Empowering youth and women through the lens: the inspiring story of Arlette Bashizi of the DR Congo

May 14, 2021

Arlette Bashizi is a 21-year-old Congolese journalist and photographer based in Goma. Through her work, she aims to promote and support youth and women. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been mired in civil war and has suffered from indescribable atrocities and severe human rights abuses for more than two decades. This long-standing conflict has led the second-largest country in Africa to plunge deep into social and political instability and remain in need of critical international support. Established in 2010, the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation and is mandated to help restore stability and build durable peace.

The engagement of local populations is critical to ensuring lasting peace. Young people, who often form the majority of the population in conflict-affected countries, are full of potential to promote and build peace. The importance of youth economic empowerment through “employment opportunities” and “youth entrepreneurship” for peace was acknowledged by the landmark resolution 2250, which profoundly shifted the understanding of youth and their role in peace and security. It is understood that their economic empowerment is at times essential to supporting peace processes — “recognising the interrelated role of education, employment and training in preventing the marginalisation of youth.”

Congolese 21-year-old photographer and journalist, Arlette Bashizi is a prime example of female youth empowerment. Working in a male-dominated profession, Arlette aims to spread hope and motivate young people and women through her photos. In this way, she supports the consolidation of peace and helps build a better future for her country.

Arlette Bashizi on location taking photographs of young entrepreneurs in the DRC.

Originally born in Bukavu (DRC), Arlette moved to Goma with her family at a young age and has spent her whole life there. After high-school, she started working, but did not feel fulfilled by any of the jobs she did. She therefore decided to look for a new challenge. Given her strong urge to inform people as a journalist, Arlette developed an interest in photography. Since there was no photography school in Goma, she started learning through practice and by searching for inspiration on the Internet and on Instagram.

In an interview held on the occasion of Peacekeepers’ Day 2021 celebrations, Arlette speaks about her journey as a female journalist and photographer. She shared with us her work about another Congolese woman, Louise Kataliko, who started her own business selling foodstuff. In the photos featured in this story, you can follow Louise’s journey in the agribusiness sector as captured by Arlette.

Louise conducting business. Photo: Arlette Bashizi
Louise selling maize. Photo: Arlette Bashizi
Louise with her mother winnowing maize after unloading. Photo: Arlette Bashizi
Before selling and milling the maize kernels, Louise takes the time to separate the kernels from the waste to assure the quality of maize for her customers. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

Arlette is a firm advocate of the role of art in supporting peace. “Already, the fact of bringing people together is a step to restore peace in the DRC.” To her, artists should enjoy more support, as they can raise awareness for peace. She refers to the example of the annual Amani festival in Goma to highlight that “it would be great to organize festivals in North Kivu to talk about peace and bring people together.” According to the young photographer, art promotes mutual understanding more efficiently than political debates, as it involves no personal interests. Art can encourage communication, self-expression, exchange of ideas, and therefore can contribute to mitigating the root causes of conflict.

Two years after setting up her business, Louise bought a warehouse to store foodstuff. Photo: Arlette Bashizi
Louise selling maize at her warehouse in the Katoyi district of Goma. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

As a female photographer, Arlette focuses her lens on women. She deplores that gender equality is not achieved in Congo yet, especially in professional settings. Victims of stereotyping, women are often viewed as “supposed to please society and follow its norms without any objections.” Arlette experiences these stereotypes first-hand, as she had to address them at the beginning of her career. “When I first started, everyone would tell me that photography is not for women.” Instead of being discouraged, Arlette saw this as a challenge, worked hard and gradually gained people’s respect in a male-dominated profession.

To combat stereotypes, Arlette believes that women “must be included in the process of sharing their stories.” There is no better way to convey women’s stories, than by letting them narrate it by themselves. Her goal is to highlight the work of other Congolese women, thus contributing to gender equality in the country. “You should not evaluate someone based on their gender,” she affirms, stating that know-how and skills are what truly matter.

“I don’t just do marketing. If the millers with whom I work are not there, I go to the mill myself to grind the flour,” says Louise. Photo: Arlette Bashizi
Louise helps one of her millers to grind corn kernels for customers who buy food from her warehouse in the Katoyi district of Goma. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

Arlette admits that as a young woman, issues faced by youth are close to her heart. She uses photography to increase visibility of young people’s work, especially because they often struggle to find support. She believes that there are many young talented people in the DRC who grow in their respective domains despite ongoing conflict. Through her lens, she highlights their work and denounces injustice. After all, empowering youth is crucial since it is they who are building the Congo of tomorrow.

At the end of each day, Louise records her sales and profits. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

To help bring change, the image of the DRC needs to change. “When we talk about the Congo, all we see is war, insecurities and violence.” But, according to Arlette, the DR Congo is more than violence and war. “I prefer to show the perspective of hope,” she affirms, explaining that “every country has problems.” Despite not turning a blind eye to the problems of the country, she wishes to showcase a different side of the DRC; that of a nation making steps forward; that of bold young people creating and becoming entrepreneurs; that of strong women working diligently, and taking life in their own hands.

The rest of the world needs to know that the DRC is not just a strife-torn country as portrayed in the news, but also the home of creative and talented individuals building a better future for themselves and their country. Arlette underlines that there is no better way to explore the DRC than through its own people; by capturing stories like Louise’s in her work, the young photographer gives Congolese people a voice. When brought to light, all these stories — like Arlette’s own story — serve as clear proof that life can go on even amidst conflict.

In what could be considered as a perfect representation of the message of hope that Arlette wishes to send through her artwork, Louise is pictured smiling in her warehouse in Goma. Photo: Arlette Bashizi

Empowering youth and women through the lens: the inspiring story of Arlette Bashizi of the DR Congo was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.