In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women and girls have suffered brutal attacks, rape, torture, and mutilation - all weapons of war, wielded by rebels and soldiers alike. Survivors are further traumatized by infection, disease, poverty, stigma, and social isolation. "Men leave their wives, women are traumatized, families are traumatized, and entire communities are destabilized by rape," says Nancy Glass, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
Earlier this year, Glass received a 5-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) to test the success of a microfinance program, Pigs for Peace, in helping these women. Once the study is complete, she says, "we'll really be able to say something about the influence of microfinance programs on health, mental health, and stigma reduction as well as economic well-being."
This trial, conducted in partnership with Congolese microfinance leaders, will randomly assign 10 villages in South Kivu DRC to participate in either the Pigs for Peace microfinance program or a series of health education classes (these villages act as the control group). Over the next 18 months, researchers will examine the women's mental and physical health, productivity, economic security, and social stigma. The study is expected to help 500 households improve their health and rebuild their economic lives.
Although healthcare providers can provide healthcare and form support groups to help, says Glass, "if women aren't attached to some way to rebuild their lives economically, how will they move forward?" She believes that small, inexpensive projects like Pigs for Peace can change the future of the country. The program provides health education, community support, and a boost toward economic freedom.
Pigs for Peace doesn't give monetary loans; instead, it provides women with a female pig - and breeding opportunities. Women repay the loan by giving two piglets back to Pigs for Peace. After that, they can keep or sell additional piglets.
"If you have six piglets, and sell them for $30 or $40, that's significant money," says Glass. "In a country where the average annual income is only $249, those pigs can make a difference in the women's lives. If you're able to support your family...if your kids are in school and you're putting food on the table, your worth is significant. Being a survivor of rape becomes less important in terms of stigma and rejection."
Pigs for Peace has been in action since 2008. Preliminary evidence suggests that the program improves Congolese women's health and household economic stability, and survivors also report a reduction in the negative health impacts of chronic stress, stigma, and trauma. With this new funding, Glass will be able to scientifically measure the program's effect. Measureable success can improve credibility, and that, says Glass, means programs like Pigs for Peace "can be scaled up to other post-conflict settings."
"As advocates and service providers, we have to get past just doing health or stigma reduction," says Glass. "We need to integrate economics, health, housing, employment. We can no longer do these things separately."