By Agar Nana Mbianda —

Defending human rights and those whose rights have been violated is a dangerous task all over the world. Human rights defenders are often the only force between ordinary people and the the powers that be. Women and girls often need support not only in their daily efforts to improve their incomes and status but, above all, support in their quest for change. 

Grassroots organizations can raise the voices of the women and girls they work with on a daily basis. In the case of Women Thrive, our close to 300 Alliance members in over 50 countries use advocacy campaigns as a means to influence political change, by developing awareness on the importance of gender equality. Alliance member, Forum International des Femmes de l’Espace Francophone (FIFEF), has been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2012, with the aim of improving the socio-political living conditions of women and girls by denouncing abuses, violence, and inequalities that they are subjected to. They have also created an international forum for the defense and promotion of women and girls with other Francophone countries, raising awareness on the needs and voices of grassroots women and girls.

FIFEF was the first grassroots organization to shed light on the trafficking of about 500 Congolese girls and women to Lebanon. From 2-5 December 2013, they organized an advocacy campaign which included peaceful walks, held debates with all other stakeholders, and meet with families of the trafficked to hear their concerns. FIFEF lobbied in embassies and reached out to media to attract attention and show the impact trafficking has on communities and the country.

Fighting against human trafficking is the fight against those who prey on social and physical fragility asa business. One of the trafficked survivors recalled, “Arriving there, we were victims of rape, we were beaten. And we were told that we were slaves, even more than slaves.” It is through FIFEF’s advocacy efforts, 30 percent of these girls and women have been brought home.

As the first to work on women and gender issues in Kolwezi City, Denise Nzila, the coordinator of FIFEF, is aware of the many challenges they face, but she is committed with her team to the “struggle to achieve their goals for the liberation of women. I know we will win the match, we love our work…because of the woman and girls.” FIFEF’s successful campaign is an important example of why grassroots organizations need to be involved in larger decision-making spaces because their work can have a considerable impact on political and social change.

Since 2013, FIFEF has helped repatriate some of the trafficked girls, however, many still remain in Lebanon under the yoke of “slavery.” Yet the question arises, does FIFEF have the necessary resources for this work? And do they have access to funds that would allow them to be better advocates on the issue?

At Women Thrive, we believe that funding grassroots organizations, is a crucial step to social and political change. In addition, grassroots organizations should be supported with strategies and actions that would help them produce better results and spread the word about their advocacy and potential. By strengthening initiatives in these areas, by continuing to build partnerships with them, and by involving them in decision-making platforms, governments could make great strides in the promotion of gender equality and the fight against modern slavery.