This article was written for a special double-page feature for International Women’s Day, which discussed inspirational women in the world today.
You don’t need me to tell you that there are hundreds of inspirational women out there. We females make up one half of the world’s population, so there’s plenty of choice. So when I sat down to think about who I would choose to write this article on, naturally there was an array of choice. Audrey Hepburn came to mind, with her immortal style and humanitarian work. Mother Theresa seemed another obvious choice, with her selfless love of Calcutta’s poor. I thought of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in all those years of house arrest in Burma. More and more names darted into my head: Marie Curie, Emeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, JK Rowling, and – dare I say it – Margaret Thatcher. Each of these exceptionally well-known women achieved something remarkable, something truly inspirational, but there is another woman, a little less famous, whom I believe to be truly inspiring.
Chouchou Namegabe is a self-taught radio journalist from the South Kivu Province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this area, she has emerged as a passionate voice for her people, speaking out for the countless women victimised by sexual violence in the civil wars that have ravaged the country, bringing this brutalisation to global attention. Having started her career as a presenter at local radio station Radio Maendeleo in 1997, Namegabe turned her microphone into a weapon for activism in the late 1990s as Eastern Congo was overcome by violence. “Why do they fight a war on women’s bodies?” she asks.
Her coverage of the intense suffering of women and girls subjected to rape and torture during the twelve-year conflict has come at a great personal risk, as she travelled great distances to give a voice to the women traumatised by their ordeals. She had the courage to publicly denounce the corruption and mismanagement of ruling authorities, and still continues to face severe threats, especially after her powerful testimony to the International Court of Justice in 2007, which urged The Hague to classify rape as a political weapon in the Congo.
Moreover, in 2003, Namegabe founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists (AFEM) to further her activism, train female journalists and equip more women with microphones. Together with AFEM, she continues to cover more stories, on topics from women’s health and human rights – which are considered to be her areas of expertise – as well as government mismanagement and corruption.
Namagabe’s fearless work continues to act as an inspiration as she brings brutalisation to global attention. In addition to giving a voice to the otherwise voiceless victims of unthinkable atrocities, and demanding the global attention these issues deserve, she is actively equipping others to do likewise. Her efforts and selfless determination to find justice for the Congolese people are nothing short of heroic, and should be an inspiration to us all.