Women Witness Congo
Supporting the Rise of a Rights-Based Movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In April 2012, Alliance for the Earth journeyed to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to bury one of our last Earth Treasure Vases in the Itombwe Forest under the guidance of the Pygmy peoples, and to offer media trainings for women in Bukavu.
We were blessed to be introduced to rising Congolese leader and World Pulse correspondent Neema Namadamu, who facilitated every aspect of our journey from securing entrance into the vast Itombwe Forest to co-facilitating the media trainings.
Since planting the Congo treasure vase that late spring day, we have been drawn ever deeper into an exploration of how we may best support Neema and her sisters, who have now organized themselves into a growing collective called the “Maman Shujaa” (Hero Women).
With Congo, we witness the profound connection between the abuse and rape of the Earth and the abuse and rape of women, and dedicate ourselves to bringing transformation to a situation that we see as one of the most urgent and devastating expressions of our collective, global shadow.
Women Witness Congo (WWC) began as a digital storytelling project, highlighting the visions and solutions of Congolese women. Below, is the first of these short documentaries, among potential others, featuring some of the women we met in Congo and their stories. (There is a version in French at the bottom of the page.)
Our collaboration with Neema Namadamu has blossomed and a women’s movement in Congo has been born. Alliance for the Earth now serves as partner and fiscal sponsor in the U.S. for Neema and the Maman Shujaa’s movement-building work.
Watch this short video profile of Neema to get a sense of her energy, big vision and leadership for a New Congo.
Today, Women Witness Congo is bringing the voices and visions of Congo’s women to a global audience and supporting the birth of a New Congo — founded and sustained in peace — that honors the rights of women, the rights of indigenous peoples and the rights of nature.
Through our collaboration, Alliance for the Earth is linking the Maman Shujaa with key women leaders and organizations to support the “National Action Plan” they have put into motion. (Read more about the plan below.) Through our Liberia Peacebuilding project, the Maman Shujaa are partnering with the women who stopped the civil war in Liberia. They are also working with Osprey Orielle Lake, a founder and president of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus and co-chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, to bring Rights of Nature to their beloved homeland and the world’s second largest rainforest.
We invite you to join us in supporting this extraordinary movement, this peace rising from the heart of Africa. To partner with the Maman Shujaa, please make a donation today.
With your donation, you will receive updates about Neema and the Maman Shujaa through AE’s monthly e-newsletter.
Game-changer for the Globe?
We talk about the New Congo we are envisioning. We’re not just thinking “Developed Country.” We are intending to establish a new category: “Model Country.”
You might think such expectations are far too grand, considering from where we must come. But Congo is steward of a global treasure that demands we become that. In fact, besides its people, its greatest treasure is its rainforest. And it’s not just Congo’s treasure…it is one of the world’s lifelines.
When considering Congo’s unparalleled wealth, it is obvious that the value of our rainforest to the health of our troubled planet is quite simply, priceless. For those that would rather just write Congo off as a lost cause, isn’t it clear that Congo’s fate is directly related to the fate of the entire world?
It’s time to come together…for all of our sakes. — Neema Namadamu
The Maman Shujaa Share Their Vision For a New Congo
In early July of 2012, a small group of women in Bukavu rented a room in a cyber café with 12 computers for 3 hours a day to start a Women’s Media Training Program.
We named ourselves, “Maman Shujaa,” which is Swahili for “Hero Women,” and have come to recognize that with the death of 6,000,000 of our family members over the last 16+ years and the rape of hundreds of thousands of our sisters, we are our first and best hope for the future we intend.
We now know that the greatest hindrance to realizing the Congo we envision is our isolation — resulting in our silence.
After one month, we had introduced 90 women to the computer and enrolled them in World Pulse’s online forum. By September, 180 Maman Shujaa were trained, connected and contributing to World Pulse’s worldwide digital campaign to End Violence Against Women. We have posted hundreds of articles online and World Pulse has given us our own page. Please visit the Maman Shujaa page at World Pulse and join our forum.
In response to escalating violence and instability in our nation, the Maman Shujaa took our next step together on November 29, 2012 and published a petition at Change.org. We urged the women leaders in the White House — Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, and Michelle Obama — to take immediate action, and ask President Obama for the appointment of a special presidential envoy to work with the African Union and United Nations for real peace in Congo. In the petition, we insist that women have a seat at the negotiating table.
Among the signatories are Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who won the prize in 2011 for her work in building the women’s peace movement in Liberia; Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and visionary catalyst of V-Day’s One Billion Rising; representatives from the Green Belt Movement in Kenya; and Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women.
Ms. Gbowee also sent a “Solidarity Statement” in which she notes, “If the international community is sincerely working for sustained peace in the DR Congo, it is time to “Trust Women.” I believe that trusting Congolese women will secure the future of that great nation. I, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, stand firm with the women of the DR Congo.”
