Rebuilding their lives and livelihoods in Zémio
Despite an improvement since the beginning of the year, the security situation in the Central African Republic’s south-eastern corner remains precarious with serious consequences for the population of the Haut-Mbomou Prefecture. In the three months between July and September alone, 175 protection incidents against civilians were reported in the two towns of Obo and Mboki, including gender-based violence and restrictions on the freedom of movement. Most people in Zémio do not dare travelling beyond 5 km from to town for fear of being attacked by armed groups that control the area. With serious implications for the people’s ability to cultivate fields, trade and do other businesses, and ensure their livelihoods.
Thanks to funding from the Humanitarian Fund for the Central African Republic, the two NGOs International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Association des femmes pour la promotion de l'entreprenariat (AFPE) are supporting violence prevention and protection mechanisms for vulnerable people, notably women and girls, in the Zémio sub-prefecture, and help them to strengthen their capacity to provide for themselves and their families.
Finding her dignity again
Doudou, a woman in her thirties, arrived with her children and husband at a site for internally displaced people in Zémio in 2019, after they had fled armed conflict in Bambari in the central Ouaka Prefecture. The little they were able to take from home they had lost along the way. The financial support of 20,000 FCFA (US$40) received from IRC gave them hope again. With this money, the young woman started a small business, selling coffee and homemade doughnuts in the streets of Zémio and producing her own soap. "My husband and I used to go around town looking for work that brought us 500 FCFA (90 US cents) a day. My family of seven had to survive on this little money. Today, my life has changed thanks to the support we received. I earn money, can feed my family and send my children to school," says Doudou with a smile on her face.
The NGO also supports displaced women in organising themselves in small saving and credit associations. Two such groups have been set up in Zémio. In each group, 30 women help each other through small loans – to start businesses, build a house or cover unforeseen expenses. To launch the associations, the women received 330,000 FCFA, the equivalent of US$ 660.
Women in Zémio also have the possibility to participate in mediation and couple therapy aimed at reducing domestic violence – another service offered by the NGO. Women and girls who had been abused by their partners testify that they have observed changes in their partner’s behaviour since they started the counselling sessions.
Autonomous women, protected women
Sobbing, Nadine Mbolini*, a single mother of four, starts to tell how she arrived at the AFPE counselling centre after ex-husband beat her. "My left ear was bleeding, and I could not hear anything with my right ear due to the blows he gave me," she explained. Once at the centre, counselling professionals referred Nadine for medical treatment to the Zémio hospital, which is supported by the NGO ALIMA. In addition to health and psychosocial support, Nadine received financial support to start a small business and gain independence. Today, she sells porridge and doughnuts at a small street stand.
From January to July 2020, the AFPE listening centre received and cared for 333 survivors of gender-based violence. Most of them suffered physical violence; 159 survivors were referred to a clinic for medical care. Among them, 50 survivors were selected to receive training and support to start their own small business to gain financial independence – including from violent spouses and partners. Some of them have subsequently opened small restaurants, while others are engaged in small trade by selling, for example, handmade soap, or have undertaken small-scale livestock farming.
Although the beneficiaries are grateful for the assistance received, difficulties remain. Insecurity is still the major concern in the region, particularly for women and girls. The transport of basic necessities in this isolated corner of the country is very difficult and risky, which results in high prices of basic commodities on the local market. In addition, the deterioration of the roads make it difficult to deliver any good, including humanitarian assistance, to the affected people in the villages around Zémio.
The work of the NGOs International Rescue Committee and AFPE has had a positive impact on the lives of the women affected by conflict in Zémio. Displaced women who lost everything have regained hope for a better future.
* The woman’s name has been changed to assure her protection