Laura Davis

Women in #DR Congo: Gender Country Profile 2014

GCP cover

Democratic Republic of Congo:

 Gender Country Profile 2014

This Gender Country Profile DRC 2014 (Profil genre 2014 RDC) was commissioned by the Embassy of Sweden in Kinshasa, with the Department for International Development (UK), the European Union delegation in Kinshasa and the Embassy of Canada. It examines gender relations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and offers recommendations to the assignors, and donor community more generally, on ways to improve gender equality in the country.

Main challenges to gender equality include: 

1. Who are ‘Congolese women’?

The dominant definition – explicit or not – is to see equate women with mothers, and/or in relation to male family members. Nationals and internationals rarely see ‘women’ as essential beings. This hinders understanding different women’s and girls’ range of needs and expectations, and therefore designing effective programmes and policies.

The view of women as poor, rural, ‘vulnerable’ (i.e. passive) dominates national and international agendas. There is apparently little interest in how women acquire, maintain, use and lose power. National and international actors lack critical awareness of the assumptions they make and perceptions they have of ‘women’, their needs and priorities. This report identifies the following trends in perceptions and assumptions:

a. Women are treated as objects for charity, not rightsbearers

This feeds the tendency to prioritise the palliative over the preventive: marginally improving the plight of individual women but not changing the status quo. Programmes relieving women’s suffering often substitute the core functions of the state: robust political engagement could lead to systemic change, enabling women to access routinely the services they are entitled to. Programmes ‘addressing’ sexual violence try to relieve some of the consequences of men’s violence but do not prevent it. So some women receive charity, but women should be treated as citizens, whose rights the government, primarily, and ‘international community’ indirectly, are obliged to protect.

b. Women to blame for gender inequality

The gender discourse in DRC tends to place the blame for gender inequality implicitly on women, either as the (moral) educators of children, or because they show insufficient ‘solidarity’ with other women, or because they are ‘too ignorant’ to access their rights.

c. The unbearable burden of gender equality

Women have heavy workloads, household and community responsibilities, and little rest. Women in power are expected to be more competent than their male colleagues, resist corruption, and show solidarity with other women. The expectations on women are simply too high: they are, effectively, set up to fail.

d. Wanted: men’s agency

Men are central to gender (in)equality, yet men’s agency is absent from the gender discourse. Men’s agency and power in perpetuating and addressing discrimination and exclusion needs to be acknowledged and included in the discourse.

2. Lack of ownership of and priority for ‘gender’

Different actors use ‘gender’ differently and although popular in headquarters, ‘gender’ has frequently lost its meaning by the time it gets to implementation. National policies are sent out from Kinshasa to the provinces without the capacities to implement them. Counting women participants is classified as ‘gender’ without considering whether policies or programmes have changed women’s living conditions or enjoyment of their rights.

3. Embedded parameters: women as mothers, appropriate behaviour

Many programmes are underpinned by equating womanhood with motherhood and by assumptions of appropriate female behaviour. Non‐state actors are critical for service delivery. The gender norms that they uphold through the (non)‐provision of services may perpetuate discrimination and exclusion.

4. What’s going on? Statistics, their absence and use

Reliable statistical data in DRC is hard to come by. Even with reliable data, it is difficult to demonstrate positive qualitative changes in women’s lives. Yet donors, ministries and NGOs rely on numbers to show progress, and reporting officers are expected to show achievements, not identify problems or setbacks. The result is an overly optimistic picture that cyclically informs policy‐making and programme‐design.

5. ‘Gender’ is not the same as sexual violence

Reducing ‘gender’ and even gender‐based violence to sexual violence undermines efforts to promote gender equality and stop men’s sexual violence.

 

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