Dispatches with Dr. Biden: On the Road in the DRC

Following Dr. Biden’s visit to Zambia, she traveled next to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), her second stop on a three-country visit to Africa.

Dr. Biden toured two cities in the DRC – Kinshasa, the country’s capital, and Bukavu, located in the eastern part of the Congo.

Kinshasa

In Kinshasa, Dr. Biden met with women entrepreneurs who are creating their own successful small businesses. The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world and remains near the bottom of many important economic indicators, so entrepreneurs – especially women entrepreneurs – play a vital role in overcoming these challenges and diversifying the DRC’s economy for the benefit of its people.

Among the successful female entrepreneurs that Dr. Biden met, Therese Izay Kirongoz’s story represents the important role women play in advancing and strengthening the global economy.

Therese worked in restaurants while attending engineering school and spent three years developing traffic-directing robots. Now, in addition to running a chain of local restaurants, Therese manufactures and sells the robots and hopes to distribute her product to neighboring countries.

“Like Therese, the steep challenges that all of you have overcome are truly remarkable. And your success – and your leadership – is instrumental in empowering more Congolese women to be successful,” Dr. Biden told the women entrepreneurs. “But we must do more to ensure that all women have the economic security and opportunities they deserve and their families need.”

Dr. Biden then stopped by the Parliament to meet with women parliamentarians and aspiring political leaders, where they discussed efforts to politically empower women in the DRC. Following the 2011 national elections in the DRC, women occupied less than 10 percent of parliamentary seats.

The meeting was an opportunity to highlight the challenges and opportunities for women in political life, and women’s role in making political parties more representative and responsive to their constituencies.

“One purpose of our visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo is to learn about the difficulties that women face as well as to let you know that we support you,” Dr. Biden said.

Bukavu

On Saturday, Dr. Biden traveled across the DRC to visit Bukavu, a war-torn city located in the eastern part of country.

Bukavu is home to Panzi Hospital, which has cared for more than 19,000 victims of sexual and gender-based violence, a widespread problem in the DRC affecting millions of Congolese women and children.

Dr. Biden met with survivors, heard their stories, and saw firsthand the response services provided to them. She also met with U.S. government partners who are working to prevent and respond to this dire situation.

“Thanks to your extraordinary efforts to help prevent sexual violence from occurring, fight against impunity, and provide essential services to survivors…you’re not only improving the lives of thousands of Congolese women and families, but you’re helping to change the story of Africa,” Dr. Biden said.

Dr. Biden then traveled across the city to the UNICEF Boys Reintegration Center. Over many years of conflict, a large number of children have been recruited into the armed forces and other armed groups. Dr. Biden met with some of the children who have been removed from armed groups and are now housed in this temporary residential center, where they are safe and learn vocational skills that meet the demands of local employers.

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