For International Women’s Day, each group of women in the community, in our case MSF and Ministry of Health (MoH) employees, select a particular printed fabric, and all the women of the group use the same print to have an outfit made to wear on the day.
The Lulimba MSF women's chosen fabric was either hilarious or heart-sinking, depending on your point of view.
It was a garish chicken and egg print fabric, but this was just a small part of the International Women’s Day celebrations.
March through Lulimba
Women’s Day is big in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), though the international message of gender equality by 2030 may be slightly over-optimistic in a society where girls are often not considered worth educating, so a local variation was agreed: all girls in education.
Committees were set up to organise the day’s activities, and a timetable was finally agreed, involving a march through the village, schoolgirls performing poetry and theatre, a football match between women employed by MSF/ MoH vs a village women’s team and a party at the MSF base in the evening. All agreed, planned and timetabled by the different groups.
The morning of International Women’s Day brought rain.
Not just a downpour, several hours of torrential rain. There was no way for the march, scheduled for 9 am, to go ahead. It seemed a complete washout.
However, around midday, the sky started clearing, the rain stopped, and somehow, the day came together.
The women’s groups gathered for the march, each group wearing their choice of print, carrying a banner identifying themselves – the market workers, mineworkers, women living with HIV, and so many others.
For a relatively small village, there were a surprising number of groups, all chanting, dancing and singing. Songs of female empowerment, or songs describing the work of the groups.
At one point, our group started singing about the provision of free healthcare and a couple of the women staged an impromptu performance showing a carer bringing a sick person to a health centre, with the “patient” stumbling and flopping about dramatically.
The chicken fabric, when there were 20 or 30 of us together, worked and looked pretty eye catching, not necessarily in a bad way.
The village turned out in force to watch and to cheer us on, with crowds of children tagging along. The march finished at the local primary school, and everyone took their places at school benches to hear speeches from local dignitaries - some of them actually women.
Women's day party
The football match went ahead a couple of hours later than planned and attracted a large crowd. There was frequent storming of the pitch by hordes of children, which the referee struggled to control, but the match went smoothly.
Many of the locals played barefoot in the long grass; it was widely agreed that the quality of the playing was high. The MSF/MoH team won 1-0; the team was accompanied back to the compound by crowds of singing, chanting children.
A brief rest, then it was party time. Music, soft drinks, beer and food – cold roast goat, and peanuts in plastic bags. One of the national staff doctors took control of the music, and the dancing went on well into the night.