Warning: this story contains references to domestic abuse.
‘When you empower a man to escape poverty, it’s a wonderful thing,’ says Hebdavi Muhindo, Tearfund’s Programme Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). ‘However, empowering a woman is twice as wonderful.’ Hebdavi explains why...
As I sat in the meeting, I could tell there was something special about Masika*.
The meeting was being held in her village in the middle of rural DRC. The men and women here had lived in terrible poverty for many years. However, for some of them, their fortunes changed after they formed a self-help group.
The women (and a few men) had pooled their very modest resources and issued members with small loans. With this money, they were able to grow more and better food and to start new businesses.
The self-help group meeting was buzzing when I visited them. People were talking excitedly about how their lives were changing.
A tale to tell
Masika didn’t actually say that much at the meeting. However, when she did speak, you could see her passion and commitment. I could sense that here was a woman with a story to tell and I was keen to hear it.
After the meeting we visited a nearby farm where the group were learning how to make compost and grow more food. I took the opportunity to introduce myself to her.
‘I am excited to meet your group,’ I told her. ‘I think it’s very good – what you are doing together.’
With that single sentence, Masika started talking. Her enthusiasm was obvious.
‘It’s not just a good thing, it’s a life-changing miracle,’ she told me. ‘It’s God's answer to my prayers in a way I could never have imagined. It’s a story I will tell my children and their children for as long as I live.’
However, this wasn’t just a story about growing more food or making more money…
A radio without batteries
Masika was a mother of four children. Her husband had been the main earner. It was a joyless marriage and he had shown her no respect, beating her and abusing her verbally.
‘My husband told me I was useless without him; just like a radio without batteries,’ she recalls.
He would never consult her for any decisions about their household. ‘He even told me that my parents wasted their money sending me to school,’ she said, although, as a girl, she had been allowed only the most basic education.
When Masika joined the self-help group, everything changed. With her loan, she started selling tomatoes and then small doughnut-like cakes known as mandazi.
Suddenly she was making money and could contribute to household expenses. As that happened, her husband’s attitude changed. ‘Now my opinion counts in the house,’ she says. The abuse and the violence have stopped too.
Double the difference
Working for Tearfund in the DRC, I love helping to empower people to escape poverty as we work in partnership with local churches. However, there’s something doubly special when a woman is empowered.
When you support a woman, it gives them economic power for the first time. That changes the whole way their family operates.
And, in rural DRC, a woman's income often contributes more to the welfare of the family.
Not only has the abuse stopped for Masika, it’s ceasing for other women in her village. She’s teaching and counselling other survivors of gender-based violence in her village – a serious problem in the DRC – and helping them to speak out about it.
Thank you, dear God, that you made women and men equal, both bearing your image. Thank you for every woman and man that understands their value as a child of yours.
Please help your church across the world to empower millions more women like Masika. Let them discover their abilities and their true worth and go on to transform their families and communities. Amen.*Name changed to protect identity.