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Congolese Women Refuse Poverty

Badylon K. Bakiman

KIKWIT, DR Congo, Nov 16 2010 (IPS) - To see how women’s associations in the Democratic Republic of Congo are helping their members improve their livelihoods, just follow the hubbub you can hear from Justine Kakesa’s office: the Kikwit 2 market is bursting with merchandise made by women.

Women are making increasingly effective use of local materials and appropriate technology to produce goods for the local market – bread, soaps, varnishes and more.

“Thanks to the sale of products that we make in our group, I’m able to pay my children’s school fees, to buy clothes, pay the rent and take care of other needs,” said Justine Kakesa, president of the Young Congolese Women’s Group (known by its French acronym, DJFC), an NGO based in Kikwit.

Samosas, for example, triangular pastry pockets with a beef and onion filling, are one of the products that earns money for the association, Kakesa told IPS. “We make them three times a week. Each time we make a basin-full… that amount of samosas sells for at least 60 dollars, so that’s 180 dollars for the three batches.”

Kakesa said the DJFC has 238 members in Kikwit, and more in other districts in the southwestern DRC province of Bandundu. Over the past three years, women’s associations like DJFC have been developing a repertoire of products and techniques to earn money to look after their families.   “Through a variety techniques, methods and procedures, they”ve been able to transform or make products out of local materials,” said Jean Bosco Kasinga, a development technician in Kikwit.

According to a 2009 report from the United Nations Development Programme, the majority of people in the DRC live on less than a dollar a day. The women of Bandundu are taking up the challenge of poverty within the limited means at their disposal.

Every morning, from 5 to 9 am, a special market is organised in front of the community hall in the Kazamba neighbourhood of the city, where women – and men – display all sorts of goods. The locally-made products, whether soap or biscuits, compare favourably in both price and quality with imported goods.

“Before making our products, we go through a series of trainings. Without that, the products would not be of good quality,” said Célestine Lembagusala, the president of the Network of Active Women in Kikwit, which includes more than 30 women’s groups.

“These women have to be encouraged. I often buy their products, and the prices are good. This is how the country can develop itself,” Sylvain Mwashi, a Kazamba resident told IPS, leaving the morning market with fresh bread and locally-produced margarine.

“Once I get my share of the profits, I try to deposit part of it in a savings cooperative where I opened an account last year. Then when i’m in need, I can withdraw money,” said Jeanne Mpilinkwomo, from the Bandundu Women’s Group. Other women belong to informal savings group.

“I can only congratulate the women for the effort they put in… They are development actors,” said Brigitte Mukwa, head of service for gender, family and children in Kikwit.

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