Neema was invited to give a lecture at Bryn Mawr College yesterday. She also met with students from Agnès Peysson-Zeiss’ Praxis III French course who will translate World Pulse blog posts for Neema and the Maman Shujaa. The following is a transcript of the lecture Neema delivered to the college:
“How Access to Technology is Changing the World FOR the Women of Congo”
I don’t know if you can imagine what life is like in Congo, especially for women. You probably know that the UN has labeled Congo “the rape capitol of the world.” Statistically a woman is 134 times more likely to be raped in DRC than in the U.S. You may not know that less that 10% of Congolese have any electricity at all in their homes, and for those that do, it is often off more than it is on. Running water in the house – that is for a select few. Over 50 million people don’t have access to clean water. And sadly, as a country with over 70 million people, Congo has the lowest per capital income in the world. Over against these statistics is the fact that Congo has the 2nd largest rainforest in the world, and due to its mineral deposits, Congo may be the richest country in the world – greater than Saudi Arabia. And DRC has over half of all Africa’s water reserves. In other words, in spite of all its challenges, Congo’s potential is without compare.
Personally, I was born a girl in this region called the worst place in the world to be a woman or girl, and became handicapped at the age of two years. My dad was so upset that his firstborn child was a girl, and then got polio, that he took a second wife. That how “cherished” I was by my father. But my mother more than made up for all the things that were against me. My mother loved me and told me that I was born for a purpose, and with a purpose to fulfill. Against much opposition, my mother made sure that I was not set aside but received an education. In fact, I was only the second woman from my tribe to get a university degree.
I have been an advocate for change, perhaps an activist, since the 10th grade of high school – doing a weekly radio show on our national network. I have been involved in many conferences in the region promoting women’s rights and women’s participation in society as change agents. I have been an active member of Civil Society for many years through my own NGO, but never had a sponsor – funding my work and participation out of my own pocket.
As Congolese, we are used to living without. I was chosen by our nation’s Minister of Gender and Family as an advisor when I still hadn’t gotten my first set of crutches. I had been pole vaulting myself along with a stick until in my third year when we went to South Africa on a Mission. That was just 7 or 8 years ago.
I first learned about the power of our collective voice when I joined the World Pulse online community in 2011. I was accepted into WP’s Voices of our Future program out of almost 600 applicants from all over the world, and in 2012 I was chosen as 1 of 3 women for a Live speaking tour in the U.S. where I shared a message that just as I am not a lost cause, neither is Congo a lost cause. Before World Pulse, I was living in silence, but now I had a big microphone which introduced me onto the world stage. Because of technology, the world began to hear my voice and to learn what a great and beautiful country Congo is, and what a challenge it is to live as a woman in this region. It’s the heart of Africa, and you know that when the heart is strong, the whole body can be strong.
Last July, with World Pulse’s help, I opened a Women’s Media Center by renting a room in a cyber café for 3 hours every afternoon. I started with 10 women leaders, teaching how to use the computers, get online, and write their stories. In February of this year we opened our own Maman Shujaa Media Center, and last month supported 1,250 visits by our members.
Last November we posted a Petition online (www.change.org/congowomen), exercising our voice and eventually, moving mountains. We asked for the appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy to DRC to help establish a lasting peace solution, and got over 100,000 signatures from around the world. And we got two Special Envoys appointed. Russ Fiengold was appointed to DRC and the Great Lakes Region by the U.S., and Mary Robinson was appointed as UN Special Envoy to DRC and the Great Lakes Region.
The Maman Shujaa of Congo have realized the potential in the power of their voices. We were sponsored by the Nobel Women’s and Femme Africa Solidarite to participate in the African Union Summit. We were sponsored to attend UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson’s Regional Conference on Women, Peace, Security, and Development.
We have formed an organization called SAFECO – Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations – and have submitted a National Action Plan for Congo to Mary Robinson and the World Bank. SAFECO has become members of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. We are members of the Clinton Global Initiative’s DRC Networking Group. We have been asked to share our voice and our vision around the world. We have joined in solidarity with the Comfort Women of South Korea, who have been standing for their dignity since being forced into sexual slavery in World War II.
In just a year’s time, speaking out online, speaking out internationally, universally, has given us hope, has given us a connection, a family. Our cry for peace, our message of right mindedness, of inclusiveness, of Oneness is being embraced, and so are we; its messengers.
All of these wonderful things are happening because we have been able to use these technology tools. From just one Media Center we are being heard all over the world. Everyone has a voice. But for all these years, no one was able to hear us. And there are still millions and millions of women’s voices in Congo that haven’t been heard, because they are not connected. That is why we hope to have Maman Shujaa Media Centers all over Congo. With technology we can make a big impact and we can change our world.
To read more from Bryn Mawr college: http://news.brynmawr.edu/2013/09/18/visit-by-world-pulse-correspondent-highlights-the-many-ways-bryn-mawr-community-connects-on-campus-and-globally/