‘It was decided because I was the eldest girl, I would not go to school like my brothers,’ says Birungi. ‘Instead I should stay at home to look after my younger brother and sister.’
Birungi lives in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that has been marred by brutal conflict and instability for decades. The fighting has led to large population displacements and significant human rights abuses, with women and girls often hit hardest.
Having no formal education, at the age of 19 Birungi’s only option seemed to be to marry a man chosen for her and live a life of subjugation and obedience. That is, until she was thrown a lifeline. Her uncle, who knew Birungi had so much more to offer, heard about skills training offered by a Tearfund partner. The centre gives young people who missed out on school the opportunity to learn a trade.
It was far from home, but Birungi rose to the challenge. She enjoyed the courses and the friends she made. Birungi learned to make and repair clothes and, thanks to the provision of a sewing machine, has set up a thriving business.
‘God’s word says we are all equal,’ says Birungi, now aged 22, who is an inspiration to many women in her community. ‘I long to see other girls restored and set free.’
It's up to me to decide who I will marry.
Using the money she had earned, Birungi bought a pig. ‘I raised the pig, then sold the pig and bought a cow, and I'm able to buy food and clothes and to take care of myself.’ Cows are an important investment. ‘If I have a special project – like, if I want to buy a house – then that's the time I can decide to sell the cow.’
When it comes to the subject of marriage, Birungi is very clear: ‘It's up to me to decide who I will marry.’ Usually in her culture, parents decide whom their daughters will marry. But now that she has skills and a business of her own, Birungi has greater control over aspects of her life such as a lifetime partner.