ISSUE/EDITION Nr 361 - 01/02/1999



Committed Women

by D. N'Lemvo, Congo-Bra, December 1998



Congolese women have been freed from the yoke of tradition
which for ages has subordinated them to men.
Now they're taking on responsibilities and are successful in many fields

Florence Nkouka is director of the Women's Savings Bank and as such has to respect her clients' confidentiality. When people ask for details about her savings bank, she's quite prepared to side-track them with: "Sorry. I can't give out such information." The savings bank is a small Credit Union run by women of the Evangelical Church of Congo. The Board of Administration has appointed a special committee to take care of current business while the office holders are occupied with preparing a constitution to assure their institution's independence from outside interference. "The state wants to take over our organisation. That's a step backwards and we'll not allow it", they insist. The new savings bank will thus have a constitution preventing it from coming under the state's control. The women have chosen to run their business themselves - all part of the country's on-going democratic process. They're determined to prove they can take their own responsibilities in hand and are in no way appendages of the men who run the country. The establishment of the savings bank clearly shows that Congolese women have taken a giant step forward in ensuring their own advancement. Just like men, they're prepared to take risks. This is but one example of women's success stories in Congo these days and surely to be imitated.


Let' take look at some of our women fellow-citizens who've made their mark on our country's history:

Claudine Munari has always been in the limelight. Her career began with the 1992 elections which brought her party to the forefront. Political analysts, (including both her admirers and her critics), acknowledge the dynamism with which she supervised the running of the presidential cabinet. As regards her authority, one presidential adviser said: "If you wanted to get a favour from the head of state, it didn't do to rub Claudine Munari up the wrong way." She was considered the pivot around which Paschal Lisouba's administration turned. She was the one who cleared the way for those who had to deal directly with "the Boss". Never before in the Congo's history, has a woman enjoyed such influence. Just look at the positions she's occupied: Minister in charge of the President's cabinet and Mayoress of Mouyondzi, her birthplace! With her associates, she seemed to exude "authority". Today, she's still considered to be an integral part of the Opposition-in-exile's elite circle. A Doctor in Economics, she founded "Woman 2000", a non- governmental organisation which supports women's advancement. The meteoric career of Mrs Munari hasn't in any way detracted from the significant accomplishments of very many other Congolese women.

All Congolese remember Alice Badiangana. They all recall what happened when one day during the August 1963 "Marxist revolution", this young woman threw back a hand-grenade which the military had thrown into the rioting crowd.

Fourteen years later, a future barrister, Julienne Odziel defied security officers armed with Russian-made rifles, to obtain her husband's freedom. He'd been illegally detained. Lawyer Odziel is well known because she was called to the bar of Brazzaville at a time when it was still exclusively a man's preserve. In 1986 she played a leading role in the trial of those who had planted bombs; she castigated the authorities' arbitrary actions and tried to expose the government's attempts to discredit certain people. When Congo-Brazzaville took its first tentative steps along the road to democracy, Julienne Odziel was there. She took part in the preparatory commission of the 1991 Sovereign National Conference, before being elected a member of that historic assembly. She was also one of the leading lights among the organisers of the 1993 "women's march for peace".

Women in charge

But not all our womenfolk are national "heroines" along the lines of those described above. Some are prepared to shoulder responsibility in other ways. Congolese women are discovering their potential. They're to be found in every area of society. They're enterprising and convincing. After long experience at the Bank of Central African States, Delphine Mbouyou was appointed director-general of the Rural Credit Bank of Congo in 1996 and was confirmed in this position by the present government. Under her direction, the bank has developed into becoming the Credit Bank for Agriculture, Industry and Commerce. Today, Delphine Mhouyou is one of the Congo's most illustrious public servants. And then there's Adelaide Moundélé Ngollo. She's been given responsibility for running what has been described as the Congo's "goose that lays the golden egg" - the National Petroleum Company. In spite of immense difficulties, Hydro-Congo is on the list of companies to be privatised by 31 December 1998. The former karate expert is a pragmatist, ensuring that an atmosphere of confidence reigns throughout the whole company.

The Companies Registration Centre is a state-run organisation. It's the only source of information and advice available for those who want to set up a business. Its director, Marguerite Homb, stresses that "women have the qualities needed for management. They're involved in 87% of production businesses." She's there to offer help and advice on managing and developing small and medium sized businesses. In this capacity she asks that the necessary practical support should be given to business in the informal sector of industry, but at the same time she looks for good organisation in this particular area (in which women have a forceful presence). The expansion of the informal sector is a step in the development of a solid private sector. Marguerite puts it this way: "The informal business sector is very much a "grassroots economy", and as such, must be encouraged". It's only when the government realises that this sector is an integral part of the Congo's economic development, that it will be in a position to deal with the whole range of difficulties it encounters.

At the moment, more than 300 women are organising a project called "Mothers and Youth" as part of a "youth-employment in business" project. Each woman is involved in some kind of business enterprise for generating wealth and employment. The project came about in the post-war situation when there were many widows and young girls who had to raise families. The movement is still in its infancy.

Every year, hundreds of Congolese women succeed in making a "go" of some small business or other - no small contribution to national development. This social and economic upsurge is both a means of supporting family life and proving that woman can take a real part in nation-building. Women stop being the ones who are helped. Now, they're the ones who pioneer and drive forward the development process. Whenever they're given a chance, they do their utmost to prove that success is not the exclusive preserve and privilege of the opposite sex.

Women in the Churches

Jeanne Bakissa is one of six female pastors of her Church. After four years pastoral service, of which two were spent in the heart of the country, she took over as pastor of Mayangui Parish, a major responsibility within the Brazzaville area. In order to be accepted by the local church community, she's had to make her mark in the world of church administration, yet at the same time, allowing the faithful to have their say. "Among us", she confides, "it's ideas that count. If what you propose is worthwhile, then it's approved. This approval is then transformed into action. Parishioners from every class of society now come to me for advice."

A certain narrow-mindedness in thought and action still exist but there has been a real change. "It's no use going on and on about the equality of sexes", says Jeanne. "That leads nowhere. Rather, women should prove they are capable and able by their work and good example. Just talking is not enough to convince."



PeaceLink 1999 - Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgement