Indispensable information on security in the RD Congo

By Luz Piedad Caicedo, researcher at Humanas Corporation, Colombia

June 1, 2015 13:30

The attack on the Twin Towers perpetrated on 11 September 2001 overturned the idea of human security promoted by the PNUD that places the people, instead of the states, at the centre, and which implies that guaranteeing security is only possible if people's needs are met and people's dignity is guaranteed.

Femme au Fone (FAF) is a communications and information system implemented in South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.Based on the voices of hundreds of persons, mostly women, FAF revives the idea that security is reached when chronic threats ¨such as hunger, disease and repression [in addition to] hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life –whether in homes, in jobs or in communities¨ are put to an end, as the PNUD stated in 1994. This idea is now updated by the report ¨Echoes of women's security Femme au Fone: one year in South Kivu¨, where FAF analyses the messages sent to the radio during most of 2014 (from January to September).1

For the women that use the FAF system, threats to their security include the unemployment or having an insufficient salary to sustain their families, the lack of a partner to rely on in the household, the lack of hygiene and water. Of course, to this should be added all forms of violence and discrimination that hamper their economic autonomy and self-determination.

Security policies based on militarisation and the increase of the law-enforcement presence are also posing a threat for them. Army checkpoints are identified as spots where the risk of physical, sexual and economical violence (due to the extortions) increases.

A system for the women

The FAF system was born at the end of 2013 (in November) and its headquarter is Maendeleo Radio, the most popular radio in South Kivu, which is based in the capital of the region Bukavu. As the FAF report points out, ¨it gathers and disseminates information on Security, Peace, Protection, Prevention and Participation (cornerstones of the UN resolution 1325) of rural and urban women from South Kivu".

The analysis of the text messages received by FAF, enables the team to identify the issues on which to raise the awareness among the population. In addition to gathering information on women's security problems, FAF broadcasts radio  programmes that discuss the situations reported as threatening to security. 

Some of the issues the female listeners of FAF have expressed their worry about (and therefore discussed in the radio programmes) are the mob justice applied to women accused of sorcery, early dropouts of school girls, the dangers faced by the sellers at the roads and at the markets, maternal health, police and army check-points precocious marriage, children's rape and water problems.

The possibilities opened by this system to underpin the spirit of the 1325 Resolution are vast. This Resolution is the first of many others approved by the UN Security Council, aiming to commit Member States to do everything within their powers to guarantee that women are considered in all the peace building processes and conflict resolutions, are treated according to their particularities and are guaranteed security and protection.However, it has had very few outcomes since almost 15 years of its implementation. The lack of systematic information produced in the field makes very difficult to track the action plans (when they exist) to implement the resolution. FAF is an excellent source of information to fill these gaps.

Risks with variables

Furthermore, the FAF system enables to identify the most common risk factors faced by women, to regionalise them and to particularise them. In doing so, the data collected through the text messages during the first nine months of 2004 have shown the existing variables in the women's risks. In fact, as recorded in the FAF report, "In Fizi, the incidents resulting from the presence of armed groups, people displaced by war and conflicts, and military check-points prevail.

In Shabunda, precocious marriage and the presence of the armed groups are perceived as the main threats to security. In Kalehe, these are the accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. In Mwenga, the precocious marriage, bad infrastructures and very few formal civil weddings are the main worries.

The text messages received by FAF back what the feminism has pointed out: violence against women is the main risk that affects their lives, it is exerted against them at any point of their life cycle, in any kind of context (in war and peace) and all environments (public and private). Despite confirming what we already know, some particularities are evident in the territorial particularities mentioned above. Nuanced knowledge is decisive to implement the general assumptions on violence prevention in specific contexts.

Finally, it is worth to remember the places identified in the message analysis as the most dangerous: a. agricultural field; b. water supply points; c. home; d. market; e. school.

All these places are essential for the personal and family lives. Being deterred from farming, collecting water, going to the market and going to the school for fear of violence confines a woman to the private sphere where she is not protected.

One of the women interviewed by the FAF team said that one of the ways of achieving more security for women is ¨to lose our fear and take the destiny in our own hands". Of course, personal determination is not enough; there are many changes to be carried out. They suggest practical and day-to-day changes (such as having electricity and proper bathing facilities), behavioural changes (resorting to dialogue) and structural changes (putting an end to the discriminatory customs that inflict violence on women).

FAF uses a mechanism that enables us, as it was intended, to collect women's suggestions about problems, worries and solutions, ¨retrieving their own words and stories".

1The report Echoes of women's security Femme au Fone: one year in South Kivu¨, was produced in January 2015 by the FAF team: Yvette Mushigo, Esther Tutekemene, Judith Cuma and Tatiana Miralles. Coordination: Bob van der Winden (Medio Foundation) and Blanca Diego Vicente (WorldCom FoundationLolaMora Producciones).