In December, World Pulse CEO Jensine Larsen stated:
“The untapped leadership potential of the women in the Congo to lead peace and development is staggering. We must support this emerging vocal uprising. If there is to be any hope for the future of the Congo, the world must wake up and listen to these women who have broken through suffocating radio silence to have discovered not only their voices but the means of transmission. After listening to their solutions, we must invest hard resources and back them all the way. Only with this level of partnership are we capable of securing the “miracle solution” the grassroots Hero Women—and many other brave women of the Congo—are kicking and screaming for.”
A Movement Is Born
From this small beginning, a movement has been born. Yes, it’s a women’s movement, but it is more about women being moved: moved to demand Peace now, Rights now, CHANGE now. It has become the catalyst for what we are not embarrassed to call a National Action Plan.
Our intentions have evolved to heal our hearts, our land, and our country. Through the initiatives we are envisioning, we will create a new model for “Developed Nation” status — one which prioritizes human and especially women’s rights, PWD rights, indigenous people’s rights, community’s rights, rights of nature, and the right to a future for our nation.
We’re organizing to become the Solutionists for our beloved Congo. And we’re starting with a demand for Peace! We are daring to denounce every form of violence that could be mounted against us and the Congo we envision, including those well-established and accepted institutions that govern the health, land, financial, and development programs of the industrial nations of the world. The bent of the Maman Shujaa is not only sustainability, but regeneration. After all, we are the mothers of this great nation.
We’re ready. We will train and link thousands of women to stand up on their own. The Maman Shujaas recently founded a new umbrella organization in Bukavu, the Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations — or SAFECO — and together we are working toward projects for distributed solar electrical generation, telecommunication networks, clean water and sanitation systems, health clinics, and educational infrastructures through emerging technologies, projects for roads, farm and ranch management, and eco-tourism.
Who Is Neema Namadamu?
Neema (Grace) Namadamu was born in a remote tribal region of Itombwe, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and grew up living in a traditional way in primitive conditions. Though stricken with polio at the age of two, Neema’s presence causes most people to forget she’s a woman with disabilities within moments of meeting her.
Neema has been an advocate for change all her adult life, starting in the 11th grade when she began a weekly, one-hour radio program raising awareness for persons with disabilities. Graduating from both Rwanda and Congo’s national universities, she received two accounting degrees as only the second woman — the first woman with disabilities — from her tribe to graduate from college. She was often sought out to participate in conferences in the Great Lakes Region of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
Immediately after university, Neema was selected as a Deputy in her province’s Parliament. From there, DR Congo’s Minister of Gender and Family selected her as Technical Advisor, moving her to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, to serve for four years. Neema then returned to Bukavu in her home province of South Kivu in Eastern DRC, where she has continued to promote right-mindedness in her nation, advocating for women’s rights, rights for persons with disabilities, rights for the indigenous peoples, and for the protection of Congo’s natural resources — all of which has led her to become an ardent proponent for the Rights of Nature.
In keeping with her vision for a new Congo and empowering an informed populace of women, Neema has obtained a nationwide telecommunications license for voice, video and internet with spectrum for 3 TV channels, which she intends to develop into the company, Go Network. In collaboration with World Pulse, she currently directs a Media Training Center for women, facilitating the opportunity for educated women to go online, get connected to the world and contribute their stories and solutions for change. Neema also supports an NGO of handicapped women seamstresses who make purses and fashions for U.S. based Shakoshi Imports.
The founder of SAFECO (Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations), Neema has powerfully participated in civil society, regional conferences, panels and committees in Eastern DR Congo, promoting peace, women’s rights and rights for women with disabilities. She served as the only woman on the Governor’s panel for reconciliation between tribes in the Haut Plateau. In 2012 she was selected as 1 of 30 women from over 400 around the world for MIUSA’s 6th Annual International Leadership Conference for Women with Disabilities in Eugene, Oregon.
Ms. Namadamu was recently chosen as 1 of 3 grassroots journalists globally to participate in “Voices of the Future,” an 18-event, U.S. speaking tour sponsored by World Pulse, where she addressed audiences at the Clinton Global Initiative, Women’s Nobel Initiative, the U.S. State Department and CNN, among others.
Neema is truly a rising leader for Congo, and the world, who says,
“I’m not interested in making a little noise. I’m looking to CHANGE THE PARADIGM!”
In the first half of 2013, the Maman Shujaa need approximately $10,000 in start-up funds, as well as $6000 per month thereafter to sustain their efforts. On behalf of Neema, the Maman Shujaa and Alliance for the Earth, we thank you so much for your partnership and support!
More About Congo
Read more about Congo:
- The Healing of Congo by Charles Eisenstein
- To follow Neema’s blog on Pulsewire, please click here.
- The Day Women of the Congo Seized the Internet by Jensine Larsen
- From the Heart of Seal Beach to the Lungs of Congo by Maura Conlon-McIvor
- The Maman Shujaa at World Pulse