My name is Annie Tenga Modi. I’m 37 and I have an 18-year old daughter. I became an orphan when I was 13.
I run an organisation called AFIA MAMA. I’m a feminist activist campaigning for women and children’s rights, particularly regarding issues of leadership and participation.
I’ve been living in Kinshasa for four years now. I came back to DRC from South Africa where I spent over 10 years as a refugee.
I was my father’s princess. He used to do politics. He died when I turned 13. It was one year before the genocide and two before the first so-called war of liberation.
An orphan, I was displaced to a town in east DRC called Goma. Goma is famous not only for the number of wars it has been through, but also for the sexual and gender-based violence women and girls have been victims of for many years.
My community rejected me because of my physical appearance. I look as if I belong to a different ethnic group, but I actually don’t.
During the war, when I was 17, I became a mother, a teenage mum. I went to Kinshasa, but the stigma was just as bad. It was a lot of psychological pressure and a lot of pain for a teenager. At the same time, I had to be a mother to my daughter while I was still a child myself.
I went back to school in Kinshasa to get my high school diploma. But even there my appearance didn’t allow me to live freely, so my uncle decided to send me to South Africa where I spent over 10 years as a refugee.
Imagine the psychological and moral suffering I had to endure, and then ending up a refugee and victim to xenophobia and racism.
This was the time when I promised myself that I would become a “Voice of the Voiceless”. My activism began by advocating on behalf of women and girls in refugee reception centres. They had no access to basic services, even though they were available free of charge, because they couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t pay bribes or didn’t have the resource to fight their way in.
Over time we saw women in my home country who needed me. DRC had by then been dubbed “rape capital” because of the sexual violence being used as a weapon of war. I wanted to return to my country, to speak out for the women and girls left behind, for the ones who continued to live facing the violence and suffering I had endured but had been fortunate enough to escape.
I decided to see how I could contribute, make a difference, spread women’s voices while helping them to improve their status, their well-being, economic empowering and their personal development along with enhancing their participation in the running of their country.
Wars in DRC, especially in the East, are territorial as well as political. Amid the multitude of power struggles at play, it has become clear that women constitute a goldmine because, to some extent, they represent the pride of the men who possess them. One way to humiliate and destroy an enemy and secure control of his space is to target his weak spot by taking ‘his’ women and girls and systematically rape them in front of their men. We’ve turned the children into war machines, killing machines. It is systematic. So, I decided to talk about it until the world recognises this is a genocide. Violence is used to indicate victory over the enemy camp.
DRC has Dr Mukwege, who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. To us, this is an acknowledgement that this suffering is a reality. That somebody who has contributed to mitigating women’s pain can be recognised in such a way is a real comfort. One day this will be recognised as a genocide. That is why DRC has been labelled “rape capital”.
A woman who’s been raped is dead. Her life is over. After such an appalling experience, her life is gone. She breathes, she gets by, often for the people around her but not for herself. If she has children, a family, she keeps going for them.
We live in a patriarchal society with lots of so-called “values” used to define what women should be. How we should behave, and what’s expected of us.
A raped woman carries all the blame – even though she’s the victim. What often gives women strength is the solidarity they have with other women who have experienced similar or other forms of violence. They share their experiences and also their suffering. Some areas benefit from a lot of awareness raising and various humanitarian initiatives, and these help.
Sexual and reproductive health is an issue for women who have endured violence. We have very few hospitals who cater for fistulas. Lack of information and high rates of illiteracy are two of the barriers. Many materials are written in French rather than the vernacular language, which means that even when information is available, women can’t read it because it’s not in a language most of them speak. It doesn’t help a lot.
As Congolese women, our campaigning for the rights of women consists first of getting women’s voices heard and fostering their participation. We are in a country that has a legal system to protect us. This is something I have to acknowledge. On paper, we have lots of rights, but ensuring they are enacted is quite another story. Whenever we bring up our rights women are always in the minority, as female representation in parliament has never exceeded 15%. So the men have decided to reduce the package of rights legally we’re entitled to.
Second, not many women work in the judiciary system, so getting these laws enforced is problematic. We’re helping provide information in the field, for women to know their rights so as to defend them. The more decision makers are conscious of these issues, the more we can hope to gradually change mentalities. We’ve talked about stigma and discrimination, both of which result from people’s mindsets. People aren’t moving away from traditional practices and what they hear in churches.
