The air in the Katana legal tribunal in South Kivu province reverberated with quiet tension. Mama Zawadi, leader of the Association of Women Journalists (AFEM) ‘rural radio club’ shuffled her papers, looked sternly at the panel before here, and concluded, “Now, I just need to know that you will look into addressing this injustice.” Then she waited.
Mama Zawadi was asking the local leaders to invest and right an inheritance dispute. A female heir had been unfairly and illegally denied access to her land. The police sergeant, local chief and member of the secret police looked at each other and paused. “OK, OK,” Benjamin, the local chief relented. “Yes, we will address this.”
This acceptance of action marks the growing reach, respect and power of AFEM, a local partner of ECI. Two young women, Chouchou Namegabe and Aziza Baguma, came together in 2002 and decided to launch a female-powered cohort of journalists to improve the position of women in eastern Congo. From their modest beginnings, AFEM has flourished.
Today, they have trained more than 300 young women as journalists, while implementing community education programs via local radio stations, amplifying the voices of local women. Chouchou explained that she is proud that AFEM has become such a powerful force for the betterment of women, and that women such as Mama Zawadi now have a platform to express their views and opinions.
But Chouchou explains that it’s not just the journalism that is empowering for women in Congo: rather, it’s the access to information that was previously hard to come by. “Before AFEM, the radio and access to information was a man’s domain. He would put the radio to his ear, walk into the bedroom, close the door and consume the news alone.” Today however, AFEM’s partnership with ECI to train women journalists, provide them with basic recording equipment and provide them a platform to broadcast their stories has revolutionized women’s access to information and news in South Kivu.
AFEM represents a complex and sophisticated network of sharing, learning and empowerment: where women’s voices and stories of success in Shabunda can now be heard many miles away in Katana. AFEM’s rural radio clubs make possible this transfer of knowledge and power.
Several times a week, women like Mama Zawadi come together to listen to and discuss the news, but also to record and produce their own broadcasts. Donning their best clothes, placing their audio recorder into their handbags, these courageous women embark on foot into the fields and villages to interview local women. They record everything from the price of beans and the struggle to make a living, to accounts of women whose legal rights have been denied.
Their work is vitally important to the future of gender equality in Congolese society, empowering women to rise up and lead positive change in their communities.