Femme au Fone

Woman on the Phone: Denunciation, information and political advocacy

Inaccessible terrain, a lack of communication channels and serious insecurity have plunged many of the Kivus population, in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, into silence and defencelessness. In a highly centralised country, these factors are natural and political barriers that boost the large number of armed groups that have built their strength in South Kivu and North Kivu.

Above all, women in these two provinces are suffering the consequences of this isolation, leading to deep insecurity. However, neither the Congolese authorities nor the international community – most notably the UN – are taking into consideration these women's proposals to create better living conditions for their own families and communities.

From Kivufoon to Femme au Fone

Telecommunications devices are very useful tools for overcoming geographical distances; they can also act as early warning systems concerning the threats faced by the local populations. Without tools like these, such threats can neither be communicated nor responded to.
Kivufoon was set up in 2012 with these considerations in mind. This is an original project led by the WorldCom Foundation and Lolamora Productions (WCLM) and Radio Maendeleo, a regional community radio station based in the city of Bukavu, South Kivu province.

Kivufoon is a system built on three pillars – communication, information and political advocacy. It offers female members of the various Radio Maendeleo Clubs a tool, via SMS, to report security incidents and to create an information system that allows the radio team to question and put pressure on the authorities.

However, the project has also highlighted the structural discrimination against the women inherent to Congolese society. After several months of testing, the team Maendeleo-WCLM realised that women were under-represented in the audience groups that were sending data via SMS using their mobile phones.

In order to reverse this trend, women started to lead the project. In November 2013, Kivufoon became Femme au Fone (FAF), Woman on the Phone. This process has built momentum thanks to the incorporation of two local organisations: the South Kivu Women's Media Association (AFEM-SK), and Solidarity of Women for Peace and Reconciliation (SPR), a network of women Organisations in North and South Kivu.

The main difference between Kivufoon and FAF is that the new system appeals directly to women to decide what and how they want to speak, and what their messages mean. FAF offers them a system (a software program) and a platform (a radio channel and a dedicated professional team). Their encrypted SMS messages reach a computer programmed to classify the messages according to urgency; this system is simpler than the previous Kivufoon one, where each message was encoded separately.

A team of professionals coordinated by Maendeleo-WCLM implements FAF: this team receives SMS messages, double-checks the information, produces radio programs based on the topics received and is responsible for alerts and other technical details.

The radio acts as a bridge and speaker when the system receives messages or population warnings. The team verifies and analyses the information, with the aim of alerting the local and provincial authorities, NGOs and other institutions or entities charged with responding to the problems. In addition, their messages and calls are a source of information for producing radio programs in which the concerns of and proposals made by the women become topics to be discussed. Since 2013, Radio Maendeleo and AFEM-SK have been transmitting to their listeners every week all news bulletins that arrive via FAF.

From local to international, and back to the local

Femme au Fone is a project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The Sudjata Foundation – part of the Dutch National Network for the implementation of the UN Resolution 1325. he Medio Foundation and Cordaid are their counterparts in The Netherlands.
This support is key to advocating for local demands on an international stage with the shared purpose of putting the Congolese women's agenda on those decision-making fora that affect them directly.

In addition, the Cordaid Barometer will be built up through FAF. This project aims to determine, by working with local women, specific indicators around the concept of security, which is one of the monitoring indicators in Resolution 1325.

In these ways, the aim is to go from local to international and back to the local, always with the Congolese women themselves at the head of the process.

Femme au Phone in pictures

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1. This was the beginning: women send their communications from within their communities.

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2. A computer classifies the messages and calls and generates statistics from keywords.

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3. In the editorial department of the radio, specialised journalists and lawyers analyse and verify the SMS messages.

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4. From the telephone to the microphones: the Radio Maendeleo studio disseminates information coming from FAF.

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5. FAF also visits the communities, as Kalehe, where the neighbours define what security is for them.

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6. A key date for FAF: 14 November, the public presentation day of the project in Bukavu.