Last week, the Democratic Republic of Congo went to the polls for the country’s second democratic elections, which have been marred by violence and tensions in many provinces since the start of the electoral campaign in October.
Of the 18,000 candidates to the 2011 legislative elections, only 12% are female. And all 11 presidential candidates are men. These figures promise to be even worse than those of the last national elections in 2006, when only 42 women – out of 500 seats – were elected to parliament, constituting only 8.4% of the National Assembly – and only 4% of the Senate.
Despite the signature of the Sun City accords in 2003 between the Congolese Government and the belligerent parties fighting in Eastern Congo, violence still affects the lives of millions in North and South Kivu, Ituri and Maniema provinces. Women have been particularly affected by this. They have been targeted with various forms of sexual violence by armed groups. Ongoing insecurity has also exacerbated marginalisation of the most vulnerable, of whom women form a large part.
Congolese women’s exclusion from decision-making is rooted both in patriarchal values and in the absence of a functional state apparatus. Gender stereotypes rooted within communities, a wide education gap between men and women, and exclusion from public life, are the main causes of gender imbalance in leadership positions in the social as well as political domains.
Despite the promulgation of a gender-sensitive post-conflict constitution, women’s participation in political life in DRC is among the lowest in Africa.
International Alert has been working in the DRC since 2002 to promote women’s participation in political life. We are currently working with Swedish NGO Kvinna till Kvinna on a joint three-year project to help enhance Congolese women’s role in electoral processes.
To try and positively influence next week’s elections, we have been broadcasting radio programmes aimed at sensitising the population to vote for female candidates and encouraging women to stand in the elections. To prepare for next year’s local elections, we will also be training female electoral observers to accompany female candidates to the polls, and facilitating exchanges between local communities and female candidates. Our work will also target political parties to encourage them to include female candidates on their candidates’ list or give them higher positions within the parties.
Find out more about our work in the DRC.
Photo: Jenny Matthews