Giving women a voice at the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Published: 5 August 2013 13:20 CET

By Nelly Tangua, Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

With more than 20 years as a volunteer with the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Violette Lakulu is a well respected member of the team. But it hasn’t been an easy road to get there.

Violette joined the Red Cross at the age of 16, as a junior in the youth team. She took part in several training courses in community-based first aid as a team leader, sanitation focal point and as a member of the disaster management unit.

She admits her work was difficult at the beginning. Communities had misperceptions about the role of the Red Cross, and she was a female.

“In the early days, it was difficult for me to grow within the Red Cross as a woman, because at that time, the community thought the Red Cross was reserved for men,” says Violette.

“They thought the work of volunteers was exclusively to pick up corpses during conflict and that men were well placed to do so. Some women discouraged me, but I was determined to continue with my commitments.”

That determination and commitment led to Violette becoming a member of the national disaster response team, a role which gained her the respect of her male colleagues, and helped to change the community’s view of a woman’s role within the Red Cross. 

Providing assistance to those most vulnerable during disasters is part of Violette’s daily duties. “I feel extremely proud of our accomplishments following a plane crash at N’djili airport in Kinshasa some years ago,” says the long-time volunteer.

“During that operation, people were really moved and impressed by the effectiveness of the Red Cross actions in the field. It really helped strengthen the community’s confidence in us.”

Violette is also responsible for training within the Red Cross and is coordinator of the women’s brigade within the Kinshasa provincial Red Cross committee. Despite the advancements women have made at the Red Cross and the doors she has helped open, Violette is convinced there is still work to do.

“I still don’t think women are sufficiently represented within the DRC Red Cross. I hope to help further reduce this gap. Besides helping those who need it the most, this is what keeps me volunteering.”