The story of Aimée, a neighbourhood chief in DRC

Aimée Nsimire, chief of Panzi neighbourhood, Bukavu, eastern DRC, is a 51-year-old mother of two. She is the only woman in her family to have obtained a state diploma, and is now helping other women get education and take up leadership positions. International Alert trains women like Aimée in political leadership, supporting them to develop and implement action plans for elections.

Our project aims to contribute to a more inclusive and peaceful society in eastern DRC by strengthening the role of women like Aimée in decision making and conflict resolution.

"First of all, I have to say that it is up to women to put themselves forward and take their destiny into their own hands. Of course, traditional customs have put us at a disadvantage for a very long time, and some husbands are set against promoting women. In the past, our husbands have complained, saying, ‘Do you want to end up being one of those difficult women around here? There is no way you can form a group together.’

What's more, we don't have the scope to take on these roles because our level of education is below the average – old-fashioned views have always held women back, claiming that they shouldn't learn too much, that their education should stop at the kitchen. We are also prevented from getting involved in decision-making bodies by our limited financial resources; I remember during the campaign there were men who won elections because of their money.

Nowadays, I can report that the population is beginning to understand and accept the idea that women are just as capable of taking on leadership roles as men. One genuine example is that parents have already started enrolling all of their children in school without discrimination.

As for me, I became deputy neighbourhood chief in 2002, and in 2005 I took on the role of neighbourhood chief. From 2005 to 2012, at work I was always surrounded by men who worked as local avenue chiefs, but after taking the training courses on women's leadership and gender parity I realised how important it was for women to get involved at all levels of management. As a result of my influence as neighbourhood chief, four more women have now been appointed as avenue chiefs. They are accepted just as I am, and now I feel safer in the knowledge that other women are working for the same cause.

Before, I didn't realise that it was also essential to promote other women, to give them a chance too, but thanks to my training on women's leadership and gender parity, as well as the group discussions in Panzi, I got to know all of this and realised that other women needed to be offered the same opportunities as me – and now look at the results. It all happened when new avenues were being built in Panzi district and it was suggested that these four women should be proposed to the mayor as candidates. After we had fought the case for a long time, he agreed.

The main obstacle – ensuring education for girls – is gradually being removed, because we are currently running awareness campaigns for families in Panzi. Families are beginning to understand. For example, a male neighbour of mine recently said: ‘Now I understand that children are children and they need to go to school, regardless of their sex.’ That's the general attitude around here these days; women are involved in almost all aspects of neighbourhood management. Now we hold meetings without the men objecting, whereas two years ago they would turn their nose up at our invitations, and even some of those who came along would leave as soon as they realised a woman was holding the meeting.

Now we're starting to feel more secure in society because little by little, we are being accepted by men – although I imagine that in other parts of the country women are still being stifled by tradition, so we have to keep fighting for progress.”

Find out more about our women, citizenship and peace project in DRC.