Liz Bernstein and Sandeep Prasad
In 2010, a local Congolese women’s organization quietly moved into a clinic that Médecins Sans Frontières had originally built and operated in Orientale province until conflict in the area slowed down. The local organization, run by Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, knew that women were still being raped in large numbers and still needed medical care.
They also knew that women desperately needed access to critical gender-based violence response services, including sexual- and reproductive-health services. Orientale province spans a territory the size of Spain, and yet there were no clinics for women offering even basic services like access to contraceptives.
Cobbling together meagre resources, Ms. Lusenge and her team have used creativity and ingenuity to create a holistic clinic now offering women in this forgotten and violence-wracked corner of Congo a range of services that include medical, psychological and legal help for rape survivors and family-planning counselling.
The story of a local women’s rights organization identifying the needs of their community and then responding to those needs with services and support should sound familiar. It is why there are abortion clinics in communities across Canada and shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. Local women’s rights organizations are the backbone of a feminist movement that has made it possible for Canada to make progress on these critical rights-based issues, to the point where women are better placed to seek support when they need it and hold their governments accountable to violations when they occur.