This year's theme for International Women's Day is Pledge for Parity. It is a call for all to respond; to be "leaders within our spheres of influence", and to "take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity." This theme is particularly close to my heart. Make Music Matter, the NGO I founded, works is in the field of women's rights.
My last visit to our specialized music therapy program was approximately four months ago. We worked with our partners Panzi Foundation USA and DRC, at their aftercare facility, Maison Dorcas, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the implementation of the programs. Distinct change was immediately evident. As our beneficiaries filed into our record-ing studio, I observed they all brought notepads with them, containing lyri-cal, melodic and thematic ideas for songs. Along with their prepared ideas, they had mapped out as a group, which member should sing which part, behaving like a passionate and engaged band, tending deeply to their art and final product. In the past, beneficiaries would often arrive empty hand-ed, dependent on the guidance and creative prompting of our staff.
The song that they were working on was called "The Criminal Father". It denounces the abusive, misogynistic, repressive (sometimes perpetrators) and unproductive men in their communities. It is a clever and sophisticated homage of defiance, dedicated to youth who have had negative experiences with irresponsible fathers or other authority figures, and serves as advocacy for more mature women in regards to their husbands.
"Our father, you caused us so much suffering, If you get money you spend it on your matters and now we live like orphans. Our father, you are a sadistic criminal, Its our mother that takes care of us." Even more incredible is that it was one of the beneficiaries who came up with the concept for the song and genesis of the composition. The lyrics stem from incredible stories of trauma and resilience, united in pleas for equality. For example, one particular survivor from this group had been raped at the age of 17 by Rwandan militia. She had gone into the forest, to fetch water for the day, when three men attacked her, taking turns assault-ing her, one after the other. This pattern continued every morning, tying her up when they were finished in order to complete other duties. One day they forgot to tie her up and she managed to escape. During her flight for safety, a man from a nondescript militia group stopped her and demanded that she have sex with him or he would kill her.
Eventually this young girl made it home but, rather than being embraced by the sanctuary of her family, she was immediately accused of willingly participating in all of the violations that were perpetrated against her. About one month later she realized she was pregnant. When this pregnancy was discovered she was ostracized and forced to leave her family home by her father.
Within a few months, she was able to secure a ride into town from a friend and arrived at Panzi Hospital where she gave birth to her child. After her physical treatments were completed she was admitted to Maison Dorcas where she is currently taking dressmaking courses and participating in our music therapy program. These are concurrently helping her to acquire a skills-based trade that she can use to support herself and her child, all the while reestablishing her emotional strength and stability.
I witnessed an amazing moment for this woman, along with the other survivors in her group, sing and record this piece with such strength, vigor and pride. Their song symbolizes the life-changing power one has over refram-ing their past, all the while carving out a new identity, one song, and joyful voice at a time.
As this year's International Women's Day approaches, we should recognize the collective progress made towards gender parity begins with and from brave individuals such as these women.
By emboldening these newly minted artists who conceived "The Criminal Father," we crystallize a salient example of the disparity women continue to endure in conflict and post-conflict scenarios. Advocating for these heroines provides agency and opportunity for them to contribute exponentially to social, economic, cultural, and political growth and in-turn brings lasting relevance to this year's theme.
Darcy Ataman is the Founder and CEO of Make Music Matter, a music producer and a founder and instructor of the social media section of the Human Rights UniverCity summer intensive at the University of Winnipeg.a