Discrimination against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DR Congo) is profound. At all levels of society and in all phases of life, women are subjected to exclusion and misogynist practices, which are deeply anchored in tradition and customary laws.
Between 1996 and 2002, the DR Congo was subject to a spiral of wars and rebellions, during which nine national armies clashed on its soil, several rebellions supported by the DR Congo’s neighbours fragmented the country and millions died. Although the level of armed conflict decreased significantly after the signing of the Sun City peace accord in 2002 and the holding of elections in 2006 and 2011, a situation of ‘no peace no war’ persists. Sporadic fighting has continued in eastern DR Congo, with a variety of non-state armed groups causing insecurity in North Kivu, South Kivu and Oriental and northern parts of Katanga Province.
This continued insecurity has its roots in the country’s political history and is fuelled by a particularly unstable regional context. In the DR Congo as a whole, democratic reforms struggle to take hold and national institutions continue to function in a way that shows scant regard for the needs of Congolese citizens.
The DR Congo context contributes to perpetuating gender inequalities and limits the opportunities for all, but particularly for women and girls. The 2014 Gender Inequality Index ranks the country at place 149 of 188. The World Bank reports that 63.6% of the total population in the DR Congo and 61.2% of women are below the poverty line, facing limited access to basic needs, resources and social services.
Patriarchal households and governance
Available data suggest the widespread persistence of beliefs and attitudes that view women and girls as inferior and that perpetuate traditional ideas of gender roles. These norms place the man in a position of authority in the household, giving him control over decisions and assets, and women are seen as responsible for domestic and care duties in the household.
The prevailing form of governance in the DR Congo is extremely patriarchal, personalised and centralised, as well as centred on networks of patronage. This is a form of rule that preys on public funds, siphoning them off to the various clients of those in power and undermining state institutions by favouring the creation of shadowy private systems of governance where decisions are not taken by the relevant ministries but behind the scenes. Ethnic belonging is of great importance in this context, as it is the first level at which relationships are formed.
The way in which the political system operates often pits communities against one another, at the risk of increasing tensions and causing violence. Women are mainly excluded from power. Poverty and corruption are massive obstacles to women’s participation at any level. The representation of women in politics in the DR Congo is low: 8 percent at national level, with numbers similarly low at provincial and local levels.
The national legislative framework to support gender equality has been strengthened in the DR Congo over the last decade, but there are still some laws in need of reform and others in need of harmonisation (i.e. with the Constitution) as well as a huge implementation gaps. For example, family law states that the man is head of the family, which means that married women have to obtain their husband’s permission for legal matters such as opening a bank account.
The 2006 Constitution affirms the equal rights of men and women and the 2006 law against sexual violence provides a formal definition of rape, which includes both sexes and all forms of penetration. The DR Congo has also ratified the UN’s so-called women convention, CEDAW (1986) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2009). Regarding UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, DR Congo adopted a National Action Plan in 2010, and reviewed it in 2013.
However, one of the biggest challenges in the DR Congo is the weak implementation of these laws and instruments due to severe political, capacity and resource constraints, including in the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children. For example, although women usually are responsible for farming the family’s land and according to the law can own land, tradition prohibits them from controlling land and income.
Violence against women
Two out of three women in the DR Congo are estimated to be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during their lifetime. The violence is rooted in discrimination, social norms and traditional gender roles. Both men and women adhere to unequal gender norms.
Sexual violence in conflict has been extremely brutal in the DR Congo and a large number of women have been subjected to rape, gang rape, genital muilation, sexual slavery and other abuses. All parties of the conflict have been guilty of committing these crimes, including foreign-supported troops, local militias and rebels as well as Congolese security forces. Rape has been a weapon to install insecurity, fear and chaos in communities. Whilst most of the victims are women and children, men are also targeted.
The deeply rooted gender imbalance and prevailing impunity has allowed for a society where violence against women in all its forms remains acceptable and unpunished.
Many survivors of sexual violence in the DR Congo, the majority women, suffer from community rejection and stigmatisation, increasing level of HIV/Aids and unwanted pregnancies. Sexual violence also leads to increasing poverty and food insecurity due to the physical and psychological consequences of the violence and fear, which often hinders women from working in the fields. This can all be added to the obvious health costs associated with the violence.
Senast uppdaterad: 2017-03-03