Tags: congo, fizi, gender equality, great lakes region, kindu, refugees, sos femmes en danger, south kivu
Meet Marceline Kongolo. Marceline is the founder and executive secretary of SOS Femmes en Danger, a grassroots organization that seeks to improve the situation of women in Eastern Congo through education and assistance. SOS Femmes en Danger primarily works in Fizi Territory, where women are routinely abducted and subjected to sexual violence by numerous armed groups, both state and non-state.
Marceline is only 22 years old, but she has grown up amid the violent upheaval that has affected her homeland since the mid-90s. Her personal story of flight and loss is quite incredible.
“I was born and grew up in Kindu, in Maniema Province,” Marceline told us, “In 2001 my family and I fled Kindu because of the war. We were on the road for a long time, and in the process my father and brother were killed. After that, we were five: my mother, my siblings, and me. We fled then to Kisangani, but there life was difficult because of all the violence, war, and killing. After Kisangani, we went to Bukavu, then to Uvira, and we finally ended up in Fizi. Because of all the problems I saw around me during this period, I saw it was necessary to start helping women.”
Marceline’s story is unfortunately not too uncommon in Eastern Congo. The circumstances under which her brother and father were murdered are also sadly familiar to the area.
“When we were fleeing Kindu,” said Marceline, “the Congolese soldiers were taking girls as young as 13 and forcing them to be their wives. They would take girls into the forest, and after they had finished with them they would simply discard them.”
“This became a problem for me too, as a local commander wanted to take me as his wife. He was going to take me, but my mother refused, saying that I was too young. So, he sent men to kill my father and brother as we left Kindu. The commander put my sister and me in prison. After two days we were freed and we continued our flight to Kisangani.”
Stories similar to Marceline’s are still common in this part of Congo, and SOS Femmes en Danger faces an uphill battle in trying to break the cycle of sexual violence. However, Marceline remains positive.
“I will continue my work and will not be discouraged,” she said, “I work little by little to help women in the Congo, and things will change.”
Since SOS Femmes en Danger is a very small local organization, it has difficulty in responding to the need for assistance in Fizi. Marceline hopes that her organization will continue to grow and that women will be able to live without the constant fear of violation.
“We want to increase the number of women we are able to help. Today, perhaps we can work with 30 victims, tomorrow maybe 60, after that maybe 70, 150, and so on. That is the vision of SOS Femmes en Danger. For women in general, we want peace, development, an end to the fighting and violence, and the ability to go about our business without being threatened. Really, we just want women’s lives to be better.”