2017: Gégé Katana Bukuru
“In every war, at every form of violence, it’s first and foremost women who are victims. It’s often a matter of sexual assault and rape, which have become a weapon of war. The women have been tortured and raped while their men or children have been forced to watch.”
Gégé Katana Bukuru has spent many years fighting for women’s human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has been ravaged hard by war since the 1990s, which often has ethnic overtones. More than 5 million people have died and close to 4 million have been driven from their homes. One particularly vulnerable area is Södra Kivu where Gégé Katana Bukuru lives. She works to strengthen women’s rights through the organisation called SOFAD (Solidarité des Femmes Activistes pour la Défense des Droits Humains).
Interview with Gégé Katana Bukuru
When did you start getting involved?
“It all started in my own family when I was a child. I was born in 1963 to a “royal” family, and the female servants there had to work hard all day, despite having their young children with them. The children cried and I was really shocked. I defended the women and their children. I then became a scout and visited towns to help the elderly and the sick and other vulnerable people. I decided to stay on at school and go on to university while working with various social issues.”
How did SOFAD come about?
“It was the first organisation for women involved in the defence of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time, we women were afraid of such work. We thought it was an area that was reserved for men only.
“Then the war continued and many men said: “We’re going to fight until the last man falls.” But the women didn’t think this was necessary; we said we must stop now to enable a ceasefire. Women need to have a greater influence on peace negotiations. Most peace agreements are signed by men, not by women. But in order to achieve this, women need to be able to go to school. I’ve been implementing reading and writing campaigns for women to enable them to be more active.”
What can women contribute with in the peace process?
“It’s really important for women to take part in the peace process. They can influence their sons, their husbands and their relatives. And women don’t settle their conflicts with violence - they prefer cooperation and negotiation. Our primary SOFAD task at the moment is to counteract division.”
Who inspires you?
“One person is the Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, who took part in a big reading and writing campaign himself among the poor of Brazil in the 1960s. His books, in which he tells us his thoughts about education for the poor, have been translated into many languages and spread worldwide. Role model number two is the Afro-American pastor Martin Luther King, who in the 1950s and 60s involved millions of Afro-Americans in non-violent action to protest against the race discrimination in the USA at the time. With inspiration from these two and others, we at SOFAD have built up a network of more than 600 members who will try to increase the influence that women have. They form “peace clubs” in towns and residential neighbourhoods. But there is strong opposition and the activists are persecuted.”
You went into exile due to threats but returned to Södra Kivu. What made you dare to do this?
“People wondered if I was insane when I said that I had to go back home. But it wasn’t good for me to be in exile while people were dying at home. I was forced to show initiative. We already had people there, and a functioning structure, so I took a flight and returned during the war. It’s also been an important principle for SOFAD’s activists: to conquer your own fear and never run away.
“Although we’re threatened and although it feels unsafe, we’ll stay put and continue our fight so that we can achieve our goals and prepare the youngsters to continue our fight in the future.”
Why aren’t you in involved with a political party?
“When you’re active in civil society and involved with the issues that I am, it’s a case of well, this works but that doesn’t – we want this or that to change. But if you have a political assignment in a dictatorship, you have to keep quiet and follow the leader and do what the leader tells you to do. It’s difficult. I prefer working in civil society where I can bring people together and fight for change, for our case and for women’s rights. I’d rather do that than be part of a political party where I’d be sacrificing my convictions.”
What’s your great dream in life?
“First and foremost I want peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo! And stability, so that there can be peace which will last. We hope we’ll get more support for the women and that they will have more power over the decisions that are made.”
The Living History Forum would like to emphasise that these interviews are based on the testimony of the prize recipients themselves. They are not an objective assessment of facts on behalf of the government body.
The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.