2012-13 Humphrey Fellow
As long as she can remember, Firmine Bouity has railed against the rampant discrimination and inequality in the Republic of Congo, a neighbor of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). For the 3 million people in this "small Congo," human rights, particularly for women and children, have historically been considered a family issue, not a societal one. Bouity and others have worked hard to pass protective treaties and conventions, but the road to change is long.
"Some things I saw growing up affected me so much. We have no domestic violence courts, no domestic provisions in our law. You can kill your wife or beat your wife as you like. Women were created to give birth, cook, and take care of their husbands. They're afraid to complain," she explains. "We have the weight of culture on our heads, and in our minds."
An assistant in charge of International Conventions at the Republic of Congo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bouity has a master's degree in private law from Marien Ngouabi University and served as public relations chief of the Women's Legal Association for more than a decade, assisting widows, orphans, and domestic violence victims.
Of 25 Republic of Congo workers who applied for Humphrey Fellowships, she was one of two recipients—the first from their country. She aims not only to polish her English while in America but also to enhance her legal skills and explore new strategies to aid and advise the Republic of Congo's Ministry and Women's Legal Association.
"I want to share the American experience with women's and children's rights. Women are more powerful here. They have a voice. If something is bad, they can raise their voice clearly without being scared," she says. "It's very, very important to me to have this tool. We need to stand up and say no, to start training our voice. We cannot continue to see our sisters suffering."
She is excited by simple things we take for granted, such as seeing a woman driving a public bus. "In our country this would not be possible. It would be like a dream," she says. "Now I know why the U.S. is the first country—the women are so free! We need to develop our country, and our minds."