International women’s day is a time to remember and celebrate women from all over the world. It’s also a time when you can help transform the lives of women living in conflict zones.
Sandrine was only 24 when Mai Mai rebel soldiers burst into her village in war-torn Congo and gave her a stark choice – join them or die.
She was led away into the forest, where she found other women living with the rebels. The lucky ones were cooks or messengers. Others were sex slaves – ‘bush wives’ – to the fighters.
Sandrine was forced to become a combatant. Despite feminine touches to her camouflage green uniform and hair dangling in braids, she carried a rusted AK-47 and some ugly scars on her leg, mementoes of a conflict she will never forget.
She was also taken by a rebel commander as his wife. During her time in the bush, she bore him eight children. And he infected her with HIV. When Sandrine saw her sons become fighters and her daughters being raped, she knew she had to leave.
There are many more women like Sandrine. An estimated 30% of militia members in Congo are women. But female fighters are often overlooked in official programmes to disarm and resettle rebels. Only 3% of the rebels disarmed in a recent World Bank-funded project in eastern Congo were women.
Our Congolese partners, the Centre Resolution Conflits, have a local perspective on the problem. They have years of experience in looking after female ex-combatants, and know that without help these women can suffer rejection by their communities and slip into a life of prostitution to support themselves. Sandrine was lucky. After leaving rebel lines, she heard about CRC and sought their help.
CRC found that she had been traumatised by her years with the rebels, and arranged for her to receive extensive counselling. They helped her prepare for normal life through a process they call ‘cleaning the brain’, to transform her interactions with civilians.
CRC settled her in a workers’ co-operative, with 20 other women who had suffered similar experiences, and they helped each other to heal.
With a small loan and training from CRC, she started a tea stall at a local market, where she makes and sells cakes and porridge. And now her younger children go to the village school – giving them a chance for a better future.
Today Sandrine says:
Give today to help rescue women like Sandrine and give them a peaceful future.
Your gift will transform the lives of women like Sandrine living in conflict zones around the world.