AIDS Rights Congo: Blogging Against Gender Violence

Campaign LogoAs part of The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which ends today, the AZUR Development organization's AIDS Rights Congo project has been using blogging and other citizen media as tools to fight violence against women.

The international campaign, which works to mobilize individuals and groups globally to end all forms of violence against women, kicked off on November 25, the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Throughout the campaign's 16 days, AIDS Rights Congo, which received a Rising Voices micro grant last year, carried out various activities, including youth outreach in cyber cafes, raising awareness in schools, sending out special editions of electronic newsletters, online discussions and blogging.

Based in Brazzaville, Congo, the AZUR Development's AIDS Rights Congo trains communication officers and leaders of local HIV and AIDS organizations in digital story telling, podcasting, and blogging to help document the stigma and discrimination faced by people infected by HIV/AIDS in Congo. For the past 16 days, AIDS Rights Congo went beyond blogging about HIV/AIDS issues, also covering various aspects of gender violence. They blogged on their project blog, as well as for Take Back the Tech!, a campaign that works to reclaim information and communication technologies to end violence against women.

Whether it's domestic violence at home, sexual harassment at work, or rape by husbands or strangers, violence against women and girls occurs in all parts of the world, including Congo. The United Nations Population Fund says it is the most prevalent and least punished crime in the world. According to some estimates, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime, usually from husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

But in this post, written on the first day of the campaign, Blandine Louzolo of AZUR Development says that most women in Congo don't even know that The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women exists, particularly in rural areas where women are often overlooked:

The real problem lies in the lack of community mobilization on a large scale, but also the fact that organizations and the government seem to work only with women in the cities…

…Our activism is through information, because without information no one can survive, and also women could end the impunity of perpetrators of violence.

Though it can be challenging to blog in Congo, thanks to the cost of acquiring computer equipment and poor Internet connections in cyber cafes, one woman is using it to empower women. This post focuses on Arlette Raymonde Bakou, who is responsible for multilateral cooperation at the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Inclusion of Women in Development in the Congo. Bakou began blogging this year on women’s rights issues as a way to reach those who don't watch TV or listen to the radio, particularly young people:

The blog idea came to her through her work writing articles for local newspapers. ‘I felt that having my own blog would be a thrilling experience,’ she explained. Arlette is one of the few female Congolese bloggers who writes about violence against women and children. For her the internet is a tool of research and work, and as she so succinctly put it, ‘it is a tool of our times.’

Arlette explains that ‘my blog posts cover a variety of subjects; I discuss everything from women’s problems to urban planning, environment and issues facing society.’

In her blog, Arlette discusses sexual revolution, sexual politics, sex and morality and premarital sex. For example, her take on sex education in schools is that ‘It is a good thing in that the lessons teach children about the dangers of free sex, but it also puts temptation in the way of children who previously had a traditional view of sexuality.’

World AIDS Day, which raises awareness on HIV/AIDS issues globally, also occurred during the past 16 days, on December 1. In honor of the day, AIDS Rights Congo focused on a group of women who are vulnerable to sexual violence and often neglected in the fight against HIV/AIDS — those with disabilities. Women with disabilities are also affected and infected by the disease, says Blandine Louzolo, but often overlooked by AIDS organizations. But these women should have the same opportunities to fiercely fight against the disease.

Women with disabilities are exposed to the HIV virus. They are often characterized as living in a world apart, not valued in general society, and are the victims of isolationism and discrimination. If they are infected with HIV/AIDS, their HIV status causes even greater discrimination.

In the Congo, there is a lack of commitment to this vulnerable group – an oversight which leads directly to the propagation of HIV/AIDS.

Women with disabilities are not incapable of contracting AIDS. A woman with a disability can maintain a healthy sexual relationship. She may, however, also be more vulnerable to acts of sexual violence. All women with disabilities have the right to be informed about HIV/AIDS and, furthermore, our constitution grants the right to health for all citizens. Why then exclude women with disabilities from the major programs in the fight against AIDS? Faced with being forgotten, these women must actively involve themselves and claim their rights.

Olga Blanche Zissi Bintebe says that in addition to other measures, effective legislation is necessary to fight all forms of violence against all women.

Fighting violence against women necessarily involves an efficient and adapted legislation. Unfortunately, the current Congolese legal arsenal doesn’t allow for the sufficient protection of women against violence because the existing incriminations don’t reprimand all the violent acts that the women are likely to be subjected to.

The revision of the penal and family code undertaken by the government represents a great opportunity to reinforce the protection of women. It will allow us to make illegal the violent acts that are not taken into account by the present code and to rewrite certain articles to make them better adapted to the definition of violence as outlined by a 1993 declaration of the United Nations.

She then goes through, step-by-step, how to change the penal and family code so it's more effective in protecting Congolese women and outlines three steps nongovernmental organizations can take to aid in the fight against gender violence.

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