During the years of LRA violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), communities suffered from large scale abductions of children, mutilations, killings, rapes, looting and destruction. Now, many ex-LRA members are returning to their families and communities, yet the relationship between them and the victims of violence is undoubtedly disturbed and social cohesion and trust is weak.
Many male ex-LRA members were abducted at a young age and forcibly turned into fighters. They have experienced extreme forms of violence and have grown up to believe that violence is the path to manhood, power, and access to women. These harmful notions of masculinities result in male defectors feeling powerless and insignificant when they escape from the LRA with no weapon in their hand.
This six month gender pilot project is working in the provinces of Bas and Haut Uele towards transforming the narratives of what it means to be a man, not only to improve the social reintegration of male defectors, but also to aid reconciliation efforts, local peace efforts, and progress women’s empowerment. The aim of this 6-month project is twofold: firstly, addressing harmful forms of masculinity; and secondly relationship building within communities. The project focuses on the capacity building of female social workers whom the defectors in these provinces have great faith in, engaging with the local chiefs who receive the defectors before they return to their families, reconciliation efforts between defectors and families, and raising awareness on the relation between masculinities and violence through school visits.
A mid-term evaluation of the project took place. There were two main outcomes. First, the female social workers have recieved training for learning skills and methods for the counselling of defectors; for example how to make the first contact, how to identify their level of trauma, how to build a relationship of trust, and how to take into account gendered differences. And second, the female social workers have discussed the importance of also focusing on family mediation to reconcile the family with the victim as there are some families who reject their children when they return. One of the ways to do this is to raise public awareness within communities.