So for those who know me well know I have a huge girl crush on Beyoncé. I can bust out a move the moment I hear her on the loud speaker. However, ever since arriving in Walikale her song “Run the World (Girls)” has really resonated with me. I truly believe that statement is true.
You see, the Democratic Republic of Congo has often been known as the worst country in the world to be a woman. The risk of death before, during and up to 42 days after childbirth is one of the highest in the world. Rape is often used as a weapon of war and power. Only an approximate of 50% of young girls are literate compared to 80% of boys. Despite these figures, I think they are the backbone of this country.
The other day while I was supervising a mobile malaria clinic I noticed that a few men had brought children to be screened and treated. This was such an impressive sight for me that I even commented on it to a local colleague. Afterwards I thought to myself “Why was I so impressed that a man brought a child to receive healthcare when women do it every single day?” I have met women who have walked over two days with a sick child to reach a health center. I have met women who have had to bury more than one child. I have met women who have been gang raped. Despite these facts, they demonstrate courage and perseverance. I have become more humbled and impressed with the strength a woman can possess.
Local women making palm oil in Nkuba, DRC
People who know me well also know that I enjoy an occasional night in the kitchen and day of spring cleaning, but the thought of cooking and cleaning everyday is mentally exhausting. Growing up my dad was the primary breadwinner, my mom a housewife, despite this, she often was the “chief” of the household deciding where money should be spent. When I think back to my younger days I always wondered what my mother did all day while I was busy at school. However, once my parents split up and she was the one to leave home her work and efforts became very evident. And she had the luxuries of the developed world; washing machine and dryer, vacuum, oven and stove, the occasional night of takeout.
Here women do everything often without a volt of electricity. From the moment the sun is up until it goes down they are busy cleaning, washing, going to the market to sell or buy food and come home to prepare it. Culturally, when the many men come home they expect to be served, in all senses of the word. Women are the primary caretakers in this country, however, are rarely the “chief” of the family. Most decisions are made by the male head of the household, a woman often needs permission from their husband in order to seek medical attention or receive contraceptives. In many cases the husband decides when they will have another child. The husband can spend money according to his set priorities. The husbands are often known to have a “deuxieme bureau” (literally a second office; meaning a second “wife” of family) and when I ask male colleagues what about their wives having a deuxieme bureau I am usually met with laughter and a flat out “No, she can’t”. Women here demonstrate so much courage and power, yet, possess so little.
While driving to remote health centers on muddy, half washed out, hilly roads I see women of all ages, some as young as 5 years old or so, carrying hefty loads of produce or firewood in wicker baskets on their backs. They must easily weigh about 20kgs each. That’s in addition to the young child they have strapped to their chests or sitting on their shoulders. I see women with long sticks pounding leaves or grains for dinner. I see women trekking back and forth from the water source with heavy jerry cans on their heads to boil water to drink or cook. I see women in rivers and streams washing clothing for the family. Nine times out of ten as I pass by in the big white land cruiser they offer a huge smile and a wave, and I think to myself “Wow! These women really do run the world!”
I don’t only think the women of the DRC deserve recognition, but women everywhere.