CIVICUS speaks to Julienne Lusenge, director of SOFEPADI (Solidarite Feminine pour la Paix et le Development Integral), an NGO based in the Democratic Republic of Congo which supports and empowers women and girls who are rape and domestic violence survivors.
1. Tell us more about your organisation and its aims
SOFEPADI (Solidarite Feminine pour la Paix et le Development Integral) was created in 2000 in Bunia in Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its primary purpose was to promote peace and the realisation of the rights of Congolese women in a region full of intercommunal conflict. The organisation started with small activities of sensitisation then, with time, the organisation extended to other activities. Since 2003, SOFEPADI has highlighted and focused on the fight against sexual violence in the provinces of North Kivu and Orientale — both of them strongly affected by the crime of rape. Today, SOFEPADI is composed of jurists, sociologists, psychologists and health professionals who work on a daily basis to help victims.
SOFEPADI provides holistic supports for the victims of sexual violence. SOFEPADI has three offices located in Beni, Bunia and Kinshasa where members of SOFEPADI provide necessary help and support to victims with the purpose of victims returning to their community and having back their normal life. Indeed, in addition to the medical and psychological examination, victims can be accompanied to lay a legal complaint if they wish so. Those in need are also benefiting from a socio-economic reintegration, such as through the provision of training in various vocations or with fees for the education of their children conceived from rape or victims of rape.
In Bunia, SOFEPADI has inherited from MSF/Switzerland the medical centre Karibuni Wa Mama which has been welcoming women since 2010. At least 600 new cases of sexual violence have been taken care of at this centre alone. In Beni, SOFEPADI treats victims and refers them to the General Hospital in Beni and Kinshasa.
Karibuni Wa Mama offers women and girls who are victims of sexual violence and gender violence a full service support in a single window to avoid the stigma and ensure confidentiality. This is one of the principle key requirements for victims advocated for by the document of the National Strategy for the fight against gender-based including sexual violence. We offer a voluntary testing and education facility and family planning service to victims as part of the holistic care. The Karibuni wa Mama center is a unique center which heals the victims and which maintains the quality of care in the region.
SOFEPADI’s mission is to work for the promotion and defence of rights of women and families.
2. How does your organisation assist women and girls in DRC especially with the ongoing unrest?
During the difficult moments, SOFEPADI intervenes through the holistic care of the victims. We also offer family mediation for cases of family conflict. We also sensitise communities on community issues, in the peace process in addition to offering hygiene, family planning and STI / AIDS information and advice.
3. What risks do women human rights defenders face in the country?
The women who are human rights defenders face several problems related to security. Already our working environment is characterised by an insecure condition. On top of that, defenders are also stereotyped.
I myself have had to relocate on several occasions following threats to which I have been the victim. Our colleague from Bunia has been assaulted in her home during an assault incident in which she was tortured. She suffered head injuries resulting from a machete used to attack her and she was shot in her left leg.
Some of us receive death threats by telephone, other human rights defenders have been kidnapped, tortured and even killed.
4. What are the major needs of your organisation?
The major need our organisation is facing is both technical and financial. We need these resources to allow the continuation of the activities on the field and to continue the support and help we offer to survivors.
5. Do you work with other NGOs in the country and what is the experiences of collaborating?
SOFEPADI works in collaboration with other organisations on the field in order to carry out the actions of advocacy on a large scale in the national and international level. The collaboration also includes the sharing information and exchange of experiences.
6. What is the attitude of the government toward NGOs working for women and girls like yourself and are you involved in any peace processes?
Our government is also invested in peace process, and this through the Ministry of Gender, Family and Child. They are also involved in the fight against sexual violence. The attitude towards NGOS remains positive although the NGOS do not have the benefit of any material support or financial support to continue their work. The government through the Ministry of Gender brings us together for any possible exchange on issues related to women and young girls.