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A source of strength to continue

Central African Republic, December 7, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Prudence Mbouïma and her two-year-old son Dieu-Puissant. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Prudence sews a bed sheet for a customer at the ACATBA workshop. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps

Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest countries in the world. Two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 per day. For women, life in CAR is exceptionally hard. In addition to crushing poverty, women face limitless violence and other abuses of their human rights.

Eighteen-year-old Prudence Mbouïma is one of them. The mother of a two-year-old boy named Dieu-Puissant, Prudence can’t continue to go to school while taking care of her son by herself. Her husband abandoned her in Bambari when she was three months pregnant and went to leave in Bangui, CAR's capital and biggest city which is almost 200 miles away.

“This was the hardest period of my life. My husband was gone," Prudence explained, looking down at her feet as she talked. "Furthermore, I couldn’t give birth normally, given that I was so young. I had to undergo a surgical operation.”

Household abandonment is one of the most prevalent forms of women’s rights violations in Central African Republic. Because couples often do not legally marry by obtaining a marriage license, the woman has little legal recourse if her husband leaves her.

So in order to protect vulnerable woman like Prudence, Mercy Corps has carried out a number of awareness-raising activities on women’s rights. These have consisted of media campaigns and on-the-ground trainings in order to change attitudes regarding violence against women and other women’s rights abuses. Also, in partnership with the Women Lawyers’ Association of Central Africa, Mercy Corps’ Access to Justice Program has opened four "listening centers" around the country that give female survivors of violence a place to come for psychological and judicial support.

We've also financed and supported more than 73 women’s associations throughout the country, including ACATBA, the association of which Prudence has been a member since 2009. ACATBA helped her learn sewing and knitting. “I can now take care of my son thanks to the money I make selling clothes or repairing the clothes of my customers,” Prudence said.

Rights abuses toward women and poverty in Central African Republic can dampen down hope of change. But cases like Prudence’s give inspiration and strength for all of us to continue this important work.