Despite protracted conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the past decades, there has been some progress towards peace and the consolidation of democracy - in spite of everything elections took place in 2006 and 2011. However, one of the challenges holding elections in a country as vast and with as many challenges as the DRC is ensuring all citizens are able to vote. An UNDEF project implemented by Centre d’Actions Sociales pour le Développement Intérgré (CASDI) mobilised illiterate rural women and youth to exercise their civic rights and participate in the democratic process. In the Walungu territory of South Kivu where the project takes place, it is estimated that about 60% of rural youth and 80% of rural women are illiterate. This situation leads to an uninformed lack of interest for civic affairs by many people.
The UNDEF project has worked on strategies to engage citizens through the use of local languages and dialects, and produced tailored resources to facilitate access to information of illiterate groups. A pool of 90 master trainers and facilitators has been created in local communities that will in turn support the active engagement of about 4000 women and 2000 youth to put into practice what they have learned.
An example of this is a recent mobilisation session that took place in the town of Bideka, very close to where Rwanda, Burundi and DRC meet. The agenda was ambitious – to sensitise an illiterate group on key articles of the Congolese Constitution and the electoral law. Role play, theatre techniques, image boxes, and video materials were used in an interactive way to educate participants on complex concepts such as the accountability that elected leaders have towards their constituents, the role of observers and the media in electoral processes and the civic duty to cast a vote. Other issues addressed related to fundamental rights, the presumption of innocence, and sexual violence protection.
These women and youth involved will now take ownership of their new found role as citizens by facilitating their organization into pressure groups and interest clubs and proposing and implementing their own advocacy micro-projects. Local authorities and community leaders are being engaged at all stages of the project, with the double benefit of providing women and youth with a direct communication channel with decision makers, while at the same time building the capacity of officials in more inclusive and responsive governance.