Changing Congo Men’s Attitudes on Gender Begins at Home
“I couldn’t accept my share of my father’s will if my sisters were to receive nothing,” Bahati Leomard says. He convinced his father and brothers to share the inheritance with his sisters.
By Odette Asha with Inge Vreeke
“I couldn’t accept my share of his will if my sisters were to receive nothing,” confessed Bahati Leomard, a 23-year-old man living with his parents in Rusayo, near the town of Goma in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He was talking about his father’s gender-based decision to apportion his inheritance.
One day, Bahati’s father sold all of his fields and decided to share the money among the more than two-dozen of his children that he had with four wives. By children, though, he meant sons. When distributing his money, he did not plan to give anything to his daughters. Bahati told his father he would not accept his share if his sisters were not going to receive any money.
Bahati shared this story with staff members from CARE and its partner Congo MenEngage (COMEN) attending a group to engage men in Rusayo.
In many communities in DRC there is a tradition that allows fathers not to consider their daughters as their children. Girls are considered a loss for their families, because when they get married, they join their spouse’s family. Bahati’s father, like many others, thought that it was legal to exclude his daughters from his inheritance, even though DRC inheritance law does not discriminate against women and girls. However, particularly in rural areas custom and tradition is better known and seen as more important than statutory law.
Bahati’s refusal to accept his share of his father’s inheritance sparked long conversations with his father and brothers. In the end they all agreed with Bahati and in his will his father redistributed his money equally among all his 27 children, females as well as males. “Thanks to my participation in the MenEngage group, I was able to influence my father and brothers to share the money with our sisters too. Before joining the group, I could not imagine that [not doing so] was a form of gender-based violence,” Bahati said.
Bahati is a participant in CARE DRC’s Mawe Tatu project, one of the 10,000 men whom CARE/DRC—and its partners—will work with thanks to financial support from the Dutch embassy. Their goal is to motivate males to adopt attitudes and behaviors that contribute to the improvement of power relations and to reducing gender-based violence.
One of the project’s strategies is to facilitate groups to engage men. The men and boys discuss a range of topics in the groups including positive masculinity, gender-based violence, and upholding women’s rights. It was in one of these groups that Bahati learned about girls’ legal right to inheritance.
Beyond raising awareness about women’s legal rights, the groups provide a space for men to discuss gender equality and related topics. Members support each other to publicly adopt practices that are aligned with their beliefs and serve as activists in their societies, sharing their experiences and advice with other men. Currently, there are about 1500 members. Some members’ wives already participate in the project’s women’s empowerment component, through Village Savings and Loans Associations and training on human rights, family planning, and leadership training, among other topics. CARE and COMEN plan to engage other wives as well.
MenEngage groups in Rusayo have realized that one way to protect their wives and daughters’ rights is to legalize their marriage, and as such ensure their legal right to their inheritance. Even some religious institutions are now asking couples to go through a civil ceremony before a religious one. MenEngage groups are promoting legalization of marriages in their communities. “Due to the recurrent conflicts and war in Masisi, I was not able to legalize my marriage,” said Faustin, a 45-year-old displaced man. Now I have been sensitized on its importance and informed that I can do it when in displacement as well; I have to protect my wife and children so that they may inherit from me,” referring to his wife and seven children with whom he lives in Rusayo. To date, 22 village couples have legalized their marriages.
“Engaging men is an integral part of our gender approach and has proven essential to tackle gender-based violence in all its forms. It has tangibly increased our impact in the communities where CARE works,” said Johannes Schoors, CARE’s DRC country director. CARE DRC’s strategies include economic empowerment of women and youth, ensuring access to basic social services and increasing social resilience to crisis and conflict. It also sees as key working to engage men to contribute to the transformation of harmful sociocultural norms.
To learn more go to www.care.org/country/democratic-republic-congo.
Odette Asha is communication and advocacy officer for the Mawe Tatu Project of CARE International in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She contributes to the project’s three goals: women’s empowerment, engaging men, and sexuality education for youth.
Inge Vreeke is strategic learning and proposal development coordinator for CARE International in the DRC’s Great Lake region and contributed to the writing of this article.