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The struggle to empower Congo’s women

How much progress is there in the fight to empower and protect women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? The Collective of Congolese Women for Peace and Justice tell their story

They represent over 50% of the country’s population. But women comprise less than 9% of the government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Hélène Madinda hopes to change this.

Originally from the region of Kasaï, Madinda’s pursuit of a Master’s degree in Political Communication brought her from the DRC to Belgium 15 years ago. However, she decided to become involved with the Collective of Congolese Women for Peace and Justice (CCWFPJ ) after hearing stories all too familiar to those well versed in the recent history of the DRC: about raped and murdered women and children.

Lack of financial resources, a pervading view of women as property of their family, marriage at a young age and a lack of education mean that women's rights and views are rarely taken into account

Dubbed by some as “the rape capital of the world”, the post-war peace agreement in the DRC was especially important for Congolese women. However, as Madinda points out, “women did not participate in the process, in the negotiations.” In effect, women were virtually non-existent during the peace talks. “That’s why we started the Collective of Congolese Women for Peace and Justice; to give a voice to the women left out of the process.”

Madinda paints a bleak picture for women in the country. As keepers of their home, women in the DRC are primarily responsible for the day-to-day purchases their families need to survive. From buying food to buying items for their households, much of the DRC economy is dependent on women. But these same women have no right to either keep or manage the money that they earn. This lack of financial resources, added to a pervading view of women as the property of their family or husband, marriage at a young age and a lack of education, means that the views and rights of women are rarely taken into account.

The CCWFPJ, however, is working to remedy these practices and further empower Congolese women. Currently, the organisation is pushing for the recognition of the rights of women; to allow them to finish their education, to prohibit marriage before the age of 16 and to enjoy the fruits of their economic production.

Women’s inability to freely manage their own finances is a particularly critical component in their lack of representation in government. Mounting a political campaign in the DRC can be very expensive. Due to the lack of financial resources needed to run for a political position, women candidates - and the unique perspective they bring - were largely kept out of government. Without a substantial voice in government, the disempowerment of women is likely to continue.

In the lead up to the next elections, CCWFPJ hopes to rectify this by promoting the leadership of women in all areas of government. This will include the army and police force, thereby better representing this disempowered group’s voice in aspects of daily life, especially security.

The future development of the country in general, and in particular its economy, is intricately linked with situation of Congolese women

Madinda feels that the governance in her home country was not as good as it could have been following the country’s independence. Living in Brussels has allowed her to see and experience an alternative form of government and learn the processes involved in managing a democratic country. One day Madinda would like to return to the DRC and transfer that knowledge.

“Belgium doesn’t need me,” she states. “It is a developed country. It has no need for my experience, my training.” However, she feels that the DRC could benefit from the lessons she has learned and is hopeful about returning to the country before the next elections to train local women, based on her own experiences in Belgium. However, she acknowledges that it will be difficult to return, in large part because “human rights are not respected.”

But for Madinda, the future development of the country in general, and in particular its economy, is intricately linked with situation of Congolese women.

Dubbed by some as “the rape capital of the world”, the post-war peace agreement in the Democratic Republic of Congo was especially important for Congolese women

Women were virtually non-existent during the peace talks. “That’s why we started the Collective of Congolese Women for Peace and Justice; to give a voice to the women left out of the process"

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