Empowering women against AIDS

21.03.2016. On International Women's Day, around 120 women of all ages from Congo, Cameroon, Rwanda, Tchad, from local and indigenous communities, gathered in Ngombé.

Together, they took part in a debate held in Ngombé's common hall focusing on the key role they have to play in the fight against AIDS.

Held under the auspices of the Industrie Forestière de Ouesso (IFO), the debate pointed to a number of courses of action to undo cultural and social locks: negative judgement, blaming those living with AIDS, guilt, shame, prejudice and misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Dressed in traditional wax fabrics, the participants spoke up / © T. Baldassarri / INTERHOLCO
Dressed in traditional wax fabrics, the participants spoke up / © T. Baldassarri / INTERHOLCO

 

After a general introduction given by Mr. NZEUSSU, Coordinator of the Committee for hygiene, safety, security and the environment, Doctor Fabien NGENDAKUMANA from the local Health Centre went straight to the heart of the matter: “In Ngombé, for every 20 people dying of AIDS, 40 can survive thanks to medicines,” he stressed. “These medicines cure AIDS, protect the baby from the early stages of pregnancy and avoid passing HIV to other sexual partners.”

Dressed in traditional wax fabrics, the participants spoke up, some asking questions, others responding, with the debate turning into a major sharing exercise, one in which the women exchanged and presented personal, even intimate stories. Repeated in a number of ways and in all manners of speaking, in French and Lingala, the common thread was the active role of women: "Looking for information as well as informing your family, near-and-dears and community about the HIV virus/ AIDS and how it is transmitted is key to preventing further contamination."

In 2014, IFO assigned 250,000 EUR to the Health Centre the company set up in Ngombé, including for combating AIDS. A simple and free test, taking a single blood sample, allows one to know if someone has been infected. To date, the company looks after all employees, women and men alike, including women considered to be “illegitimate” (unmarried) who are not recognized under the law.

Christine MBONGO LOUKENGUE in IFO´s Mechanical Services / © U. Binhack / INTERHOLCO
Christine MBONGO LOUKENGUE in IFO´s Mechanical Services / © U. Binhack / INTERHOLCO

 

Despite the historic Beijing agreement signed by 189 governments in 1995, no country in the world has yet achieved gender equality. The gender pay gap is just one example of inequality that affects women worldwide.

What is interesting here at IFO,” said Charles MADZOU, Assistant to the Head of Personnel “is that, if a woman is hired at the same level as a man, their base salary is the same.” IFO currently employs 24 women: 3 have General Services jobs, one works in the Mechanical Services, one in the Finger-Jointed Product section, one in the Central Store, one is with the Social Team under the Social Environment and Certification Division, one with PROGEP and the rest work at the local Health Centre, whose personnel is of vital importance to the population of Ngombé. In order to allow each and every woman to celebrate 8 March, IFO gave its women employees the afternoon free as paid leave. “The most important thing is that women continue to gain more and more ground,” added Charles MADZOU. “One day, when men give them the opportunity, women will show what they are worth.”

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