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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Jenifer Williams lives in Dublin but grew up in the Congo, she described it as “a ground of no mercy”.

Jenifer Williams grew up in the Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She also lived in Zambia for a time, before moving to Ireland in 2014.

THEY SAY THE Democratic Republic of the Congo is the Heart of Africa, but this heart is a dark one.

I was born in 1995 to an Irish dad and a Congolese mom.

It’s known as the worst place to be a woman in the world. I had no understanding of it, I began to question the culture and traditions as I became a teenager.

I dreaded the alarm ringtone waking me up every morning to go to school as I would be openly harassed by men and sometimes both men and women encouraging their kids to do so as you passed by.

I had a nickname women encouraged their kids to call me along with other adults – “muzungu mbuji – white goat”. That’s what they usually yelled at the mixed race person.

Men harassed women and got away with it; as though women were responsible for being raped because they were born female. Families were slaughtered, murdered, homes looted and children were abducted and forced to become child soldiers by the rebels.

The most heartbreaking are the rape survivors from the areas that were attacked and the children born from rape who are rejected by their families. They go off to do domestic jobs or work in mines but they still get sexually abused and assaulted. With no voice, women make no further attempt to report it, as they know they won’t be heard and even if they were lucky and the abuser is reported, they go unpunished.

With rape destroying the woman’s family and social bonds, the young child grows up to be a victim of child labour as the culture of shame makes their families reject them to protect their family honour.

‘My voice was valueless’

The misogynistic culture invites further attacks and abuses. Women are raped, mutilated with sticks and knives, others burnt with petrol, children kidnapped and forced into becoming child soldiers. Raped women are forced to marry their rapists to maintain their family’s name in the community or are kicked out of homes.

Many children are accused of witchcraft and are thrown out of their homes by their families and they end up as homeless vagabonds, vulnerable to all sorts of abuses in the streets.

It’s a ground of no mercy. In open rural areas women wear a black plastic bag on their heads like a hair cap as they proceed to work. Cracking stones into gravel with a hammer which will then be purchase for construction. Gardening to make crops to sell and feed their children and send them to school while the men go out drinking and sleeping with prostitutes and then infecting their wives with STDs and also taking away their voices.

As soon as you hit puberty you hear the word marriage more than any other word from neighbours from friends of the family. Greedy parents using their children as a business opportunity when it comes to marriage. When my puberty clock hit and my breasts formed I started to scar emotionally. I realised how valueless my voice was.

You’d see hashtags on social media #blackisbeautiful #unfairandlovely #melaninonfleek; but in Africa itself? It is safe to say that women always want to change something about themselves – in the DRC women take whitening themselves to the extreme as it is promoted as attractive and beautiful.

The TV is filled with disturbing skin-lightening lotion products on sale on the beauty market. These bleaching lotions only bleach their skin for a short while as the merciless sun burns down. Some women end up with green or blue-like patches on their faces and body where the sun burns the already damaged skin. I also grew up knowing that my curls were a mess and not presentable.

I’d say the Congo broke my heart, it wiped away my value and stumped my voice down. It’s shocking that a man would be delivered by a female only to grow up and bury her voice.

Jenifer Williams is a  22-year-old artist currently living in Dublin.


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