Women in the Congo: Margaret Young Speaks at a Women’s Studies Honor Society Fireside

Margaret Young – author, filmmaker and English Department adjunct faculty member – discussed some of the challenges women face in the Congo at a Women’s Studies Honor Society fireside.

IMG_6402PROVO, Utah (Feb. 4, 2016)—Margaret Young was just 14 years old when she had her awakening to racial issues in a pivotal moment in her seminary class. Ever since then, Young has devoted her writing and research to African-American Church history and, more recently, the Congo.

Young, who has been a writing instructor at BYU for nearly 30 years, has scripted and directed a number of Afro-American documentaries and plays, including a play and documentary on the life of Jane Manning James, a black Mormon pioneer. Young’s most recent project, however, has taken her to the Congo to work on a film entitled Heart of Africa.

Her screenplay explores the true story of two Mormon missionary companions in the Congo – one a former Congolese revolutionary and the other a white missionary from Idaho – who must learn to set aside their differences.

The film also addresses the situation of women in the Congo. During a visit to the Congo, Young had the opportunity to attend the bride price ceremony – known as la dot ­– for the future wife of Emmie, the former Congolese Mormon missionary on whom Heart of Africa is based.

“What can you foresee are the difficulties with having a bride price?” Young asked her audience at a Women’s Studies Honor Society fireside. She said that issues such as ranking women, the marriage of younger girls to older men, abuse and cohabitation before marriage are all problems that result from the tradition of la dot.

At this particular bride price ceremony, however, Young had a chance to talk with Dorothy, Emmie’s mother and a woman with whom she became fast friends.

When she asked her specifically about the situation of women in the Congo, Dorothy replied that though there are several major issues, the most serious one is education.

“In a country that has been based on bribery . . . you bribe the teacher to get your grades,” Young explained. “If you’re a woman bribing the teacher to get your grades, what do you have immediately accessible that you can use? Your body.” 

Young explained that prostitution in the Congo is rampant because of the bribery system, and this in turn contributes to the country’s A.I.D.S. and child abandonment problems.”

“The problems are huge, and the women take the brunt of it,” Young said.

Speaking with Emmie’s wife Steffie, Young asked,Why do you think that Congolese women are so strong? I think they are stronger than American women.”

Steffie replied, “Americans get everything handed to them. You don’t have to work for anything. We have to use our imaginations. We have to figure out how we’re going to survive.”

Young added that Westerners also contribute to problems in the Congo because of narrow-minded presumptions about Africa. Quoting Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, Young said, “Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the breakup of one petty European mind? The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world.”

Young said that though there are many problems yet to be resolved in the Congo, it is important for others to realize that the greatest resource the Congo has is its people.

“The strength of the people that have been preparing for generations even without knowing it, they see what the rest of the world is doing and they are not going to be content moving backwards, “ she said.

—Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English/French ’17)

Sylvia covers the Women’s Studies Program  for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a double major in English and French with a minor in women’s studies.