A Forum for sharing: Dimitra community listeners’ clubs in DRC come together
The phrase “unity gives joy” sums up the first Dimitra Community Listeners’ Clubs Forum for the Tshopo District, held in the town of Isangi, in the Orientale Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Forum, held from 9–10 August 2013, brought together both women and men representing the area’s 60 Dimitra community listeners’ clubs, to share experiences and discuss how the clubs have helped break down traditional barriers.
The listeners’ clubs have been set up since the end of 2012 as a gender-sensitive project to fight poverty and improve food security, implemented by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with funding from the DRC government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
In addition to the delegates from the clubs, the Forum included representatives from the seven Tshopo community radio stations that are involved in the project and from the United Nations’ Radio Okapi. Traditional chiefs and community leaders also attended, as did representatives from the provincial, district and local government and from project partner institutions in civil society (farm producers' unions, NGOs, etc.).
Delegates shared views on how the clubs have changed customs and practices at the individual and household levels, and on how their activities have benefitted the entire rural community. Antoine Magasin, moderator of the community listeners’ club Mandeleo, told his story of change this way: “Before, I could not even think of carrying water myself and I had money that I used as I wished. But with the community listeners’ clubs I now regularly talk with my wife about the expenses and other family problems. I find that this collaboration between my wife and I has brought peace to my household.”
Another delegate added, “In our village, 36 km on the road to Buta, we had many problems to get drinkable water. Women had to leave very early in the morning to go to the forest to find fresh water and they did not come back before midday. Now the club has built a water well in the village and when one needs to collect water it only takes 5 to 10 minutes. The community is very happy about this and many more people have joined the club.”
The far-reaching benefits of the clubs also caught the attention of local authorities. As Guillaume Bamemba Ingolo, Chief of Sector of Babelota noted, “The community listeners’ clubs help mobilize the population for community works. With the activities of the clubs, the roads and the agricultural service roads are being rehabilitated. The clubs also helped us settle land conflicts that are very frequent in our area. The more people are sitting together the more they break down any potential conflicts.”
The listeners’ clubs enable men and women to exchange information, knowledge and opinions and to share in decision-making, with a view towards making both men and women active participants in their communities. But what the delegates saw happening in their villages goes far beyond participation in the clubs themselves. Today, women are involved in community activities, including traditional ceremonies as well as in community radio programs. In an area where it has traditionally been forbidden for women to speak up in public, this is no small feat. Sarah Missoui, a member of one of the listeners’ clubs gave an example: “As a woman, I could never lead an organization where there were men. Today I am the moderator of a listeners’ club where there are men. We sensitize the population together. We work in the fields together and we even go fishing with the men!”
Joseph Mukambwa, a traditional Kombe chief in the Isangi territory, offered his comments on the increased involvement of women in leadership and decision-making: “In the tradition it was never accepted that a woman would inherit customary leadership. Today we realize that women carry the same human values as men. This is why we think that women should also apply to lead the traditional entities.”
The Forum also highlighted some of the more general results of the FAO-Dimitra project. These include improved access to information on topics chosen by club members; behavioral changes in agricultural practices and eating habits; removal of food taboos; women speaking out and participating in decision-making and the ability of the clubs to be self-sustaining.
The project, titled “Listeners’ clubs, fight against poverty, food security and gender” focuses on empowering women and men producers, improving women and youth’s leadership and strengthening their livelihoods and food security. To date, it has supported the creation of 60 Dimitra community listeners’ clubs with over 2 275 direct members (half being women). The clubs cover 167 villages across the Orientale Province, and directly benefit over 18 000 people.
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