Developing countries in the world still face one of the biggest challenges that need to be tackled – violence against women. As we have seen in India, even countries in Africa are facing the same issues some even worse. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been termed the “most dangerous place to be a woman” because of extremely high levels of sexual violence and this has taken a heavy toll on women there. With very few employment opportunities, these women are looking out for something meaningful to do that will help them build a livelihood.

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However, with the recent history of bloodshed, brutal politics and corruption along with the exploitation of women, there is another problem, that is taking over Congo- the endangerment of wildlife, especially primates like gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees. These animals are rapidly vanishing from the wildlife because of hunting and poaching.

Primates like gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees are rapidly vanishing from the wildlife because of hunting and poaching.

There has been a unique solution to the two problems. Four international organisations – namely the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Centre (Grace), the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and an NGO called Coopera are helping local women work with them. These local women, especially those living closer to the key primate habitats are helping the organisations in rescuing Congo’s primates and in return, the organisation’s are educating them.

Bonobos are vanishing quickly from wildlife // Pic credits: Schalk Van Zuydam/AP

Sally Jewell Coxe, the founder and president of the BCI said in an interview, “In the male-dominated Congolese society, women have traditionally not received as much access to education or employment as men,” She added,

“With the tools and opportunities to improve their livelihoods and generate income themselves, women gain a sense of ownership and empowerment.”

These women are not just helping with saving the endangered bonobos, but also gorillas and chimpanzees. There are two ways that these women are doing this: one by taking care and fostering the animals, and two, by educating their families about other proteins and saying no to bushmeat. The four NGOs are helping these women by providing them training and well as the tools to take care of the animals. These women are taking care of the endangered animals like they would their own kids – in turn helping their families and real kids.

Along with providing initiatives where women can support their families, these organisations are helping the women understand that there are alternatives to bushmeat. Due to the scarcity and lack of food in the area, a lot of hunters are selling bushmeat to make some quick money. However, these women are being taught how to breed other sources of protein such as chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Lorena Aguirre Cadarso, the country director of Coopera said, “Women run their homes and are in charge of their kids’ education,” She added,

“It is vital to change women’s behaviours to change society. If women refuse to prepare bushmeat, their family will eventually stop consuming it.”

There are a lot of positive outcomes of this program. The women who are taking care and fostering the apes are termed as ‘Gorilla Moms’. These women are not only helping themselves and their families, but are also helping bring positive change by ensuring economic stability, environmental conservation and other benefits for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Pic credits: Russell A Mittermeier/Conservati/PA

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Read more stories by Nikhita Sanotra