ABA ROLI Strives to Address Wider Women’s Rights Issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo

October 2011

 

As part of its efforts to defend and promote women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) promotes a better understanding of and support for women’s rights through trainings for health care professionals, female leaders of community organizations and judicial police officers. Speaking of the impact of atraining ABA ROLI provided from June 7–9, in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, Mirindi, a police commander in the town of Kalehe, said, “I am committing myselfto putting into people’s heads that women must be respected. I practice this athome with my wife, and I promote this within my jurisdiction.”

Just like Mirindi, many police officers who attended ABA ROLI-organized trainings express a renewed sense of responsibility for the protection and advancement of women in their communities. The latest trainings are inspiring these officers and other stakeholders, such as local chiefs and former rebelswho have joined the Congolese army, to play an ever-increasing role in helpingwomen get reparations for various injustices, including in cases of childsupport, inheritance and property ownership. Testimony to the increased levelof awareness among women and other players, half of those who seek assistance from ABA ROLI legal aid clinics are women with non-sexual violence-related cases. Innocent Nkiko Mpangazehe, a staff attorney at ABA ROLI’s legal aidclinic in Mwenga-Kitutu, South Kivu, said that the number is growing as more women experience first hand how the justice system can protect their rightswithin a number of different contexts, including family law and land rights. Hesaid that ABA ROLI’s educational and awareness programs are paying off.

“Once they [the women] understand their rights, then they can begin toassert them and defend themselves against injustices,” said Mpangazehe, “These women in turn share their stories with neighbors, family members and friends,and continue the process of educating their communities on women’s rights.”

Trained police officers are also passing along the newly gained knowledge totheir colleagues. Mirindi said that the training he received has made him “aneducator on sexual violence”. He said that he is learning the training modelsfrom the trainings he attended “because I will be repeating them so that allpolice stations under my supervision may be beneficiaries.”

Mpangazehe said the concerted efforts are making a difference in people’s lives. He recalled the story of a 4-year old girl—Nyota—who was at the centerof a case he had managed several months ago. While they had lived together forfive years, Nyota’s parents neglected to register their marriage with any governmental authority. When Nyota’s father decided to leave her mother foranother woman, Nyota’s mother was left alone to raise and care for herdaughter. She had, however, heard of ABA ROLI’s services and contacted ABA ROLIstaff attorneys at a legal aid clinic in her village, Kitutu. The attorneys helped her press child-neglect charges at the Tribunal de Paix (Peace Court). Nyota’s father admitted his neglect and was ordered to offer Nyota and hermother his annual cassava harvest.

Mpangazehe said that ABA ROLI’s assistance not only helped address Nyota’sand her mother’s immediate challenges but has also empowered the mother to demand her rights and to use the legal system to assert them.

To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org

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