“There’s a saying if you educate a woman you can educate a nation. It’s a personal passion of mine to raise awareness, educate women and see how behaviors change over time and to see how we can contribute to the well being of the Congolese women.”
Yvette Mulongo transforms communities by promoting cultural acceptance of women’s and girls’ rights in a country where gender-based violence is deeply rooted and where women’s bodies have literally become a battleground.
Inspired by her family, particularly her grandmother and father who were adamant about her pursuing an education, Yvette is a trained health educator and serves as health advisor to the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The conflict in Congo is sometimes referred to as the ‘African World War.’ It has devastated the country since its onset in 1998 and is the world’s deadliest conflict, killing 5.4 million people and displacing a million more.
Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003 and again in 2008, fighting has been ongoing throughout the east, and the prevalence of rape in this region has been described as the worst in the world. While sexual violence is rampant and prevalent throughout the Congo, the most affected areas have been in north-eastern provinces, where young girls aged 10 and 17 are the most vulnerable.
Yvette’s strength comes from personally experiencing the injustices faced by women in Congolese society when her husband took their two daughters and abandoned her five years into their marriage. Unaware of her rights at the time, there was not much she could do to gain access to her children. This fueled her desire to promote equality, educate women and girls and make a difference in the lives of women in Congo.
She laments the lack of importance given to educating females in rural Congo as girls are generally tasked with household chores and traveling the distance to the nearest school puts their safety at risk. With no seats and no usable toilets, going to school is considered burdensome for girls, especially when they are menstruating.
“No schooling and opportunities make women ignorant and they don’t know how to read or write. Young girls have to work so their brothers go to university or they work for their families and they enter this whirlpool of poverty and ignorance,” said Yvette.
With UNFPA support, Yvette developed training materials on family planning. UNFPA also provided contraceptives to help women plan and space their families, enabling them to have more control over their lives.
Speaking of her work she says, “…we try to make people understand that women have rights and values. There has been progress – we have seen educated men that are starting to free themselves from the traditional myth that women are tools for the production of children.”
Yvette has been has educating communities about the benefits of women’s empowerment for sixteen years. She is a program manager for the Abbott Fund Maternal and Child Health Program, and also the Director of Family Planning for SANRU.
UNFPA in the Democratic Republic of Congo
- UNFPA aids survivors of sexual violence by providing medical care, economic and social rehabilitation, and legal assistance. The Fund trained thousands of armed forces on protection and care for survivors.
- In Kasai Oriental, North and South Kivu, over 15,000 sexual violence survivors have received medical care.
- In camp Kibaki, home to 200,000 displaced people, UNFPA provides condoms, kits to test for and treat sexually transmitted infections, post exposure cleansing for rape cases and clean delivery kits.
- UNFPA played a key advocacy role in the 2006 adoption of the DRC law on sexual violence, expanding it to include sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and other brutal practices.
- An estimated 200,000 women and girls have been sexually assaulted over the last 12 years.
- In 2006, a new constitution clarified definitions of rape and sexual attacks, introducing a 20-year minimum sentence for those found guilty.
- The DRC is one of six countries in the world that together account for 50 percent of all maternal deaths.
- The total fertility rate has declined from more than 6 lifetime births per woman in 1990 to 4.5 births per woman currently.
Related Links: Statements of Support
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Congressman Keith Ellison
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Congresswoman Betty McCollum