Despair, says Nicole Musimbi, is a weapon used to keep people mired in conflict.
That’s why she is determined to inspire hope among other young people in her work in a conflict zone where death and danger are constant threats.
Nicole is president of the Young Women Leaders for Peace program in the city of Beni, in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The program was created by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a coalition of more than 100 women’s rights organizations from more than 40 countries experiencing humanitarian crises or conflict.
The goals of the Young Women Leaders for Peace program are to provide young women with leadership and peacebuilding training and the confidence and skills to start microbusinesses.
“We are trying to create hope in the young people,” Nicole said in an interview. The knowledge that she can do that motivates her to keep going under difficult circumstances.
“When I’m at the end of my rope, I tell myself ‘Keep doing what you’re doing because it inspires others,’” she said.
What makes her work especially difficult is the backdrop of killings and violence by armed rebel groups, notably the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and deaths during the COVID19 pandemic, as well as from Ebola Virus Disease over the preceding two years.
In addition, Nicole cites the challenge of cultural backlash to women’s rights activists in DRC. “Being a feminist is not very easy in a developing country, a patriarchal country.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said nearly two million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in North Kivu province alone over the past two years.
A UNHCR statement in July said the ADF had brutally killed people, looted, and burned properties down in attacks in the city of Beni. The UNHCR said the ADF resurgence was “terrorizing the lives of inhabitants.”
Nicole says the killings appear to be random. “They kill civilians and the question I ask is ‘What did they do to you?’” She tells of a person killed as they walked to work in their field. “It’s really painful.”
In addition to safety concerns, during the pandemic COVID19 curfews and other restrictions curtailed Nicole’s usual menu of meetings with young people, workshops on economic empowerment and leadership, and lobbying local and national authorities.
But awareness campaigns bringing visibility to local young women’s contributions to peacebuilding and sustainable development continued via radio broadcasts and social media. She serves as a role model herself, as well as showcasing other young women, to show “we have potential.”
They also organize panel discussions and radio programs to spread the message on two United Nations Security Council resolutions, UNSCR1325 and UNSCR2250, that are “still not very well known by many.”
UNSCR1325, passed in 2000, stresses the importance of women’s equal participation in all peace processes, from prevention and resolution of conflicts to peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.
UNSCR2250, passed in 2015, stresses the important and positive role that young people play in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security and calls for their greater involvement.
Nicole said Young Women Leaders for Peace sometimes receives financial support from the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders to start small businesses. The program also provides training workshops on leadership and entrepreneurship.
One business Nicole tried was rabbit breeding, which was interrupted by the COVID and Ebola viruses and had to be shut down. She had more success developing a mobile application which is a directory of emergency telephone numbers in DRC, Urgence RDC. She also is considering a business with others selling honey.
Nicole was drawn to activism as a college student when the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders chose her and 14 other young people to train in leadership, peacebuilding, and other skills they can use to hold governments to account on their commitments to peace.
This year she got “strength and hope” from attending the online Sister-to-Sister Mentorship program of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Coady International Institute, both based in Canada. The program welcomed 15 exceptional young feminist activists and leaders from 12 countries for nine weeks of online interactive mentorship and networking.
“It was really encouraging,” Nicole said. Spending time with other young activists from an array of countries inspired her “to keep doing the work because I am not alone.”
Nicole’s advice for other young women activists? “As we play a crucial role in our various communities around the world, let us continue to positively impact the world through our actions. Let's inspire and encourage others to be part of the extraordinary story we create through our daily actions."
Nicole Musimbi and Amy Lira are featured guests in Episode 4 of When Feminists Rule the Word - Season Three: Let's Talk About Power.
Solidarity and sisterhood shimmer through the conversation as Amy Lira and Nicole Musimbi talk about the “feminist superpowers” they learned in the Sister-to-Sister Mentorship program — particularly "power together", the strength the comes when we join together, across cultures, borders and oceans.
The new relationships make them feel valued and loved. Meeting other women doing the same work and overcoming similar challenges infuses them with hope and courage. “I have my sister in Congo,” says Amy. “ I have my sister in Egypt. I know that they are with me now and I am not alone.”
They returned to their work with bolstered confidence — Amy to helping survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Mexico and Nicole to peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We’re unstoppable now,” says Nicole.