A 2009 statistic showed that in Cameroon, 1 out of 5 women are victims of rape and out of that percentage, 1 of 3 of those rapes are incestuous.
Heading the fighting force against this unacceptable violence against women in Cameroon is the Yaoundé–based, RENATA National Network of Aunties’ Association. RENATA, a non-profit organization, serves as a crisis response and sexual education center, equipped with a hotline, psychological counselors, and other support resources. Through psychological counseling and community support, RENATA Aunties are advocates for the empowerment of women, as well as leaders in opening up public discussions about rape, incest and domestic battery, topics which are extremely taboo in Cameroonian society.
All Aunties are women, typically unwed mothers and/or survivors of sexual violence who are trained to be advocates for non-violence awareness, acting as teachers and counselors to other survivors of sexual violence. While RENATA offers a safe and supportive environment for these women seeking help, it is still working to broaden its sphere, creating more centers, training more Aunties so that more women speak out against this violation of their dignity. After seeking help and support from RENATA, they have been trained to be those guiding lights and pillars of support for other women who have been in similar situations. The Aunties display proactive, positive and healthy method of coping with traumatic and heart-wrenching incidences, by supporting other women as a way of healing.
These young women have found a voice and are trying to encourage others around them to do the same. In a country where a majority of the crimes of this nature go unreported, the victims are the ones to receive the blame. However, that mentality is being steered in a different direction because of the Aunties’ activism and initiatives.
I visited the crisis center headquarters a few times during my 5-month stay in Yaoundé. Through interviews, public speaking events and program activities, I was given a very raw and palpable sense of the weight of these women’ stories and the reality of the current situation in Cameroon. I walked away from each meeting with them with a renewed confidence that they will speak out in loud, strong voices for the rest of their lives. These women taught me the power of a strong community. While it was enlightening and intense to see, I have only begun to understand how truly transformational this association and community have been for these women who, after being faced with these dispirited encounters, are able to stand up– strong and empowered– and continue healing as they help heal others.
Find out more about RENATA and this serious issue in Cameroon.