Democratic Republic of Congo- Reflections by Jolly Kamuntu

We live in conflict. It is the context in which we have evolved. The peculiarity of Eastern DRC is the battlefield, the rape capital of the world and a cemetery for journalists. Over the years the situation has taken different forms. Sexual violence before occurred during wars and was done by armed groups. Serial rapes were committed, women were buried alive and women were used as weapons of war. In reality, it was a message to the communities that if you do not surrender, if you don’t give in, women will be burned and buried alive.

Conflicts have set back the rights of women in DRC by 100 years. Conflicts made it possible for rapists to start trivializing sexual violence as more and more cases were reported and it was normalised. There is also lethargy at the national and international levels allowing leaders to not consider rape as an emergency.

This trivialization has tarnished the dignity of Congolese women. We must not be made to accept this into our culture. That is the fight we are taking on right now. I know there is rape and violence against women in other places, but not at the same rate and magnitude as in our case.

Women in DRC were the main victims of the different conflicts, the resulting insecurity. and the harmful effects of war despite not being consulted in the planning of armed violence.

We called for women to enjoy their right to security, especially in times of armed conflict. In such times, the protection of women and children must be given priority.

Before UNSCR 1325 our work as women’s rights defenders’ was challenged. People thought our demands and our plight were a joke. We had no clout. We did this because we were determined, and we are activists.

Even leaders would bring us down whenever we asked for backing. It was as if we were shouting in the desert and people were asking us where we had seen women participating in politics. They would tell us to leave decision making alone and concentrate on raising children.

However, when the UNSCR 1325 came in to support what we had been stressing, it was more acknowledged that women’s rights must be defended and recognised in conflict and post-conflict. Now we see that kind of disparaging language disappearing. When you quote frameworks like the UNSCR 1325, you can feel that they are afraid

Burundi- Reflections by Marie Louise Baricako 

UNSCR 1325 emphasises prevention, protection, participation and reconstruction. Currently, the problem that women face in Burundi is mainly being excluded from all processes.

Women are not formally involved in prevention and neither are they systematically involved in protection. In Burundi, we see more women active in civil society and fewer in public institutions.

Violence intimidates women and prevents them from participating. Women are going to tell you that they don’t want to take part in politics because politics is dirty, politics is full of lies, corruption and violence. All this discourages women.

There is no serene or safe space for the participation of women, and I believe that this is the main reason as to why they do not participate.

Generally speaking, and I say this because I am convinced of it and I would like it to change, you will see that in Burundi there exist symbolic women’s appointments: what matters is the number. Whether they participate or not, whether they are capable or not, that’s not the problem. It’s that kind of thinking – we were asked to get 30% and we are going to get 30%. Even if in parliament they don’t discuss issues, either they don’t understand, or they’re not interested… what matters, we’re going to put them there so that no one will accuse us of not

Major Milestones Over the Past Twenty Years

There have been improvements in terms of legislation. Key legal provisions have been put in place, in particular, the law that reprimands rape and sexual violence, the family law and the law on parity or representation of women, which has improved both local governance and decentralisation. This law provides
for 30 percent representation of women in government institutions.

In the DRC, women are increasingly becoming aware of and demanding respect of their rights. More women have started to report abuses committed by men. For example, in eastern DRC, after a series of awareness-raising campaigns on rape and sexual violence, many women broke the silence and talked about the challenges they encounter, and they exposed their tormentors without fear
of being arrested. As a result, certain practices that discriminate against women are being scaled back.

Inheritance or land ownership rights in favour of women are increasingly discussed within families. This was not the case prior to the UNSCR 1325. This change explains to some extent the shift in mind-sets that is gradually permeating behavioural patterns in the Burundian and Congolese societies.

Various campaigns launched in favour of women’s education have enabled many girls to attend school in large numbers. In terms of economic empowerment, women are already taking on some responsibilities through local economic structures such as MUSOs (Mutual Solidarity Associations) and AVECs (Village Savings and Credit Associations), which enable women’s groups to gain access
to financial power through group and rotational loans.

These mechanisms have enabled poor women excluded from the conventional banking system to gain economic power and engage in income-generating activities.

In Burundi, progress on the status of women can also be seen in the decline of the negative attitude that society has always had about women. It is mainly the negative stereotypes and prejudices that stigmatise women. However, just like in the DRC, the involvement of women in civil society structures and political parties has had a great impact in changing attitudes and mindsets.

The UNSCR 1325 brought forward women not only as beneficiaries of the peace process in terms
of improving peace and security but also brought about a paradigm shift by presenting women
themselves as agents of peace.

Note: This article is an extract from our Women’s World Issue 51

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