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The show has just started. The facilitators of “Gender Projection” launch the debate of the day: why do women participate little in political life and in public debate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? “We are still a long way from equality”, quips one of the speakers, Gudule Bwalya Ilunga.
During the musical interlude, this national television star tells how her father, despite being a press boss, opposed her career choice. “When I started, female journalists did not have a good reputation. They were considered to be light girls ”, she specifies.
From his cabin, the technician knocks on the window to announce the resumption of live. Headphones on, the team concentrates again and silence settles in the studio. “You are on Woman’s Radio (RFM), on 95.3 FM. Welcome to all listeners ”, launches the presenter before addressing one of her guests, who is also her manager, Elfie-Esther Nkishi Ilunga.
At 37, she is as eloquent behind a microphone as in her director’s office. Its media has been on the airwaves of western and central DRC since October 2020. About twenty employees feed the antennas of Kananga, capital of the province of Kassai-Central, and Kinshasa, the capital. The power of the transmitter even allows this frequency to be heard across the Congo River to Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring country.
A distraught young mother
In one year, the radio has thus become the first in Central Africa exclusively devoted to feminine and feminist subjects. A consecration for the one who, as a child, admired Chantal Kanyimbo, the first woman to hold the post of national president of the Congolese press. At 11, the teenager was already writing stories in her notebook.
But when she obtained her baccalaureate in 2001, Elfie-Esther Nkishi also came up against her father, Joseph Ilunga Kabouyi, a powerful businessman and former minister, who prohibited her from doing journalism. “Register in law, you will also have the opportunity to speak that way”, his family hits out at him.
But two years after starting her graduate studies, she fell pregnant when she was not married. “Everyone has pointed the finger at me. I was told that I had lost my life ”, she recalls. Abortion has never been an option. In this predominantly Catholic and Protestant country, voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) is punished by five to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
Alone with her newborn baby and without financial resources, the young mother deserted the university benches. “Social pressure means that we no longer have the courage to go to school”, she explains. The subject is so taboo in the DRC that the rare statistical data diverge. The “Performance, Monitoring and Accountability” study (PMA 2020), carried out by a network of European universities and research institutes, notes that 56.5% of pregnancies were unwanted in 2014, against 5% in the survey carried out the same year by the Congolese planning and public health ministries.
Free the voice of women
Today there is no longer any question “To be ashamed”. If Elfie-Esther succeeded, at the time, in breaking the deadlock, it was thanks to the media coverage of Génération femme that she created at the age of 21. The association, which still exists, aims to support single mothers and help them obtain a diploma.
On all the networks, this fighter then takes up the cause for these young girls and, by helping them, comes out of her isolation. She is resuming her third year of law school, where she left off. Ten years later, the lawyer has however never practiced. Instead, she became one of the spokespersons for the feminist movement in her country.
“As I speak a lot, it is often said that I must “mistreat my husband”. In this country, we cannot speak in front of men ”, laughs the founder of Radio de la femme. However, men were not excluded from the project. They are four of the twelve employees in the Kinshasa office and occupy managerial positions.
On this November afternoon, the program director, Deward Mwamba, signs the internship agreements for two students on the terrace transformed into an improvised newsroom. “We encourage them to get into the profession”, he says.
According to the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC), women are more and more numerous and now represent 40% of the workforce in the profession. However, work remains precarious for the majority of them, even more so than for male journalists. Even at the RFM, they do not have a long-term contract. The medium operates without advertising, thanks to donations and patronage.
“We still have enough to last a year”, assures Elfie-Esther, who fights so that her employees receive a dignified and regular salary. Because economic independence is an integral part of its fight: the liberation of the voice of women.
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In Congo, the radio is also available for women