The nurses of the Bilili health center proudly display their banner as they wait for the International Women's Day parade to start.
The Lusekele women start off on their 7 kilometer hike to the local government center for the day's festivities
Little girls dressed up in their mothers' wrap-around skirts. Parade day!
The Lusekele girls lead the agricultural center delegation in the parade.
The potential locked up in the lives of young women and girls is formidable. The challenge is to light the fire of young minds with vision and purpose.
March 8th…International Women’s Day… It may have passed you by without you noticing it. Here in Congo it is taken seriously. Girls are let out of school, women employees given the day off, women dress their little girls in their own skirts (I saw a number of girls wrestling with this unfamiliar object), women’s groups go into debt to parade in uniform, and the local government plans feasts and parades, with speeches and such. But if you don’t have new uniforms for your group to show off, why go? That was the question raging in the Lusekele women’s group
It wasn’t’ just the Lusekele women. All the women I met at the celebration Thursday were just thinking about the parade, and assuming that the government men would arrange the program. But the county administrators were clueless. They had dutifully arranged the occasion. Now they kept saying, “This is YOUR day, ladies…” That’s how I, who had come to observe this event for the first time, was seized on just before the parade, to be the main speaker. Philo, one of Lusekele’s extension agents and its assistant administrator, as the most capable Congolese woman there that they knew, was also asked to give a few remarks.
As a literacy promoter, I talked about the necessity for a country like Congo to use the skills and wisdom of ALL its population, not just the male half, the necessity for women to learn, to gain the knowledge and skills needed to make a good contribution, and the importance for a family’s well-being and future to have a savvy educated woman directing the household. I addressed all those school girls in their mother’s skirts about the necessity to apply themselves to their studies and use what they learn. Philo hammered on the theme I started, pulling out the adage that educating a man gives him a livelihood; educating a woman changes the world around her.
The real reason for days like this is not the dress, the dance step or the parade. International Women’s Day is a chance to change the way we think in important ways. While Congolese village women don’t find their lives intolerable (unless they live in the Great Lakes region, the current rape capitol of the world), they are limited in many ways which contribute to their poverty and handicap their children. Women are often treated like children and deprived of decision-making, even in such personal matters as whether to have more children. Their menfolk act on their behalf, whether for their good or against it. Beating your wife is considered normal in this society. Lack of education is an important limitation for the majority of women, keeping them first from learning about things that could help them, and secondly from understanding the real advantages and disadvantages of new things. The children of uneducated women are less likely to get a good education themselves. The uneducated woman is less likely to get good health care for her children, more likely to get cheated and victimized. One could go on. Government administrators are perfectly willing to celebrate women, but without any interest in changing the status quo. Women have to take responsibility for the program, to hold up models to each other, to tell each other, their men and their daughters why they must think for themselves, why they must gain new skills, why they must speak out, and why they must be listened to.
We need to start preparing for next year’s Women’s Day – not just for the dresses, but so that we all have something to present that’s worth our daughters’ (and sons’) attention.