One woman's determination to combat gender discrimination

An unwavering commitment to fight against all forms of discrimination towards women and promote gender equality was the motivation behind Marie Bunyemu Kahoto’s decision to set up the non-profit-making organisation Une Femme qui en Soulève une Autre.

Otherwise known as FESA in the French acronym, Une Femme qui en Soulève une Autre means one woman helping others, and was founded by Marie in 1996 in Uvira, South Kivu province.

Married with seven daughters, Marie embodies the concept of women’s emancipation within her small community.

“Before I set up FESA, women were completely undervalued,” Marie explains. “They were repeatedly subject to violence and exploitation. They were only used for domestic tasks. That’s what I found quite unacceptable.”

Before I set up FESA, women were completely undervalued.

Marie belongs to the Bembe tribe. Traditionally, in this tribe straddling the provinces of Katanga, Southern Kivu and Maniema, marriage arrangements are made by the families of both the bride and groom. However, as soon as the marriage is agreed, the girl is perceived as belonging to her in-laws and as such can be used as they see fit.

Over the generations, this situation has created a wide gulf between men and women in this region of the DRC.

Since July 2008, with the support of the ActionAid’s Reducing VAW project FESA has been helping women gradually reclaim their dignity in the Fizi region.

Nowadays most women here can speak up for themselves in front of men, thanks to the skills support they’ve received,” explains Marie.

Nowadays most women here can speak up for themselves in front of men.

“Learning about their rights through training workshops has helped them counteract their marginalisation.”

As well as the training workshops, FESA has also organised livelihood activities (such as helping women to rear animals), particularly with survivors of sexual violence.

Altogether 16 women have each received two young goats.

“We chose goats because this animal is very important in Bembe culture: women’s dowries are calculated in goats. Before we gave out these kids, only men owned goats. Giving the women goats gave them a degree of status among the men of the community,” says Marie.