We all may have lived through the war and may have seen a woman being raped in front of her whole family, but people continue blame women
My name is Rajwa Mohamad Rahmoun. I’m from al-Qusayr in the Homs Governonate of Syria. My children and I came to Lebanon and thankfully we are safe, but I have lost my husband. I do not know where he might be. I don’t know if he is dead or alive. I have no idea.
I suffer so much. As a woman, I cannot defend my rights or the rights of my children. Whatever happens to me I get told “You’re a woman, you cannot speak on this.” But I want to speak out and defend my family. I have to fight constantly.
I try to gather my courage and my strength. When I have something to say, I say it. I don’t want to keep silent; I want to stand up for my rights.
Looking at my children gives me that courage. Just one look at them and I find the patience and the strength to speak out. They make me feel so brave, which enables me to continue fighting for our rights.
Here in Lebanon, my son got into a moped accident and broke his arm and his leg. Everyone blamed me saying it was my fault that he was on the moped in the first place. He was taken to hospital and they charged me 2,000 dollars. I didn’t have 2,000 dollars, so I had to ask my neighbors to help me pay for my son’s treatment.
On the way to the hospital, I was terrified he would die. But when he told me everything was fine, it gave me the strength to go on and do everything I could to find the the money for his operation.
As a single mother with no husband, I have to constantly raise my voice. I have to be heard so that nobody harms my children.
People say “She’s a woman. Why is she raising her voice? Women should keep quiet. She has sons, they can do the talking.” But it is my responsibility to defend my children. I have to be both the woman and the man. That’s what I keep telling them.
We are treated unjustly on every level here. We used to have our own home, which we lost, and now we have ended up in a refugee camp with nothing. We lost everything. But Praise God, we’re alive. We just have to wait, but this life is so different from the one we had in Syria.
I would like for us to return to Syria. To open my eyes and find myself back home, in our country, that would be my dream.
I dream of my children excelling at everything they do. I believe that they will always make the right choices and succeed in life. That’s what I wish for from the bottom of my heart.
I also wish that women had more rights in life so that they could defend themselves and not have to suffer in silence. Women represent half of society. Women should have more rights. It is women who give life, who raise children, and who keep families together. The woman is the foundation of everything in life.
Without women, there would be nothing.
My name is Magdalena Simeonova. I am 28 years old and I have two children who are 9 and 5. I was born and raised in the Nadezhda neighborhood in the Bulgarian town of Sliven. We only moved out of the ghetto a year ago to settle in Sini Kamani.
I got married when I was 14. Today, I am strongly opposed to people getting married so young, but the environment in the Nadezhda neighborhood influences your decisions. I had lovely parents who wanted me to continue with my education and I had good grades at school, but I was influenced by my environment.
I met my husband and wanted to get married, but my parents were firmly against it. I insisted, and in the end, they stopped fighting it and we got married. My husband was 18 but I was only 14. Marrying young is the tradition in Nadezhda and the people themselves accept it as something normal. They do not see it as a problem and think that that’s how it should be.
Once you are married, as a woman in Nadezhda you are expected to drop out of school. You are supposed to have children and look after your family. In our community, your husband and in-laws expect you to have children straight away. There’s no waiting.
Doctors of the World France was running a project for women on how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and avoid sexually transmitted diseases. I took part and followed their 4-week training course. At the course I met Fanya Rameva, a lecturer and midwife. After I met her, I knew I wanted to go back to school and pursue higher education.
At the time, my 47 year old father in law had also decided to finally finish his secondary education and so had my husband. I secretly wanted to do the same, but I was scared to tell anyone because I am a woman and women are not allowed to study in Nadezhda.
My husband knew about my dreams though. One day he surprised me and told me that he had enrolled me at night school. At first, everyone was against it. People had problems with us because I had decided to continue my education. But we never gave up. I completed my secondary education, then I started studying at Varna Medical University and was accepted with a focus on midwifery. I am now in my last year and am completing an internship. Once it is finished, I will graduate.
I don’t want the same thing to happen to my children, so we moved out of the Nadezhda neighborhood. My husband and I will do our best to educate them and make sure they have a better life.
I also decided to work in a center for mothers in the ghetto. I help to motivate them, discuss their dreams, and to make sure they don’t drop out of school. I feel confident that more women will decide to pursue their education and play their part in society.
