Speaking Up for Women
United Methodist Women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are empowering themselves for mission.
Kapend Christine Musumb served as a delegate to the 2012 General Conference from Lukoshi Conference, one of the annual conferences in the three episcopal areas of Central Congo Conference. Ms. Musumb is coordinator of Central Congo Conference’s United Methodist Women, a mission partner of United Methodist Women in the United States.
“We look at all the women’s work in each annual conference, and we have training for women,” Ms. Musumb said through an interpreter after United Methodist Women’s pre-General Conference orientation for women delegates. “We call on doctors to give training on HIV and AIDS. We have dietitians to teach mothers about nutrition and taking care of children. We have a center for literacy training. We also make sure the women who need job skills learn how to sew, tailoring. This is to help empower women to take care of themselves.”
About 138 women attended the first of three training events sponsored by Congo Conference United Methodist Women in each episcopal area beginning in Lubumbashi in Southern Congo April 12-15. The next training will be in North Katanga and the final in Central Congo, which is also the name of an annual conference. Ms. Musumb said the training was organized around a theme from Isaiah 62:1: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent. And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.
“We substituted the word women for Jerusalem: “I will never be tired of speaking up for women’s causes,” Ms. Musumb said. “We invited women leaders from the wider society including Thérèsa Lukenge, Provincial Minister of Mines, Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to come and see what United Methodist Women of the Congo are doing. Ms. Lukenge served as a senator in our parliament. The reason I mentioned this is because the women of the Congo elected her.”
The women at the event, including Ms. Lukenge and other prominent guests, raised $1,700 for mission, Ms. Musumb reported. “We will take some of the money and buy sewing machines for the women.”
This is one way Central Congo United Methodist Women provides economic assistance to women. Its nongovernmental organization helps women develop small businesses, Ms. Musumb said. “There are those who raise chickens, some work in the field raising vegetables and some sell fish in the market. When we meet in a district, we leave some money for a development project to help women. Even if it’s a little bit, a little bit helps,” she said.
Central Congo United Methodist Women mission outreach also includes projects to help children, particularly orphans, widows and single teen mothers. “Very often when a teen girl has a baby out of wedlock, her parents kick her out of the home, so they need our help,” Ms. Musumb said.
Ms. Musumb says things are slowly beginning to change for women in Africa because women are making it happen.
We felt stomped on, to not be visible,” Ms. Musumb said. “So, we decided to go to the Bible and to our traditions for models to empower women. In our tradition, there was a powerful woman, Queen Ruwej, who ruled in the Congo. And there are powerful women in the Bible. Now our women want to grow. They learn as they travel. We are calling for equality. If there are 50 males going to a meeting, 50 women must go. We want to know about church meetings. We want women present.”
Located in central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second largest country on the continent, sharing borders with nine different nations: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It is rich with minerals and other natural resources including copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, tantalum, other minerals and petroleum. Minerals account for the vast majority of the nation’s exports.
In the 1990s the country experienced a series of civil wars, and during this time its name was changed from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 2001 the country has made significant political progress, including peaceful presidential elections in 2006 and November 2011. However, the nation is in great need of economic growth and repair of the infrastructure damaged during the conflicts. And, peace is still fragile, especially in its eastern provinces. The United Nations estimates that there are some 2.3 million displaced persons and refugees in the country, and 323,000 DRC nationals live in refugee camps outside the country. The humanitarian crisis remains a major concern in many of the more unstable parts of the country where the conflicts have caused high rates of sexual violence.
“The church is really standing up, praying and speaking out against the unrest, speaking out against war and for peace,” Ms. Musumb said. “In some areas, the war has touched church people, forcing them to scatter, to run away from the violence.”
Yvette Moore is editor of response.