The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former Belgian colony, gained its independence in 1960. For 32 years Colonel Mobutu was in power, but he was ousted in 1997 and Laurent Kabila seized power with the support of Rwanda and Uganda.
Average lifetime: 48 years
Infant mortality rate: 113/1000
Literacy: Women 56,1 %, Men 77,5 %
UNESCO statistics 2009
In 1998 another armed conflict erupted between troops loyal to Kabila’s regime and other Congolese forces supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, the Sudan, and Zimbabwe intervened to support Kabila’s regime. A ceasefire was signed in 1999 but sporadic fighting continued.
Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state. Following a negotiated withdrawal of foreign forces occupying Eastern Congo in 2002, and the signing of the Pretoria accords by all remaining warring parties, a transitional government was set up in 2003. A new constitution was approved in 2005, elections were held, and Joseph Kabila was inaugurated president in 2006. The general security situation has improved since, despite remaining insecurity mainly in the Kivu provinces in the Eastern part of the country. A UN mission, MONUC/MONUSCO, was deployed in 1999 and is still present in the DRC. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), more than 5 million people have died since the start of the 1998s armed conflict, the majority from starvation or lack of health care.
Women’s participation in the peace processes
In the DRC, many women’s organizations networks have been active in conflict prevention and conflict resolution on both a micro and macro level. Congolese women have been active in formal arenas like the Dialogue Inter-Congolaise 2001 that led on to the Pretoria accords. In the later the women delegates, coordinated in the network Caucus des femmes, among other things managed to get formulations on violence against women into the agreement. The recent peace negotiations in the Kivu region have however had a low representation of women. In the peace negotiations in Goma in 2008 only 5 percent of the participants were women.
How has the conflict affected women?
Sexual violence has been very common in the conflict in DRC, and it still is very common today. It has continued – some say even increased – after 2006 and always rise drastically in times of hightened insecurity and armed violence. Sexual violence is, and has been, committed by all parties: armed groups, including the various militia groups (FDLR, Mai-Mai militias, CNDP, LRA, etc), the State security forces (FARDC), and the Police National Congolaise. Gender based violence has also increased in the civil sphere due to normalization of sexual violence and the demobilization of soldiers.
There are no figures available that can assess the number of cases of rape in this conflict. Many survivors live in inaccessible areas and many are afraid to report because of the stigma and fear of revenge from the perpetrators. There is also no common coordinated reporting system. But estimates talk in numbers of tens of thousands.
Women in the DRC have been in the national army since 1966, but many more were recruited during the conflicts in the late 1990s. Women were also combatants, both forced and voluntary, in the various armed fractions. Often they’ve been used as so called soldiers wives, i e have been abducted by armed forces and kept under slavelike conditions.
The needs of women combatants were largely overlooked in the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) process, especially through the requirement that one must carry a gun in order to be demobilized. Women often share their weapons or hand them over to male combatants. The families of soldiers in the national army often follow them to the front line. They take care of logistics and food service, in fear of loosing income or their husband taking another wife. This often has dire humanitarian consequences for the accompanying families, due to the constant moving, the lack of food and poor hygiene facilities causing severe illnesses. Violence and prostitution is also widespread in the military communities.
In the areas of conflict in the DRC, there has also been an increase in prostitution and transactional sex. The background of the women and girls engaging in this vary. Some are survivors of sexual violence that have been abandoned (link) by their families, some have been associated with different armed groups but overseen in the DDR process and therefore have gotten no help and some have families that have been killed in the conflict, etc. The increased presence of international staff, in particular the peace-keeping troops (MONUC/MONUSCO) has also triggered an increase in survival and transactional sex – Congolese women trading their bodies for food, security or to be able to provide for their families. For more information on this see Security on whose terms?
Power and decision-making
As a consequence of the conflict female-headed households have increased, and gender roles have been shaken a bit. But even so, women are more or less excluded from decision-making on all levels in society. A statement to that fact is the very low representation of women in different legislative bodies and in senior positions. Preliminary results of the latest election to parliament, that was held in November 2011, shows that of the 424 (out of 500) seats counted so far only 44 have gone to women. Of the 632 seats in local people’s assemblies 43, or 6,8 percent, went to women. In the conflict-ridden Kivu provinces the numbers are 1 women out of 42 seats in North Kivu and 3 women out of 33 seats in South Kivu.