16 Days of Activism: Meet Leonie Wangibirwa, from North Kivu – DRC
Leonie Wangibirwa was born in June 1961 in Kayungo, a village in North Kivu province, eastern Congo. Leonie is a mother of five children and a psychosocial counselor in her community in Beni, North Kivu province. Leonie is a two time rape survivor. She was first raped in 2006 by a civilian while she was going to the fields. The second time, she was sexually abused by two armed men in her own house at night – That night, she and her 15 year old daughter were both raped.
After her second abuse, Leonie received psychosocial and medical support from AJWS’s partner Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral, a women-led organization that runs a medical clinic to serve rural women who live far from the main cities of Goma and Bukavu where more well-known hospitals, like Panzi Hospital and HEAL Africa operate.
When she recovered, Leonie received skills training to do counseling work and to document and report cases of sexual violence. Leonie began counseling other women who had been raped, encouraging them to seek justice and referring them to medical professionals at SOFEPADI’s clinic. Today, she continues to counsel survivors of sexual violence and accompanies them through the legal and medical processes – many of whom have gone on to be counselors themselves. She participates in radio talk shows to reach rural villages in her province to raise awareness about sexual violence and the mechanisms that are in place to protect the rights of civilians. She is outspoken about the need for justice for survivors and her desire to help her community live peacefully.
Today, Leonie Wangibirwa is the president of a support group of about 60 women and girl survivors and an empowered woman’s rights activist in her community, helping survivors to know their rights and encouraging women to use their voices. Last year, she testified before the DRC’s parliament about the difficulties in accessing justice in local courts and implored the government to enforce its laws on sexual violence and established a reparation system for survivors of sexual violence.
In addition to serving women in her community in Beni, Leonie has become an advocate for women’s rights internationally. She attended the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in March 2014 in NYC and shared her perspectives about what needs to be done to curb sexual violence in at the community level in conflict areas like her home country, the DRC.