This Congolese Girl for President

Community-Based Family Planning

Marie Musifu

Youth Leader
Marie Musifu: It's me who decides

"It's me who decides."

This post was originally published by Pathfinder International.

People often tell me I am very ambitious. I’ll admit it. It is true.

Since I was nine years old, I have been telling my father that I will be the first woman president of my country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is vast — almost the size of an entire continent. And if I were president, I would be able to change so many things for youth, with just my signature.

My ambition grew from the way my parents raised me. I am one of the lucky ones in the DRC.

My parents believe in family planning

There are three children in my family. And I am the oldest. My brother is two years younger than me, and my sister is five years younger. Because my parents planned our family, they have been able to provide for us. We are all educated at the best schools and universities.

Marie speaking to class

"In Africa, generally speaking, and in the DRC, in particular, we need young people, including those who understand and have experienced pain, to make a change."

If my parents had seven children, like the average woman in my country, my life would be entirely different.

When I was 15, I met a young girl who lived in a very remote village in Kasai Central province. She could not get accurate information about her own body, about reproduction, or safe sex. She ended up becoming HIV-positive. Stories like hers are the reason I am now fighting for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The very same day I met this girl, I returned to my own neighborhood and started organizing meetings. I talked with other girls about our sexual and reproductive health and rights. We eventually set up an association called “Les Jeunes Africains Debout” (“Young Africans Standing”). Today, I work as a volunteer at the Association for Family Wellbeing and Desirable Births and the International Federation for Family Planning in Kinshasa.

Because the DRC is so very large, we have a problem reaching people with the information and services they need. Many rural families live very far from the nearest health center — 10, 20, 30 kilometers. They do not have cars or even bikes to move around on. Millions of young people cannot access information about sexual and reproductive health. And when they don’t have access to information, they are unable to make informed decisions about their bodies and their futures.

I, alone, cannot reach the vast majority of young people in my country. So I start with those around me.

Marie holding flag

"I, alone, cannot reach the vast majority of young people in my country. So I start with those around me."

It’s a ripple effect that looks like this

  • I set up a youth club in each community, identifying a community leader who sensitizes other youth who live there.
  • Then I identify “community focal points,” who represent each youth club. They tell young people where sexual and reproductive health services are available.
  • These new leaders, in turn, train other youth to become community focal points in their own areas.

Today, I have 24 focal points around Kinshasa, and 6 in other provinces.

The focal points and I — we are all connected.

The head, alone, cannot do much

The head needs the body, the arms, the legs. It needs eyes and a mouth to spread the word. I have representatives in each community, in each province. This networked approach can really have an impact on young people’s health — especially in a country as large as ours.

The young community focal points and I distribute information to our peers that is based in evidence.

In the DRC, 30 percent of pregnancies to young married women, ages 15–24, are unplanned. And more than 1.3 million sexually active young women have an unmet need for contraception.

Many of these girls just want to carry on with their lives, but are pressured to take care of babies they did not plan. Some girls consider clandestine, unsafe abortions.

This is the kind of evidence I use to let others know that the situation is dire. To push them to become fighters just like me.

Marie with group

"I am not alone. There are many other youth leaders who are fighting the same fight for young people’s sexual and reproductive rights."

We are a community and we are strong

In August, I attended a workshop hosted by Pathfinder International, its Evidence to Action (E2A) Project, and the Ministry of Health. The workshop brought together youth advocates like me from Kinshasa and the three largely rural provinces — Lomami, Lualaba, and Kasai Oriental (where E2A operates a community-based family planning program).

Together, we examined our country’s national family planning plans. We gave advice to our government, using the evidence we had learned, to improve the plans to better address our needs as youth.

At this workshop, it became clear to me — I am not alone. There are many other youth leaders who are fighting the same fight for young people’s sexual and reproductive rights. Not just in Kinshasa, but in other provinces too.

It got me thinking, what if we coordinate to share ideas and opportunities for changing attitudes and social norms? Could we establish a network of young sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates? I shared my idea at the workshop.

My government heard me

At the end of the workshop, representatives from the Ministry announced that they are launching the first national platform for including us — the youth leaders — in decision-making about adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health.

I am very happy, because I know the world needs us. The world needs young people like me and my community of youth advocates. One day, a girl like me will become President of the Republic. But I do not have to wait until I am older.

I can lead today.