Launched in 2009, Oxfam's innovative protection programme in the DRC brings together local communities, authorities and security services, to help people secure their basic rights to be protected in humanitarian situations.
The programme is founded on the principle that communities should take complete ownership of all initiatives. While trained and supported by Oxfam to prioritize and respond to issues, members take the lead at every stage. Because these initiatives are by the communities themselves they better understand and represent their needs. Additionally, community ownership means that many of the protection structures will remain in place after Oxfam's involvement has ended.
By championing equality between women and men, the programme provides vital forums for everyone to discuss issues affecting them on equal terms. By encouraging more women to participate in these forums, the programme gives them a rare opportunity to enter the public sphere and directly address local authorities. Set against a backdrop of increasing volatility and human rights abuses in the country, it is a vital step towards a future where citizens are empowered to hold their leaders to account.
At the heart of Oxfam's protection programme in the DRC is the establishment of Community Protection Structures. These are democratically elected networks that are tasked with developing a Community Protection Plan to outline key protection threats faced by people in a specific area. The Protection Structures then engage with local authorities on how best to implement the Community Protection Plan.
Every Protection Structure is comprised of:
- Community Protection Committee - six male and six female members.
- Women's Forum - 15 female members, a dedicated safe space for members to confidentially discuss personal or sensitive protection issues. Usually, two members are also Community Protection Committee members to facilitate cooperation between the groups.
- Change Agents - 20 individuals from surrounding villages, responsible for feeding into Community Protection Committee discussions with information on protection threats. Agents also raise awareness of protection issues in these villages.
Running until 2020, the protection programme in the DRC is funded by UK Department for International Development (DFID), IrishAid, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Challenges in the DRC
With over 77 million inhabitants, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a regional giant. But, despite its rich natural resources, it is a country marked by poverty, conflict, violence and human rights abuses. It ranks 176th (out of 188 countries) in the 2015 Human Development Index.
Conflict in the DRC has been fuelled by ethnic-community divisions - with violence being perpetuated by armed groups, armed forces and national police. While there have been some encouraging developments, such as the signing of the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in 2013, violence continues. As of January 2016, an estimated 1.7 million people have been internally displaced (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
Use of rape as a weapon of war is widespread in the DRC. A culture of discrimination against women is ingrained in the tradition and organization of its society - despite progress in public policy. Although women are the main victims of armed conflict, they do not participate equally in the process of peace building and reconciliation, despite the accession of the DRC to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security which urges all actors to increase the participation of women in peace and security efforts and to take special measures to protect women and
girls from gender-based violence.