International Committee of the Red Cross

Central African Republic: Celebrating International Women’s Day in style

Article 16 March 2018

We had wanted to do something different this year on International Women's Day, so we contacted several associations in Bangui supporting women with disabilities and proposed a morning's exchange on issues of concern to them, and to us, about the conflict in Central African Republic.

The hall where we held the gathering was awash with colour, and stifling hot. Some of the 187 women seated there had arrived early and positioned their wheelchairs so as to have a good view. Thirty ladies who are unable to hear or speak sat fanning themselves in the front two rows, facing their sign language interpreter. They kept him so busy with their questions and remarks that the sweat soaked through his shirt in the intense heat. But no one took any heed.

Thirty ladies who are unable to hear or speak kept their sign language interpreter so busy with their questions and remarks that the sweat soaked through his shirt in the intense heat. Patrick Meinhardt Photos for the ICRC

For two hours the ladies in the room laughed, clapped, raised their hands and posed searching questions about our work. They watched a film on the ICRC activities, and commented eagerly on pictures explaining our psychosocial activities with victims of sexual and other forms of conflict-related violence.

"Can you strengthen and extend your support to the victims of sexual violence?" several women asked.

For two hours the ladies in the room laughed, clapped, raised their hands and posed searching questions about the ICRC's work. Patrick Meinhardt Photos for the ICRC

A young woman from Bambari, leaning on crutches, wanted to know what the ICRC talks about with armed groups. We replied: "That every person who carries a weapon must respect and protect civilians who take no part, or who are no longer taking part, in the fighting."

If nothing else, the morning's exchange was a chance to show solidarity with women who face immense challenges and show no lack of courage in overcoming them; whose resilience and determination to live full and productive lives – to be sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and friends – is palpable. Whose laughter is genuine and whose voices are powerful. Who wear their colourful dresses, known as pagne, with pride; who are no less affected by the conflict than women living closer to the front lines – for the fighting and insecurity and uncertainty of the future touches everyone in this troubled country.

And who, like their sisters all over the Central African Republic, simply want to live in peace.

If nothing else, the morning's exchange was a chance to show solidarity with women who face immense challenges and show no lack of courage in overcoming them. Patrick Meinhardt Photos for the ICRC