Schoolgirls lead initiatives to end gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
"Thanks to the training I received, I learnt that girls have the same rights and opportunities [as boys]” – schoolgirl
More than 246 million children are subjected to school-related gender-based violence every year. Girls are particularly at risk of violence in school settings, including sexual violence, as a result of harmful gender norms and stereotypes. According to a UNICEF report, 46% of Congolese schoolgirls reported experiencing sexual harassment, abuse, and violence committed by their teachers or other school personnel .
Supported by a grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, the women-led organization Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises* (FFC) runs a girl-led project to prevent sexual violence and harmful practices against schoolgirls in 10 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
FFC has created school clubs as safe spaces to address and prevent different forms of gender-based violence in school settings. Women mentors teach young girls about violence prevention, referral services/pathways to report violence, women’s rights and leadership. In turn, schoolgirls educate their peers and their teachers about sexual violence against girls, its consequences and related laws to improve prevention, response and deconstruct harmful stereotypes. Sylvie Mazambi, Communications Officer at FFC, explains that these girls “become role models and focal points within their schools, by advocating good practices and helping peers who are survivors of sexual violence in schools.”
By the end of the project, over 600 girls from 10 provinces reported that they had more knowledge about sexual violence, laws and policies to protect their rights and confidential referral pathways. Schoolgirls are now well-respected leaders and champions for ending violence against women and girls in their communities.
This youth-led approach created a ripple effect in other schools, resulting in a total of 20 school clubs running training sessions and other schools inviting school clubs to raise awareness as part of extracurricular activities or on relevant international days.
Educating the community
FFC also provides training on sexual violence prevention and referral mechanisms to teachers, parents as well as traditional chiefs and community leaders. Since 2020, some 300 teachers have improved their knowledge on girls’ rights and have committed to protecting them and building a safer school environment.
In addition, sensitization activities have been organized, including the dissemination of violence prevention and response materials such as T-shirts with messages that oppose gender-based violence. Awareness-raising advertisements have been broadcast in the four national languages to change attitudes towards women and girl survivors and the violence they face.
FFC developed and strengthened partnerships with traditional leaders and judicial authorities, through shared documentation of cases and regular meetings, to ensure better protection of and support for survivors of violence. It worked closely with traditional leaders to raise awareness about harmful traditional practices such as forced marriage. The leaders are now committed to advocate for girls’ safety and dignity, and the FFC has reported a decrease in sexual violence against girls in schools and communities targeted by the project.
The empowered schoolgirl leaders have led various advocacy efforts, including with judicial authorities, calling for special units to prevent gender-based violence and for speedy handling of cases involving sexual and gender-based violence.
The public prosecutor in Kananga in the Central Kasai province encouraged this initiative: "If children are committed to fighting this scourge, there is no reason why we adults and those in charge of these issues should not take action. I give you my word that I will do my utmost to deal with any case of violence against women and girls.”
Youth leadership is a key factor to preventing violence against women and girls. Empowering young members of the communities both adolescent girls and boys, holds great potential in ensuring strong and sustainable feminist movements lead positive change for all.
* In English: Fund for Congolese Women
To learn more about the prevention of violence against women and girls, check out our Learning from Practice series and explore the 10 identified pathways to prevention: click here.