In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), writing project proposals and implementing activities used to be a central part of my job. I focused on trying to do things correctly and created goals for improvement. During my two weeks in Washington at The McCain Institute learning about character-driven leadership, I was able to focus on doing the correct thing based specifically on my values and ethics.
Hearing from other Next Generation Leaders about their leadership journeys made me more confident in myself. Meeting people who have persevered and continue to affect change, even when there is a price to pay, inspired me. Most importantly, I learned to be myself and to be authentic. It is not easy to be a young female leader in a male-dominated society like the DRC, as male leadership is what most people are familiar with.
Meeting emerging leaders from 11 different countries who are dealing with similar issues was a great opportunity for all of us to learn from each other. I met leaders from both the public and private sector who encouraged me and believed in my Leadership Action Plan, which focuses on promoting positive masculinity to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC.
At the end of the Washington module, my family and I moved to San Francisco so that I could begin working at Futures Without Violence. Unlike many programs in the DRC that focus on women to reduce gender-based violence, Futures Without Violence take a wider approach to the issue and include the male population in their prevention, advocacy and policy programmatic efforts.
While working with women to empower and educate them on how to avoid violence is important, it does not address the entire issue. Working with men is critical to reduce the number of perpetrators through empowering and teaching them to avoid violence. By filling this gap, gender issues will not be perceived as women’s issues.
There is still a lot for me to learn about program sustainability and ownership of the issue by locals in eastern DRC, where we are adjusting from an emergency situation into a period of development. The local population is used to receiving aid from non-governmental organizations because of the decade-long humanitarian crisis. Thus, the population tends to have little interest in behavior-change programs as many are struggling for survival, living day to day.
Through this program year, I hope to develop a clearer understanding on the best way to address gender-based violence in the context of generalized violence and how to engage with decisionmakers. The president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, once proposed a “zero tolerance” policy against corruption and violence. I would like to determine how to engage with decisionmakers to make this proposed policy a reality for the women and children of the DRC.
Francine Nabintu is an alumni of ECI partner UCBC today living and working in the United States. This article was originally published by The McCain Institute.