My business trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo

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At the invitation of the Belgium-based civil society organisation "Empowering Women International", I travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the end of October accompanied by my assistant Amina Nyirahirwa. Beforehand, we had established contacts with various Congolese personalities in order to better grasp the challenges facing the DRC.

Our first meeting brought us together with the Ambassador of the European Union in Kinshasa, H.E. Jean-Marc Châtaigner, over lunch - for which we express our sincere thanks. The ambassador expressed his concern about the never-ending violent conflicts in the country, to which more than two million people had already fallen victim at that time. Women in particular, who often suffer the most from this scourge, are exposed to various forms of gender-based violence. It is estimated that one million women, in the DRC alone, have been raped. Châtaigner stressed the importance of relations between the DRC and the European Union in order to establish stability and freedom from violence in the country with their help.

The consistently difficult situation of women in Congo was once again brought home to us in the subsequent discussion with Edouard Beigbeder, the representative of UNICEF in the DRC. Especially in the field of education, he said, there is still a glaring gap between the sexes, while the government's efforts to date have had an effect in isolated cases, but are far from sufficient. He praised the Congolese government's pledge to provide free primary education for all children. Education is the most appropriate lever to ensure the protection of children and their development.

Our third meeting in a few days was with the Minister of Gender Equality, Family and Children, Gisèle Ndaya, who had invited us to talk about the gender challenges in her home country. The new Congolese government wants to pay special attention to the sustainable and qualitative education of women of all backgrounds and social classes. Because currently, only 7.2 percent of decision-making positions in parliament and government are occupied by women.

The new Congolese government also has great plans with regard to sexual self-determination. Especially against the backdrop of the armed conflicts, the protection of girls and women from sexually based violence is to be guaranteed and sustainably prevented. Therefore, the DRC is currently running the campaign "Zero Tolerance for Sexual Violence." It was launched by Félix Tshisekedi, the country's Head of State, to implement the provisions of the Congolese law against sexual and gender-based violence. The Minister of Family Affairs told us: "We want to change the image of our country. DRC must no longer be the 'country of rape' as it is sometimes written in the international press."

In order to achieve this goal, a special representative, Chantal Molup, was appointed to advise the President of the Republic on the issues of youth and the fight against violence against women. I also had a conversation with her during my trip. Molup told me that on 25 November of this year a forum against violence would be convened in Kinshasa with the participation of many African state representatives (which also took place). Also present was, for example, the former President of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The aim of the forum was, and still is, to discuss the problem of gender-based violence and to advocate for a change in the mentality of men in this context. Violence in everyday life has been accepted until now. According to Molup, the government as well as large parts of civil society want to actively change this attitude.

I highly welcome these efforts, because violence is a universal problem and every action, every position and every emphasis on non-violence can thus be seen as progress on a universal level.

At the end of our trip, we attended an international conference organised by EWI (Empowering Women International). The lively exchange among empathetic and inspiring women moved and enthused me and gave me hope that the great challenges that the DRC will have to face in the coming years will be tackled by courageous women.

To improve their status in Congolese society, it is essential to reduce gender inequalities. For this, the targeted implementation of policies to promote the inclusion of women in society is essential. At the same time, causes of violence must be investigated and addressed. On the male side, balancing power always means taking away power first. This must be countered by (new) forms of appreciation. Marshall B. Rosenberg says: "Seeing the beauty in a person is most necessary when he communicates in a way that makes exactly that most difficult".

Perhaps this can be translated, perhaps beauty must be sought in a country precisely when it appears in a way that makes this most difficult.

I have seen, heard and experienced many beautiful and valuable things in the DRC. That is a good start.

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