IMA World Health Helps Women ‘Overcome’ SGBV in Eastern DR Congo
Involving women in decision-making bodies is necessary for the sustainable development of communities. However, women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are often overwhelmed with ensuring their own survival due to violence and frequent pregnancies, which keeps them in poverty.
The problem of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the eastern DRC has its roots in chronic and unequal gender relations. To address this, efforts have been underway to assist survivors of SGBV, combat impunity, empower women to exercise their rights, and engage communities in long-term attitude change. Since July 2010, IMA World Health (IMA) has led a USAID-funded project in the DRC called Ushindi, which means “to overcome” in Swahili. The project has had a very successful five years of helping survivors of SGBV heal and reintegrate into their communities. From 2010 to 2015, Ushindi has provided medical assistance to 18,000 survivors and psychosocial support to over 25,000 women.
Elisabeth is one such beneficiary. Like many women in this part of the world, Elisabeth, a single mother, has suffered an obstetric fistula. Fistulas occur from obstructed (unattended) labor and cause incontinence in urine or feces—or both. Often the woman is rejected by the community and suffers from insomnia and loneliness. Project Ushindi, through Heal Africa, IMA’s implementing partner in four health zones, provided Elisabeth with transportation, medical treatment, psychosocial support, lodging and food. After her treatment she returned home and joined one of Ushindi’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) and was able to generate an income for herself through these activities. Elisabeth is now in good health, fully reintegrated into her community, teaching again, and proudly able to support her young children. Ushindi has created a total of 432 VSLAs in the Kivus, a region still suffering from protracted conflict.
In late 2015, the United States Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Sarah B. Sewall, visited the Ushindi project in Goma in an effort to gain better understanding of what USAID-funded projects are like on the ground. During her opening statement, she said, “In Washington, your program is held in high regard and I am very pleased to come and hear and see this program for myself.”
Ms. Sewall was given a tour of the Heal Africa Hospital where she briefly met with survivors of gender-based violence in a confidential setting. She reported that she was very pleased with the visit and with the work that Ushindi is doing.
Because of Ushindi, thousands of women in eastern DRC are overcoming the many challenges they face and are able to work toward the sustainable development needed for their communities to thrive.