Central African Republic

Situation Report
Feature
Brigitte Gbenou selling millet at the Lazaré IDP site market. ©OCHA/Prisque Bongole, Kaga-Bandoro, Nana-Gribizi Prefecture, CAR.
Brigitte Gbenou selling millet at the Lazaré IDP site market. ©OCHA/Prisque Bongole, Kaga-Bandoro, Nana-Gribizi Prefecture, CAR.

Overcoming challenges to give their best

Persisting insecurity and recurrent violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) and socio-cultural norms unfavourable to women and girls suffocate efforts to improve the living conditions and status of women, despite existing policies and legislation [1]. Sexual violence is considered the main security risk for women and girls, especially for those displaced. Reducing gender inequalities and increasing women empowerment remain a challenge in CAR, where women and girls make up half of the population. They suffer significant inequalities as one of the most vulnerable social groups. According to the Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2021, CAR ranks 159th of 162 countries with a gender inequality index of 0.680. CAR also has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world: 890 Central African women die for every 100,000 live births, compared to an average of 439 deaths in Africa. Women are also under-represented in decision-making bodies and in the process of restoring peace and security. In the National Assembly, for example, only 18 per cent of deputies are women, according to the CAR Gender Profile 2021 published by UNDP and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Despite these difficulties, Central African women stand up and fight every day to make their voices heard and earn their living.

Multiple roles to make ends meet

At sunrise, Brigitte has to divide her time between her field, the market where she sells millet and a children's centre. A widow and internally displaced woman, she alone takes care of her seven children and three grandchildren. "If I gave up now, our situation would be even worse.” When she was young, Brigitte dreamed of becoming a doctor. As she didn't have this opportunity, her way of helping the community is by sharing her knowledge and bringing a smile to the faces of children displaced by conflict at the Lazare site for internally displaced people (IDP) in Kaga-Bandoro, where more than 173,580 people live, most of them women and children. Brigitte teaches the children educational games, draws and sings with them, and thereby provides them with a protective environment. The allowance received from the NGO Plan International for her work as a monitor at the children's centre enabled her to support her family.

While fighting for her family's survival, Brigitte deplores the violence suffered by displaced women. "When we go to fetch firewood or water, we get attacked, some women get raped. But despite this suffering, we must continue fighting for our children. When the project that supported the children's centre at the IDP site came to an end, Brigitte turned to agriculture and trade. Her only wish is to build a house on the land her late husband left her and leave the IDP site.

Meeting the daily challenges despite her disability

Ella Delphine Mack, a single mother, lives in the 7th arrondissement of Bangui. She wakes up early every morning to get her daughter ready for school and to take care of her six-month-old baby, before she prepares herself to go to the Ministry of Finance and Budget, where she is doing an internship. Since an accident at the age of 14, Ella walks on crutches. Despite her disability, she climbs the stairs to her work place on the 4th floor of the Ministry. "The conditions are difficult, but this is the only internship I got after knocking on several doors," says Ella.

Driven by her feeling of exclusion, Ella founded the National Association of Central African Women with Disabilities as a way to make their voices heard and to fight for their survival. "After all, our voices remain weak, but this won’t discourage us because the fact that we are together encourages us women with disabilities in the fight to be heard," she explains. With its 59 members, the association organises small contributions that allow its members to help each other, notably by covering the school fees of 10 children with disabilities.

A humanitarian role model

Mama Béatrice works for the NGO Bria Londo, which means 'Get up, Bria' in Sango, the main language spoken in CAR. Every Thursday afternoon, she connects isolated towns in the centre of the country through high frequency (HF) radio so they can share alerts concerning the protection of civilians in this region shaken by violence and where cell phone coverage remains poor. On the radio, Mama Béatrice also gives advice on mediating conflicts that emerge in the community.

"When I was young, I admired my economics professor at university. I dreamed of becoming like her and inspiring others," she says proudly. Today, it is Mama Béatrice who is a role model for other women. "I once gave a presentation in Sam-Ouandja, a very remote town, where I was on mission with the NGO. The women told that it was the first time they had seen a woman stand up in front of men and pass on knowledge. They said that it touched and inspired them.”

Participating in field missions was not always easy for Mama Beatrice. "At first, my male colleagues would not let me go on missions. They said that women were unable to do a humanitarian needs assessment and raise awareness and were vulnerable, and they decided that only men would participate in missions. I told them about the importance of woman participate. It is often much easier for women to speak to other women than to men, especially about sensitive issues like health and violence, but also about family and children. After much hesitation, I could finally convince my male colleagues.” To a young woman who wants to start a career in the humanitarian sector, Mama Beatrice would advise to always demand her rights and break down barriers for a better participation of women.

Celebrating International Women's Day

"The International Women's Day is my day," says Mama Beatrice. "I celebrate this day every year with great joy and participate in the women's march. This day is important to draw attention to the fact that Central African women are still marginalized and not considered in decision-making.”

Although they come from different parts of CAR, the three women Brigitte, Ella and Mama Beatrice share the same vision of International Women's Day: an opportunity to make their voices heard.

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[1] Action Plan of the National Strategy to Combat GBV (2019), accompanied by the National Strategy to Combat GBV, Child Marriage and FGM in CAR (2019-2023). National policy for the promotion of gender equality and equity (2nd edition), 2020.

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