In a sense I feel blessed because I was the first woman in Nadezhda to be able to study and to do what I have done. I believe there will be many more after me.
My name is Diana Patricia Solís. I’m from a small town called Guacarí in the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. I have two sons.My name is Diana Patricia Solís. I’m from a small town called Guacarí in the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. I have two sons.
In 1995, I became a victim of sexual violence. I was attacked by a group of several FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) men who live in the valley.
It is very difficult to talk about this because of how you feel after. You feel dirty. Rape makes you feel bad. It’s horrible. Your whole world crumbles. They kept me up in in the mountains for two days and did all sorts to me. I couldn’t defend myself. As a result of the attack, I also contracted a sexually transmitted infection.
I couldn’t say anything because I was afraid of the consequences for my family. I was working for a family in Cali back then and I just told my boss because I was out shopping for breakfast when they took me away. I told my boss because he saw the state I was in when they let me go. I never told my family or my friends.
Doctors of the World really helped me. They taught me to be strong, and now I can talk about the attack in a calmer way. At first, I couldn’t bear speaking about it and would burst into tears. The trainings I completed with staff members such as Sandrita and Marta helped me to understand that it wasn’t my fault and that I was not to blame. I never asked for this to happen.
As I was trying to move on with my life with my sons, I became displaced.
When my eldest son was 20, FARC wanted him to join them but he did not want to go. I wouldn’t have let him either. A close friend told me that my son was going to be killed for turning them down and that we had to get out of there.
That night, when my friend went to work, they killed him. They hung a sign around his neck, calling him a rat because they had found out what he had told me. The next morning, two hooded men on a motorbike stopped me and threatened me. They gave me and my family 24 hours to leave or there would be consequences.
We left with a police escort to a rural area called Sonso. When we arrived in the town, we didn’t know anyone. We were cold, hungry, and desperate. Each one of us had a small bag over our shoulder with a few clothes inside. A woman who could tell that we were displaced helped us out because she had experienced the same thing.
I got a job in a little restaurant, but we continued to struggle financially. I met a man who I thought would help me through this difficult time. It was the worst mistake I ever made. He turned out to be violent and irresponsible. It was awful, I didn’t know how to cope with what was happening.
I used to think I deserved everything that happened to me. I suffered in silence and did not tell anyone. I felt ashamed until I joined the Doctors of the World training here in Guaviare. A psychologist asked me why I had never reported the assault and told me that I could report it and receive psychological support. With Doctors of the World, I learned that I did not deserve any abuse.
I would like to move forward with my life. I want to help train other women who have suffered the same difficulties, the same problems, and try to guide them in the right direction. I want to show them that we should not let anyone abuse us physically or verbally. No man should do that. Nothing justifies it. I want to focus on these women and to equip them with the tools to help them move forward.
I would also really like to work for myself and to start a business, but that’s further down the line. For now, I want to focus on women like me.
My name is Sanu Nani Magar and I am 48. I come from Ward Number 4 in Dhadingbesi Municipality, Nepal.
I didn’t choose to come here and sort the waste, but life was tough and I needed to find work and to earn money.
My husband and I had several children to take care of and we were struggling to feed and dress them. After looking for work in several places, we ended up here. We earn just enough to survive. Our children are grown now, and we all live in the same house. I’ve had 6 children and 5 of them survived; 4 girls and one boy.
A friend was working on this site sorting the waste. That’s how we found work here. My husband works with me. It’s really hard and dangerous work. We never know what might happen. There is glass, debris and even needles. We have to be really careful and watch out for ourselves.
As long as the truck comes and unloads, we have work. But when it doesn’t show up, there’s no work. Like on Saturdays, not many trucks come. I work an average of 22 days a month and I make between 400 and 500 rupees.
I live in a house made of corrugated sheeting and it doesn’t have water. We have to go and carry it back from the pump. It’s exhausting.
I would like to have better working conditions and access to water. I’d like to go back to farming like we did before, but we were not earning enough money to survive. I have ideas and dreams of course, but I can’t make them happen. I had thought about opening a small shop. I just don’t have the money.
There are women’s groups where we talk about projects. But it is already hard enough taking care of yourself and your family. There are always problems, everyone has problems. It would be great to set something up with the others but I barely have enough to get by. When you’ve got nothing, people don’t respect you. They don’t even bother to listen.
Sometimes the men drink and overdo it and become violent. We just try to put up with it all, to work hard and to scrape by.