Women play a crucial agricultural role in Africa, providing the majority of the labor, but their contributions are often invisible since women are excluded from delivering and selling the crop. These realities are intensified by sexual gender-based violence used as a tool to destabilize communities.
An all-women team of runners will embark upon a 183.4-mile, 7-marathon, 7-day journey and are on their way as you read this. These women will be running along the shores of Lake Kivu in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to raise awareness and funds for the inspiring female coffee farmers, farming families and cooperatives working toward gender equality and stability in the region.
This area of the world ranks among some of the lowest in the world for gender equality and gender development, according to the 2014 Human Development Report. “It is a place where rape is commonplace, an everyday occurrence, leaving in its wake outcast women, injured victims, and unplanned pregnancies, with up to 66 percent of the population of women having incurred sexual violence, many repeatedly,” team member Mel Evans-Glenn says. “In the DRC, nearly 70 percent of the 66 million population ranks below the poverty line.”
Meryl Marsh, a member of the team, lives in Traverse City, Michigan and works for Canaan Fair Trade, a Palestinian Fair Trade company. When asked why this run was so important to her, Meryl answered, “It is not hard to muster the drive for this project and want to get people to wake up to what has happened in the region and more importantly, [to demonstrate] that positive change is possible–it is happening already.” Meryl will we wearing Swiftwick ASPIRE socks for all seven of the marathons she will be running.
The Run Across Congo program work will benefit one of the region’s communities most in need of support: Lemera. The town is a hub for women who are Victims of Sexual Aggression (VAS), many of whom walk four or more days with their children to receive medical attention. Funds raised by the Run will support the community’s Lemera Hospital, which has treated 670 VAS patients in the last year (nearly half of whom needed treatment for more than 72 hours before being released). Though Lemera receives strong support from the surrounding Pentecostal community, more is needed to provide adequate health services to victimized women and their families.
Awareness and funds raised from the run will empower women through programs that create access to knowledge, land, income and health care, enabling them to run their own lives and businesses.
“Anyone who thinks that we are not living in a global economy need only open their eyes, literally. Look at your gadgets, your food, your clothing, your energy. Think about where those things came from. In our daily lives, we draw–we take–from every corner of Earth. To not care for it with the same far-reaching mentality is negligent. We are all connected. It is as simple as that. Geographical detachment is no excuse not to reach out.”