AMERICAN JEWISH WORLD SERVICE: Julienne's Story
When war erupted in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998, Julienne Lusenge was working as a humanitarian radio broadcaster tasked with delivering critical health and human rights information to families in remote areas. In the course of her work, Julienne travelled from village to village to interview wives and mothers about their lives and share their stories over the airwaves. As the conflict escalated, these women began describing shocking abuses perpetrated by the warring parties—including rape, sexual slavery and the forced recruitment of children as soldiers.
Outraged by the stories pouring in from the villages, Julienne and seven other women founded an organization called Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI) in 2000. In the early years, Julienne and the other founders pooled their own resources to pay SOFEPADI’s bills―driven by their sheer will and tenacity to help women caught in the crossfire of war.
“We sacrificed a lot in those first years,” recalls Julienne. “We would walk 15 kilometers by foot to reach women in war-torn villages. We did not have money, we did not have transport, we did not have anything. We would contribute small amounts among us for this to be possible.”
Today, with support from American Jewish World Service, SOFEPADI helps survivors of sexual violence in Beni, Bunia and all of Eastern DRC navigate the judicial system and bring perpetrators of rape and sexual assault to national and international courts.
"The history of violence in Congo is not just that Congolese women are victims sitting there and waiting for help to arrive. We are standing. We are ourselves actors of change."
With her unshakeable commitment to peace and justice, Julienne has become one of the strongest and most respected advocates on behalf of women and girls living in eastern DRC. In 2007, she launched a second organization, the Fund for Congolese Women (FFC), which works to strengthen Congolese women’s rights groups and help them secure funding from international donors. Thanks to FFC’s support, one of these groups recently convinced 14 child soldiers to put down their weapons and return to their communities.
In 2014, AJWS supported Julienne and four grassroots women activists working with FFC to speak on a panel at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. They alerted global leaders and organizations about the sexual violence continuing to plague their country and the need to include women’s voices in peacemaking efforts.
AJWS is proud to support both SOFEPADI and FFC, helping Julienne realize her vision of peace and equality.
Photo credit: Jonathan Torgovnik