osephine Namba Balikwisha used to make as much money in six days as her neighbors would make in a year. As the owner of a popular brothel in the Bulongo village of Eastern Congo, for more than seven years she sold alcohol and sex at prices that made her one of the wealthiest people in her community. At one time, she employed as many as 60 women and girls, not thinking twice about their age, old or young.
Then the USAID-funded USHINDI Project, led by IMA World Health, came to town. Promoting equality, health, and empowerment for women, the holistic program works to prevent sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and support survivors in 10 health zones in the eastern regions of the DR Congo.
Being a shrewd businesswoman, Josephine jumped at the chance to join the noyaux, a community-based group that spreads USHINDI messages and activities throughout the village. It took a month of involvement for her to realize she was a part of the problem. While her business gave her personal wealth and power, she had never recognized how it violated the rights of other women.
She knew she was giving up a lucrative life and making an unpopular decision among her many male patrons, but Josephine soon stopped arranging sex transactions and began escorting minors from the brothel back to their families herself. She also stopped selling alcohol, recognizing that it increased aggressive behavior, conflict, and the demand for commercial sex. Even Josephine’s own children questioned her decision at first, but she stood firm.