Women for peace: Solange, DRC

To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?

You can read all of their featured stories here.

Solange, DRC

Solange Lwashiga Furaha is part of Rien Sans les Femmes ('Nothing without women'), a civil society movement that promotes women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is supported by International Alert.

Please describe your professional background and what you are currently working on.

I studied in a teacher training college called L'Institut supérieur pédagogique de Bukavu, where I got a degree in pedagogy in the Department of African Culture. I taught English at secondary school for more than 10 years before joining the Caucus des Femmes Congolaises du Sud-Kivu pour la Paix [one of International Alert’s partners in DRC] in 2003. This is a civil society network that works for gender equality and human rights – focussing in particular on women’s participation in decision-making at all levels in DRC.

During the electoral process from 20052007, I was elected the president of this organisation. I led all their activities, including advocacy relating to peace and women’s political participation as candidates, voters, observers and testifiers. I remain a human rights and women’s activist, and am currently the Executive Secretary of the Caucus des Femmes.

I coordinate their work on three levels. I communicate with student groups in order to change gender dynamics within their universities and communities. Beyond that, I continue to advocate for better representation of women in decision-making roles. I also support women in politics through capacity-building (such as developing leadership skills). In South Kivu more than 40% of ministers are women, which is much higher than other provinces.

I am also a member of the campaign Rien Sans les Femmes a collective of more than 60 Congolese organisations and individuals that promotes women’s rights.

What are the challenges and opportunities for gender equality in DRC?

There are regional, national and international laws and policies that promote women’s rights and gender equality. Among these is the National Action Plan on UN resolution 1325. There’s also the DRC constitution, which talks about parity and fighting any form of violence against women. A number of committed women’s rights organisations that focus on gender equality in their programmes also inspire hope, and it’s a topic that the media are keen to engage with.

However, some big challenges remain in DRC. Politicians often don’t respect and implement these laws and policies, and there are also some discriminatory laws which remain in place. Women often aren’t paid the same as men for equivalent roles. Many parts of DRC are also very patriarchal and negative cultural norms, stereotypes and prejudices about women all present a barrier to equality.

The government need to provide better support to the education sectors and make women more aware of their rights – particularly those living in poverty.

What role do you think gender equality/women’s empowerment could play in long-term peace?

Gender inequality is an obstacle to peace and inclusive, sustainable development. When programmes are being designed, they must take into account the needs of men and women. I would like to quote our document of advocacy, which highlights that "there won’t be any peace, any sustainable development, without women in DRC".

Empowering women will reduce discrimination and give them the chance to shape the future of DRC and also the world.

Which women inspire you and why?

Zita Kavungirwa, Mathilde Muhindo and Esperance Hendwa are all pioneers of women’s rights organisations in South Kivu who really inspire me. They impress me in the way they lead their groups. When they talk, people listen carefully because they highlight important issues for citizens.

Zita Kavungirwa encouraged me to see that I have abilities that need to be strengthened in leadership and women’s rights. She was a powerful, competent and self-confident woman who showed consideration for others. She was among the first candidates supported by Caucus des Femmes. She ran a great election campaign in 2006, but two weeks before voting, men looked for a means to destroy her progress. Despite losing the election, she kept her dynamism and continued to work for others especially coaching other women in politics. Through the support of Caucus des Femmes, she was nominated the mayor of Bukavu.

Marie Jeanne M’Bachu Nyenyezi is also a great inspiration. She was a political leader during the reign of the late president Mobutu [of DRC, then named Zaire, from 1965 to 1997]. I was still a student when she invited me into her office and suggested that I could be in charge of women’s affairs in the Kadutu commune. I noticed she was a leader with the will to support young people and teach them to be active in transforming their own lives. Later on, she became a parliamentarian and advocated on gender issues. She succeeded in having gender parity written into the constitution.

Did you celebrate Women’s Day this year? How?

Yes! We staged a march from Place Mulamba in Bukavu (pictured below), hosted by Rien Sans les Femmes members, to present our advocacy document to the governor of the province. This points out the extremely low representation of women in this provincial division (currently only 3 out of 56 are women). We are demanding equal representation of men and women in this year's election and peace process. The march was also a chance to ask politicians to preserve peace and not just focus on their own interests.

Photo © Bertin Bisimwa/International Alert