Mathilde Muhindo – defends the women in her country against sexual violence and discrimination

Mathilde Muhindo has dedicated her life to the fight against the discrimination of women and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is the director of the Olame Centre in the province of South Kivu, which has been promoting women´s rights and the empowerment of women for more than 50 years.

“Olame” is the Swahili translation for “Live a long life in dignity and prosperity”. Mathilde Muhindo´s vision is that women in the DRC will be able to live a life in dignity and peace. They will have access to education, equal rights to men and play an active role in their communities as wives and mothers, while contributing to the family´s wealth through their work.

But there is a long way to go in a country that has then been marked by more than 30 years of dictatorship and ravaged by war since 1998, where thousands of women of all ages have been systematically raped, tortured, mutilated and held as sexual slaves. In a country with no justice, where those responsible for the atrocities,  the armed forces, police, rebels and local leaders, remain unpunished and free to continue their acts of violence.

Mathilde Muhindo was born in Bukavu, the capital of the province of South Kivu. She has 10 brothers and sisters and grew up in a family where the mother was considered an equal partner to the father, something very unusual in the DRC.  Following  her training as a midwife during which she experienced poverty, discrimination of women and high mortality of small infants, Muhindo decided to join the office of the Archdiocese of Bukavu. The Archdiocese´s “Centre for the social and rural animation”, where Muhindo worked to promote the important position of women and families within the communities, was later called “Olame”.

Since 2001 Olame Centre also provides counselling services to rape victims, including medical and psychological aid. The women and girls not only suffer enormous pain following the countless rapes, many of them have been severely tortured and mutilated, but in some cases also carry sexual diseases. Sometimes they are released from sexual slavery when they get pregnant. Returning home they face rejection by their husbands, families and communities. The consequences of the mass rapes are terrible. They destroy entire families and communities. According to Muhindo the mass rapes are a “weapon of war” with exactly that goal. She goes out to the villages with her team to talk about sexual violence and the discrimination of women. Her weapon is to raise awareness, within the communities and internationally.

Between 2003 and 2005 Muhindo was a member of the Congolese transitional parliament, as a representative for the civilian society in South Kivu. In those two years she was able to push through amendments of the Constitution and notably a new law on violence against women in the DRC.

As a result of more than 40 years of  “unfaltering dedication to the safety, health, and rights of often forgotten women in Eastern Congo” (HRW article from October 2009), 61-year-old Muhindo received the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism in 2009.

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