- Title: Cameroon's 'auntie army' of rape survivors battles abuse of girls.
- Date: 11th July 2017
- Summary: YAOUNDE CAMEROON (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RENATA FOUNDER, CHARNELLE LUMIERE AND COLLEAGUES TRAVELLING IN CAR RENATA AUNTIES GETTING OFF CAR VARIOUS OF AUNTIES TALKING TO STUDENTS STUDENTS WALKING LUMIERE TALKING TO STUDENTS VARIOUS OF LUMIERE DEMONSTRATING TO PEDESTRIANS HOW TO USE A FEMALE CONDOM (SOUNDBITE) (French) RENATA VOLUNTEER, CHARNELLE LUMIERE, SAYING: "I was raped when I was 6 years old by a friend of my elder brother and also at 13 by my uncle. These incidents of rape brought me great trauma. I was rejected and so I didn't have a proper place in my family as a result, I became pregnant at the age of 17. This too was because in school I was constantly harassed by a group of boys who wanted to have sex with me. They said to me I was already raped and I have nothing to hide again. So I told them if having your way with me will help you leave me then do so and let me rest." VARIOUS OF LUMIERE HOLDING BABY VARIOUS OF RENATA LOGO RENATA SPOKESWOMAN, CATHY ADA, WORKING ON LAPTOP HAND MOVING COMPUTER MOUSE
- Embargoed: 25th July 2017 16:33
- Keywords: RENATA aunties "breast ironing" abuse girls rape
- Location: YAOUNDE, CAMEROON
- City: YAOUNDE, CAMEROON
- Country: Cameroon
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA0016P9W313
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS PARTIAL NUDITY
The RENATA aunties, a group of volunteers in Cameroon are making their way to downtown Yaounde, where they will be talking to people on the street about abuse.
The volunteers run awareness programmes in parts of the country meant to fight abuse and harmful cultural practices that often target girls.
RENATA also works to help victims of sexual abuse; violence and early pregnancy rebuild their lives.
Charnelle Lumiere and her colleagues are all survivors of abuse who understand too well, the traumatic effects of such violence.
Lumiere was raped repeatedly as she grew up, and fell pregnant in her teens by a classmate who had harassed her into having sex with him.
She decided to take her own life by hanging herself. Luckily, her brother found her and cut her down from the tree with just seconds to spare.
"I was raped when I was six-years-old by a friend of my elder brother and also at 13 by my uncle. These incidents of rape brought me great trauma. I was rejected and so I didn't have a proper place in my family as a result, I became pregnant at the age of 17. This too was because in school I was constantly harassed by a group of boys who wanted to have sex with me. They said to me I was already raped and I have nothing to hide again. So I told them if having your way with me will help you leave me then do so and let me rest," said Lumiere.
Now she is back on her feet and on a mission to help a new generation of young people avoid the same abuses.
Beatings, sexual abuse and rape, particularly within the family, are issues often swept under the carpet in Cameroon.
According to a study done by RENATA in 2009, nearly one in every 20 women in the central African country had been raped. Of those, almost every fifth attack was carried out by a family member. Many more cases simply go unreported.
RENATA also conducted studies revealing that 10 percent of victims in Cameroon were raped before they were 10 years old.
The "aunties" have began an outreach programme in primary schools, targeting children as young as four and five.
The organisation which was started in 2005 now has over 21,000 women volunteers in more than 350 groups around the country, as part of the national 'auntie's network'.
"Breast ironing" is one of the vices RENATA campaigns against.
The harmful practice is normally done by some mothers in Cameroon to flatten their pubescent daughters' growing breasts, using a hot stone.
The extremely painful practice with long-term health consequences is meant to protect young women from early pregnancy by making them less attractive to men.
Cathy Aba, is the spokeswoman for RENATA. She too was a victim of breast ironing and says things will only change if the society is sensitized on how to better protect their girls.
"The role of an aunty at RENATA after their training is to fight violence against women in the community, in her family, in her village, in her neighbourhood and also at RENATA she is no longer a victim she becomes an activist who goes to teenagers to talk about the problem. Her role therefore is to be part of an army that spreads the message to young people," said Aba.
The aunties also go out to salons, bars and brothels in downtown Yaounde's red-light district, talking to people and distributing free contraceptives.
Although funded for many years by the German development agency GIZ, RENATA receives small grants from various international donors.
Some of their revenue is under threat following President Donald Trump's order to reinstate the global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion.
The government says it's trying to toughen up laws on sexual abuse and wants Cameroonians to know it is a crime that should not be ignored.
RENATA officials say many cases of rape simply go unreported or don't get much attention.
"I think the number one thing is that you have to punish those who perpetrate these kinds of acts whether breast ironing or rape. Government really needs to make laws and be consistent in punishing people who continue to perpetrate this but you also need to care about the victims. We provide more support to victims by maybe supporting organizations like RENATA who are really in the frontline in this fight. Give them the means to continue with counselling in the communities, sensitization, follow-up of victims and also care to victims and so on," said Flavien Ndonko, a medical anthropologist who helped set up RENATA.
"The challenges I face working with young girls is getting them to speak out. When rape happens in the family circle it's difficult for someone to talk about it because the family members will say this is a family issue and it shouldn't be discussed with outsiders. It's better for the family members to try and fix it. Most often the family goes into an agreement with the violator without the knowledge of the victim. The victim herself is abandoned," said Lumiere.
The aunties often hold down second jobs as hairdressers, shop-stall owners, teachers or restaurant managers to make ends meet.
For Lumiere and other aunties, there is still much work to be done. Lumiere says her work is an act of defiance after the abuse she endured, and hopes to protect as many people as she can from suffering similar violence.
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