Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

inferiority of women was embedded in the indigenous social system and
reemphasized in the colonial era. The colonial-era status of African
women in urban areas was low. Adult women were legitimate urban
dwellers if they were wives, widows, or elderly. Otherwise they were
presumed to be femmes libres (free women) and were taxed as
income-earning prostitutes, whether they were or not. From 1939 to
1943, over 30 percent of adult Congolese women in Stanleyville (now
Kisangani) were so registered. The taxes they paid constituted the
second largest source of tax revenue for Stanleyville.

for wage labor jobs and professional positions remained rare even after
independence. For example, in Kisangani there were no women in law,
medicine, or government in 1979, nineteen years after independence.
Moreover, educational opportunities for girls remained constricted
compared with those for boys.

the 1990s, women had made strides in the professional world, and a
growing number of women now work in the professions, government
service, the military, and the universities. But they remain
underrepresented in the formal work force, especially in higher-level
jobs, and generally earn less than their male counterparts in the same

addition, certain laws clearly state that women are legally subservient
to men. A married woman must have her husband’s permission to open a
bank account, accept a job, obtain a commercial license, or rent or
sell real estate. Article 45 of the civil code specifies that the
husband has rights to his wife’s goods, even if their marriage contract
states that each spouse separately owns his or her own goods.

to this situation, urban women have exploited commercial opportunities
in the informal economy, outside of men’s control. They generally
conduct business without bank accounts, without accounting records, and
without reporting all of their commerce. Anthropologist Janet
MacGaffey’s study of enterprises in Kisangani showed that 28 percent of
the city’s large business owners not dependent on political connections
were women; these women specialized in long-distance distribution and
retail and semi-wholesale trade. About 21 percent of the retail stores
in the commercial and administrative zone of the city were women’s, and
women dominated the market trade.

women find fewer such strategies available. Saddled with the bulk of
agricultural work, firewood gathering, water hauling, and child care,
they have generally seen an increase in their labor burdens as the
economy has deteriorated. In the DRC’s eastern highlands, conditions
have grown particularly severe. The statepromoted expansion of
cash-crop hectarage for export, particularly of coffee and quinine, has
reduced the amount and quality of land available for peasant household
food-crop production. Plantations owned by the politico-commercial and
new commercial elites have increasingly expanded onto communal lands,
displacing existing food crops with cash crops. And within peasant
households, men’s control of the allocation of household land for
export and food crops has led to greater use of land for export crops
and the diminution of women’s access to land and food crops.

when male producers turn to cultivating food crops, the household does
not necessarily profit nutritionally. Food needed for household
consumption is frequently sold for cash, cash needed to pay for daily
necessities, clothes, school fees, taxes, and so on. Higher-priced and
nutritionally superior food crops such as sorghum are frequently sold
by producers who eat only their cheaper, less nutritious food crops
such as cassava. Widespread malnutrition among children has resulted.

groups where women have more power, the situation is less severe. Among
the Lemba, for example, women not only have more say in determining
what is grown but also in what is consumed. In a country where the most
widespread pattern is for the men to be served the best food first,
with the remainder going to women and children, Lemba women
traditionally set aside choice food items and sauces for their own and
their children’s consumption before feeding the men their food. Their
nutritional status and that of their children is correspondingly better.

women have arguably borne the brunt of state exactions. In some cases,
women have banded together to resist the rising tolls and taxes imposed
on them. Political scientist Katharine Newbury studied a group of Tembo
women growers of cassava and peanuts west of Lac Kivu who successfully
protested against the imposition of excessive collectivity taxes and
market taxes levied on them when they went to market. The local chief
was hostile. But a sympathetic local Catholic church, which provided a
forum for meetings and assistance in letter writing, was helpful, as
was the ethnic homogeneity of the group. Although they could not
nominate a woman for election to the local council, they did succeed in
voting for males friendly to their position. The newly elected
councillors hastened to suspend the taxes and the tolls.

all women’s organizations have been equally successful. In Kisangani
the Association of Women Merchants (Association des Femmes
Commerçantes–Afco) failed to advance the interests of the assembled
women merchants. The group instead turned into a vehicle for class
interests, namely those of the middle-class president. MacGaffey
clearly saw the case as one of the triumph of class solidarity over
gender solidarity.

continuing challenge for women has been the limited integration of
women’s experience and perspectives into the development initiatives of
Western development agencies. As Brooke Schoepf has documented, little
effort has been made to create agricultural extension networks for
women, who have continued to contribute the overwhelming bulk of
agricultural labor. In addition, project production goals rarely have
taken into account the effect of the withdrawal of women’s time from
current food production and household work to meet the goals of the new
programs. Development in such a context often has meant a step backward
rather than a step forward from the perspective of the women being

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women in 2006 expressed concern that in the
post-war transition period, the promotion of women’s human rights and
gender equality is not seen as a priority.

2006 report by the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights
prepared for that committee provides a broad overview of issues
confronting women in the DRC in law and in daily life.

war situation has made the life of women more precarious. Violence
against women seems to be perceived by large sectors of society to be
normal.[In July
2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern
about the situation in eastern DRC.A phenomenon of ‘pendulum
displacement’ has developed, where people hasten at night to safety.
According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence, Yakin Ertürk, who
toured eastern Congo in July 2007, violence against women in North and
South Kivu included “unimaginable brutality”. “Armed groups attack
local communities, loot, rape, kidnap women and children and make them
work as sexual slaves,” Ertürk said. A local initiative by women in Bukavu aims for recovery from violence based on women’s own empowerment

From: wikipedia.org

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