In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women in Beni, North-Kivu province, have come forward as key players in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. With support from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), they are engaged in making face masks, one of the essential items that are essential in the fight against the pandemic.
The initiative originates from a women's network known as "Collectif des Associations des Femmes de Beni (CAF)/Platform of Women Associations in Beni (CAF). With MONUSCO's support, CAF has rolled out production of protective masks against COVID-19, sorely lacking on the local market. CAF women can produce between 1000 and 2000 protective masks a day. Those masks are sold at a lower cost to the local population in Beni.
MONUSCO/Beni supports this network through sharing documentations and explaining documentaries on the making of masks based on the the local fabrics. Samples of the masks were presented to MONUSCO/Beni Medical Officer. The approved sample was rated as ergonomic.
The women are still faced with logistics and masks selling challenges because the population who are very poor wants to see the masks distributed as part of the humanitarian aid.
"The initiative has been warmly welcomed and supported by MONUSCO/Beni, encouraging staff members including whole sections to buy these locally made items, highlighting that a sluggish sale of the masks may discourage the women's initiative", said one MONUSCO/Gender Section staff in Beni, adding that MONUSCO staff are buying the masks at unit price of USD 1, as a supportive cost.
The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in the DRC, Leila Zerrougui, for her part, applauded the local initiatives.
"MONUSCO is supportive of any local initiative against the COVID-19 like the making of the stuff like face masks and handwashers which can generate income for the vulnerable populations: I personally use local masks," she said on Radio Okapi.
Antoinette ZAWADI, CAF Coordinator in Beni underscored that this activity fits in with local communities' protection. "We work for the protection of women and children. This explains why we are making the masks to help women, children and the entire community to protect themselves from the COVID-19. So, we will be able to accomplish our protective mission, "she said.
Ms. ZAWADI applauded MONUSCO's support for the project: "In the context of this anti-coronavirus program, we are working in collaboration with our partner MONUSCO, more particularly its Gender office which also assists us with marketing. However, our sewing machines are old. We expect from our partner MONUSCO to see how to assist us with new sewing machines and other materials. These women are able to produce enough masks for the whole city, or even the entire territory."
CAF felt encouraged by MONUSCO's support as they are contemplating to organize wide-scale campaigns throughout Beni on sexual and gender-based violence, as well as on the United Nations Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, with the profits generated by the sale of the masks.
A similar initiative also took place in Goma, where MONUSCO is planning to assist a local women's network in producing face masks and hand sanitizers.
Those initiatives show that women's involvement as key actors would bring an added-value to various processes and help come up with more inclusive, effective and sustainable approaches.