March 8 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. To commemorate the achievements and ongoing challenges women face in some of the world’s most devastating conflicts, Enough is publishing profiles each day this week of women doing exceptional work to end atrocities and support survivors in Congo, Sudan, and LRA-affected territory.
“What If It Were Me?”
When war broke out in eastern Congo in 1996, fueled by the influx of fighters who had crossed into Congo after carrying out the Rwandan genocide, Chouchou Namegabe was a journalist-in-training at Radio Maendeleo, a popular local community radio station in South Kivu. As violence engulfed her hometown and horrific accounts of sexual violence – shared in hushed tones – became more and more frequent, Chouchou found that her microphone and skills as a fearless journalist gave her the unique ability to speak out for women silenced by the unspeakable crimes committed against them.
Chouchou earned a reputation as a journalist with expertise in women, health, and human rights, and she was offered a full time reporting position at Radio Maendeleo in 2002. A year later, she founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists, known by its French acronym AFEM. The same conviction that had led her to radio broadcasting – that the airwaves are the most effective way to reach the masses in Congo – also provided a compelling reason for her to do outreach through the radio to women affected by sexual violence. Her words could reach them in their homes where they coped with the vivid memories and often physical scars of the violence they had endured.
Chouchou’s broadcasts have spotlighted sexual violence in Congo and empowered women to share their stories, breaking the curtain of silence that cultural norms and the interests of perpetrators have imposed over the gruesome practice.
To further spread the message to Congolese women “that you are not alone,” AFEM now distributes handheld radios in rural areas so that women can tune in to the programs and catch news updates, connecting Congolese women’s to the world beyond their remote villages.
Beyond giving a voice to survivors of sexual violence, AFEM works to cultivate an active network of women journalists in Congo with the goal of increasing women’s representation in the media and mentoring female journalists who will then be able to draw attention to the issues important to women through their reporting. AFEM pairs this work with outreach to men in the same communities, raising awareness about sexual violence and combating the societal belief that a women who has been raped in somehow culpable.
“I always say that change will come from women,” Chouchou asserts. “When Congolese women have the power to make decisions in our country, we’ll see the Congo change.”
Certainly, powerful forces in Congo have an interest in silencing Chouchou and the women with whom she works. Chouchou frequently receives death threats from people who say they will come for her in the night, but she feel the work is too important for her to be deterred.
“What if it were me? That is the question I ask myself sometimes,” Chouchou said. “What if it were me?”
The profiles highlighted in this series were compiled for The Enough Moment, a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about engaged citizens – known and unknown, in the U.S. and abroad – who are mobilizing to help end genocide, rape, and the use of child soldiers in Africa. Visit the Enough Moment Wall to hear people describe their “Enough moment” and to upload a video, photo, or written testimonial of your own.