Motherhood is an indescribable and unparalleled journey that women embark upon when they choose to bring life into this world. It is a transformative experience that deeply changes a woman, both emotionally and physically. Throughout history, mothers have played a vital role in shaping the future of societies. With their unconditional love and unyielding support, they nurture not just their children, but also the very fabric of the society. They instill values of compassion, empathy, and resilience in their offspring, creating citizens who contribute positively to the world. Motherhood is not without its challenges, however. The physical demands of carrying a child for nine months and the subsequent birthing process are physically and emotionally exhausting, and if it happens in a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that is rampant with violence and unrest with limited or no medical facilities, it becomes especially hard. According to the annual motherhood report by Save the Children, which assesses the best and worst places for a mother, the DRC has consistently ranked at the bottom of the list since 2012. Women in DRC encounter a particularly arduous array of challenges and hardships. As a mother of three myself, I was deeply affected by the reality that I witnessed while interacting with the courageous mothers of Congo during my outreach activities as a UN peacekeeper.
Sarah in Kavumu has a deep understanding of these struggles. Kavumu is a small town located in the southern region of the Congo. This particular area has a complex history marked by conflicts, diseases, and hunger. Many communities, today, are still operating in a survival mode. Although, there has been some reduction in conflict, a new concern is the emergence of an unhealthy environment characterized by deforestation and infertile soil. Sarah’s eldest son, John, is her sole source of support among her five toddlers. He helps her set up her hawker basket every morning and assists her in selling bananas.
Emmy, a diligent woman, shared her about her life as a seamstress. She said, “I am happy for the sewing training that allowed me to find employment in Uvira and I earn about $100 per month. This income enables me to support my household. I am proud to be a role model for many young mothers in my neighborhood. I am optimistic and hopeful for the opportunities that await me in the future!”
Marie, a dedicated nurse, remains passionate about her profession despite the challenges faced by her, such as the scarcity of medicines and basic equipment. Her belief is simple yet powerful: “A woman should not lose her life while bringing new life into the world.” She hopes that the children she has helped bring into the world, some of whom have already become adults, will in turn contribute to the betterment of the Congolese community. She added, “I hope that they will have a better life and become productive members of society.”
These mothers are truly remarkable, as they selflessly care for and give birth to their children without access to proper health facilities. Unfortunately, this lack of resources and support often results in a devastating loss of two lives. Additionally, due to the lack of state presence for the betterment of citizens’ lives, mothers have taken on the primary responsibility of providing basic necessities such as food, clothing, and school fees. In the DRC, one can observe the significant contributions of mothers working in agriculture, trade retailing, and small businesses for the betterment of their households. I admire the resilience and strength of these proud mothers who continue to stand tall, even in the face of violence and dearth of resources, but more than that I am proud of being a part of the Pakistan Army peacekeeping contingent that has allowed me to put in my efforts for the betterment of these women.
The Pakistan Army has made significant contributions in various domains playing a pivotal role in the peacekeeping efforts within DRC. The establishment of a contingent for women in Congo commenced with the implementation of a directive by the United Nations to include female peacekeepers. Pakistan is one of the first nations to deploy Female Engagement Teams (FET) in the DRC as part of its troop contributions. The use of FETs has facilitated the organization of regular medical camps and seminars, which serve the dual purpose of providing medical treatment and educating women on health and wellbeing such as maternal health, neonatal care, and personal hygiene, etc. Moreover, interactive sessions are conducted to underscore the importance of education, with a specific focus on women education and skill development. This encompasses hands-on training aimed at enhancing practical skills and fostering capacity development. Vocational training programs encompassing activities such as stitching, sewing, farming, and salon services are implemented with the aim of augmenting individual’s occupational proficiencies. To date, a substantial number of women have derived significant advantages from these camps. The operational responsibilities of the FET in the DRC encompass the execution of regular patrols spanning large, medium, and short distances. During these patrols, the members of the team frequently come across marginalized women and girls, who constitute a significant proportion of the population in the DRC.
The Southern Sector of the mission has implemented many Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) initiatives in South Kivu, in alignment with its mandated objectives. The objective is to secure the support and favor of the Congolese population, with a particular emphasis on women. The FET engages in numerous CIMIC activities, such as visiting orphanages, doing tree planting exercises, and organizing clean-up exercises within different areas. FETs that have received specialized training at CIPs, have the necessary skills to proficiently address matters pertaining to Awareness about Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (ASEA). They are also equipped to provide guidance to local women on the topics of prevention, awareness, and reporting of sexual abuse and exploitation. Lastly, the FET consists of a group of highly skilled female officers from Pakistan, encompassing professionals such as doctors, physiologists, engineers, and instructors. This team is fully prepared to provide support to underprivileged women in the DRC by offering a compassionate ear, a comforting presence, and by serving as positive examples to help these women regain their self-assurance. The establishment of ties by the FET among the local community has garnered significant support and admiration from the Congolese women. HH
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