“I feel good in my skin when I am doing art.”
– Tunaweza Portraits Project Participant
January – April 2019
Goma, DR Congo
26 young women
Challenged gender stereotypes
Tunaweza Portraits engaged with 26 young women and a council of 27 community leaders in Goma, Eastern Congo to challenge gender stereotypes and address a root cause of sexual violence in their community. In Kiswahili, “tunaweza” means “we are able/capable” and, as such, the project is inspired by the knowledge and capacity that communities and youth have the ability to make change for themselves.
Implemented in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, and the Congolese non-governmental organization Children’s Voice, Tunaweza Portraits built on the successes of the preceding project, Courage in Congo.
DRC garners a lot of attention for extreme conflict-related sexual violence. Widely known as the “rape capital of the world” and the “worst place to be a woman” this narrative has drawn attention away from the critical socio-cultural dimensions of sexual violence in communities. The stark reality for survivors is that the vast majority of perpetrators are not armed actors in the ongoing conflict, but rather members of their own families and communities. Sexual violence is prevalent and pervasive in everyday life.
During Tunaweza Portraits Project, the civic voices of 26 young women were raised through the medium of public murals and posters to respond to the gender dynamics that contribute to sexual violence in their communities. Instead of portraying women and girls as powerless victims, as is so often the case in anti-sexual violence campaigns, this project worked with adolescent girls to create a series of murals and posters around the city of Goma that reflect how they see the capacity of women and girls in shaping the future in Goma, and DRC. This provided a positive, alternative and empowered role for them in society. It worked to challenge deeply held gender beliefs that contribute to sexual violence.
Over the course of three months the 26 young women developed leadership skills, learned new art techniques such as printmaking, and participated in psychosocial arts-based activities. With the guidance of community leaders, the young women designed and painted four murals and created and installed 28 posters in four different neighborhoods in Goma, DRC, reaching an estimated 130,000 residents.
Throughout the project these young women spoke with the community members about the public art as they created it, and held four community forums to engage in discussions on the art works and subject of sexual violence, gender equality and the role of women and girls in DRC. This project allowed young women in Goma to respond to an outside narrative that defines them as powerless by creating their own powerful narratives.
By sharing these stories and perspectives in public spaces, Tunaweza Portraits facilitated conversations about gender inequality and sexual violence in Congo that included the individual and collective voices of women, and highlighted solutions to the issues.
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“These murals and messages, they help make sure that girls are listened to when they don’t have sufficient voice within society. They make people think twice about what they think they know about girls and what they are capable of doing.”
– Community Stakeholder, Goma, DR Congo