Who is Douce Namwezi N'Ibamba?
I’m Douce Namwezi N'Ibamba — I'm a multimedia journalist and the founder of Uwezo Afrika Initiative, a non-profit organisation promoting women's empowerment through journalism, training and social entrepreneurship in eastern DR Congo.
Why are you passionate about women's rights?
Douce is the only woman from DR Congo on the BBC 100 Women 2020 list, which features inspiring women from around the world who have been leading change and making a difference during a challenging year.
The fact of being myself a woman and every single day I'm facing the many challenges of being a woman, that's why I'm standing up and fighting every day to stop the cycle. And I'm also trying to bring other women along to understand that we are so powerful and that we can realise every change within our family, our work, our community, our society and even in our markets, so in every space we find ourselves.
I believe women can achieve equality but this is only possible if the community and the society understands that we have the same rights. We live on the same planet and there's not a planet of women and a planet of men but one planet, so we have to work together.
What was your journey into journalism?
Douce got her first taste of journalism at 16 years old when she volunteered at a Catholic radio station called Radio Maria, where there was an opportunity to train young people to tell the stories of other young people.
This is when child soldiers and former child soldiers were associated with witchcraft and sorcery. We would go out and speak to them and tell their stories — that was the beginning for me.
A few years later, Douce joined the 'Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud-Kivu', also known as AFEM, a women's media organisation which aims to promote and defend women’s rights.
I was really fascinated with what they were doing at AFEM — these female journalists were on the ground meeting women who had been raped and telling their stories at a time when this wasn't spoken about in the media like nowadays. Rape was a really a shameful thing and these journalists were breaking the silence and talking about something that was taboo.
High levels of rape and other forms of sexual violence have plagued eastern DR Congo in more than two decades of conflict in the region. The population has been terrorised with wide-speared sexual violence — where rape is used a weapon of war.
The AFEM meeting was an opportunity for the women to encourage themselves and to find ways to cover these important stories, so they needed some members to produce radio programs because they realised that a few minutes wasn't enough. We needed to produce original radio programmes where we really took the time to let these women to talk about their experiences.
In 2016, Douce became the program manager at AFEM and the team worked on creating a thematic radio station which became MAMA Radio.
We were growing as an organisation and asking for partners, donors, sponsorships because a lot of women were asking to be trained on their rights, leadership and other women-related topics so we needed more funding.
It was a challenge because we weren't sure on the content, how to make it and, but we were very determined to do it because it was so important to have the space to talk freely.
How did the idea of Uwezo Afrika Initiative come about?
On MAMA Radio, we had an editorial line of focus which was the key topics affecting women but I realised during my field trips that there were some areas where we couldn't offer practical solutions as journalists, such as sexual and reproductive health issues, women's entrepreneurship and leadership.
We could have talks about women entrepreneurship or leadership with invited experts but we couldn't recruit or train women on income-generating activities, so as Uwezo Afrika Initiative our mandate became really specific and clear.
When these women see you and talk to you and they look at you like you're the one who is going to save them and it was really heartbreaking that we couldn't.
In 2018, Douce set up Uwezo with the aim of focusing on health, human rights, technology, education, entrepreneurship, and tackling social issues. The arts and cultural initiatives were created to allow people to address lots of issues they normally would not discuss in the open.
Maisha pads is an intersection between health and income-generating activities, we are meeting practical needs by creating jobs for the local women who sew these reusable sanitary pads.
What have been some of the milestones in your two-year journey?
Uwezo has created clubs in schools where students meet once a month with resources to discuss health topics.
I'm really proud of our Maisha clubs, the idea came from the team's own experiences where we realised most of us we didn't really get told about the transformations our bodies were going through. I think three out of five us said that we were surprised when we had our first period at school. We were sent home because there were no pads, no nurse to give you pads and then some of your classmates would even mock you.
We went to schools and talked with principals and some of them were really laughing at us wondering what we were trying to achieve.
But it's important that these students have a place to talk because they're adolescents and curious, and if there's no one to talk to they could find information that is not always correct.
What does the future look like for Uwezo?
I'm dreaming of a society in Bukavu, in South Kivu and across the whole country, where women and girls and boys and men can fully enjoy all their rights not only sexual and reproductive rights, but where they can go to school, work, eat, dream and enjoy a full life.
For me, this can't be possible as long as women continue to face gender-based violence that's why we're working on Maisha pads, engaging with cultural and social issues, so girls can have their periods without losing a day of school, without being ashamed, and creating a society where it's not taboo to discuss normal topics.
What are three words to describe the Africa you want to see?
My first word is empowered — my dream Africa is one where our women and girls are empowered. Secondly, peace because it's a prerequisite for development and progress and the third word is equity or for women.
NOTE: Please get in touch with the Uwezo team if you're interested in what they do or want to find out how you can support the Maisha pads scheme.