Being a woman in the Central African Republic (CAR) means being exposed to a multitude of discriminations, inequalities and rights violations from birth. Armed conflicts have seen women face a great deal of violence. The security situation is still highly volatile and certain norms and customs remain unfavourable to women. But there is hope: the Bêkou Fund supports various socio-economic empowerment initiatives that are helping hundreds of women to get back on their feet.
According to the "Gender-Based Violence Information Management System" (GBVIMS) report, 11,700 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) were reported in the second quarter of 2022, the same amount as in the whole of 2021. The figure for 2021 was already up by 25% compared to the previous year.
This figure is much lower than the reality, as many women do not dare to report the violence they have suffered for fear of being stigmatised, or for fear of impunity for their aggressors.
A survey by UNICEF in 2019 revealed that 60% of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18; female genital mutilation affects 21.6% of women aged 15-49; and 80% of women and 84% of men say they accept domestic violence. Spaces are being created across CAR to welcome survivors of GBV, protect them and enable them to recover from the violence they have suffered, as well as supporting their socio-economic empowerment.
Naomie and Annie (not their real names), two 17-year-old girls, met recently. They both lost their families 10 years ago during the armed conflict.
Since their first meeting at a Centre for the Socio-Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls (CASEF - Centre d’Autonomisation Socio-Économique de la Femme et de la Fille), these two friends have been supporting each other. Illiterate and mistreated by family members who did not want them to go to school, they decided to flee their town to the capital Bangui. Once a week, they meet other girls their age at the CASEF.
For them, it's a safe space where they can talk about their concerns. There’s always someone available to listen, and social workers offer advice and emergency financial assistance to cover their food and hygiene needs. This helps them feel better and be more independent. Annie is relieved to have found a place that gives her hope for her future: "I've seen a lot of atrocities, but finally I'm welcomed. Now my mind is open, I have learned a lot and I feel free from my traumas.”
Annie dreams of learning to read and write and becoming a seamstress or hairdresser. One of the services CASEF provides is literacy classes. Yolande, 53, had her fields confiscated and was kicked out of her home by her in-laws when her husband died, as they were not legally married. But thanks to CASEF, Yolande was able to take literacy classes.
Anna, aged 51, has also benefited from the training provided by CASEF. This mother of ten children, eight of whom died, was abused by her husband after she was raped by members of armed groups while selling her goods at the market three years ago. Yvette lost everything and suffered serious health problems as a result of multiple rapes. After receiving health assistance from Médecins Sans Frontières, she decided to take part in a CASEF training course on starting up income-generating activities. She started buying and selling goods and, little by little, she managed to save money.
Income-generating activities (IGAs) aim to improve the weak financial capacities of GBV survivors, who are often economically dependent on their husbands or families. "We provide a secure framework for the holistic care of GBV survivors. For those who cannot follow an IGA training course or whose urgent situation makes it impossible to wait for the next course, rapid economic support (cash of XAF 20,000) is offered," explains Mannick Kongombe, Gender III project manager for the NGO, International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Many other stories like those of Naomie, Annie, Yolande and Anna demonstrate that CASEFs are fundamental structures for GBV survivors, providing them with a new future by protecting them and giving them the means to live independently.
There are currently two CASEFs and one House of Hope in Bangui. These state structures are co-financed by the Gender III programme through the Bêkou Fund, and offer survivors of GBV psychosocial, legal or medical assistance, training and literacy classes (74% of women in CAR are illiterate) as well as support for IGAs.
The CASEF is just one of the project's activities implemented by a consortium made up of the International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Humanity and Inclusion (HI) and International Medical Corps (IMC), in collaboration with national partners. The project's activities are located in Bangui and the surrounding areas, as well as in the prefectures of Ouham (Bossangoa), Ouham-Péndé (Bocaranga, Koui, Ngaoundaye and Bohong) and Ouaka (Bambari). The project provides holistic care for GBV survivors and facilitates their reintegration into the community.