kivu region. Our initial projects were funded by Run Across Congo, during which a group of nine US woman ran seven marathons in seven days to raise funds and awareness for the struggle of Congolese women. Since then, OTG has supported dozens of Congolese families across multiple villages through the Gender Equity Learning System; an internationlly designed and Congolese-led methodology which educates men and women on the positive impacts of shared financial decision making, mutual respect and family planning.
OTG has also provided emergency supplies to the Lemera Victime d’Aggression Sexuelle hospital, and funds for orphan primary schooling in nearby Minova.
Additionally, OTG has been a primary driver of Saveur du Kivu, an annual Congolese coffee competition which is bringing increase international attention and support to the communities who produce coffee.
Positive Change Through Education & Community Conversation
This September, OTG is hosting a 4-day Congolese created and led GBV workshop for 40 female coffee farmers from rural villages. The workshop will cover GBV prevention and the legal rights and protection women are entitled to after an attack. It will cost about $75 per woman to travel to and attend the workshop, which will be jointly run by a Congolese lawyer and our DRC Program Director. Managers from a large, regional coffee farming and producing cooperative will also be in attendance.
To monitor the impacts of this workshop, our Program Director will conduct quarterly follow up interviews with all participants. We’ll also host small quarterly public forums for community members to discuss cultural changes around GBV and women’s rights.