Elections in the DR of Congo: Women take part despite everything

By Eliane POLEPOLE, journalist of Femme au Fone

June 1, 2015 13:11

As announced by the CENI, the rural and urban provincial and municipal elections will take place on October 25th. The final results will be announced in December. In the South Kivu province, at the east of the DR Congo, women are organising strategies to win seats. This is the case of the "Electoral Clinic" (Clinique électorale) an initiative by the Observatory on Gender Parity (l'Observatoire de la Parité) to share and to provide important information to potential candidates, and the radio serial Ni Wakati (in Swahili it means "the time is now"). Through theatre performances, this serial aims to raise the awareness among the communities on the necessity of women's role in managing the country. "We found it interesting to disseminate the message through the rumours, and to draw community's attention to the community about the role and the importance of women running the country; the radio series Ni Wakati have been produced by four civil society organisations," says Solange Lwashiga, the executive secretary of the Congolese women caucus. 

They are involved in the political parties

Women are involved in the political parties, in contrast to what happened in the previous elections of 2006 and 2011, where there were not many taking part. "In comparison with the previous election, now the number of women in our political party is bigger; we are considering how to place women on the electoral list," states Apollinaire Bulindi, President of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDC), the party of the presidential majority.

However, even if they are on the lists, for campaigning one has to have money, and Congolese women are economically weak. "There will be female candidates in our party, but it is not clear what is going to happen, as they will face more popular and wealthy men. I don´t know how these women are going to be elected in the campaign", points out Apollinaire Bulindi.

"I am a candidate for the provincial elections, and I think that people have realised that women have to contribute, I am supported by my women peers in civil society; I advocate for women's rights, I hope that people choose me", states Marie Jeanne Kazunguzibwa, defeated candidate in the 2011 elections, who is standing for elections again this year.

 "We are getting ready for the elections, and I am unable to see how our country can progress when women are excluded from government. We are going to make an effort, despite the electoral law limitations that do not favour women candidates", explains Prudence Shamavu, President of the Network of Women Members of Political Parties in South Kivu (Réseau des Femmes membres des Partis Politiques au Sud-Kivu, RFPP).

The restrictions established by the electoral law

In fact, the polemical electoral bill passed on the 17th of January this year at the National Assembly in Kinshasha, has caused troubles and misunderstandings in almost all the provinces of the DR of Congo. The population went out to the streets of the Capital to reject some of the articles that tend to hinder democracy in the country. Some of the people that demonstrated were killed, and others were wounded or imprisoned. After being reviewed, the bill was passed by the Senate with some amendments.

"People demonstrated because of the article number 8 of the bill, stating the census and seeking to extend the mandate of those who are in power. However, we tend to forget that in this law there are other points that expose our society to a bad ruling, particularly, not taking into account the women, as the article 13 of the electoral law has not been modified", regrets Aimé Jules Murhula, national secretary of the Congolese Party for the Progress (PCC), an opposition party.

Indeed, the Article 13 of the electoral law establishes that "Hereby, we understand as a list a document produced by the political parties and political groups, with several names of candidates. In each constituency, there is a single quota, political parties and political groups propose a unique candidate. Each list is established considering the equitable representation of men and women and the promotion of people living with disabilities. However, the fact of not achieving the gender parity, and the lack of representation of people with disabilities, are not a reason for a basis for rejection of a list."

"I think that there is a lack of awareness among our leaders; nothing has changed, this is the same as in 2006 and 2011. Everyone has to contribute to the women's access to the decision-making positions; this is not only women´s fight, it is a fight to be assumed by the entire society", states Aimee Matabaro, the Vice-president of the South Kivu Civil Society group.

"This was a complete disappointment after all the advocacy work that we undertook in Kinshasa, and because the Parliamentarians had promised us that the Article 13 would be amended, and that a mandatory requirement would include at least 30% of women in electoral lists", recalls Edwige Cishimbi from the Observatory on Gender Parity.

The Observatory on Gender Parity, in collaboration with other NGOs that advocate women's rights, had campaigned in Kinshasha for the mandatory inclusion of 30% of women in the electoral lists. Its goal was to highlight the scarcity of women representation in the decision-making bodies and to promote the passing of an organic law on gender parity. This parity law was voted in the National Assembly and the Senate. Sadly, it was not passed because it was considered unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, because it establishes a women quota that is not written in the country´s Constitution.

This decision is not comprehensive and it is qualified as discriminatory by the women's organisations in South Kivu, North Kivu and Kinshasa. A consortium coordinated by the Network of Gender and Women Rights (Réseau Genre et Droits de la Femme, GEDROFE) sent an awareness letter to the President to modify the article 13 of the electoral law. "We are not going to remain silent, we are going to carry on fighting for the representation of women in public affairs; we will pursue the inadmissibility of electoral lists if they do not guarantee the gender parity; otherwise the parties will be packed with men's names, putting aside women, even if they are there, as it happened in 2006 and 2011", states Josephine Ngalula, Executive Secretary of GEDROFE.

Nothing without women! (Rien sans les femmes!)

A group of civil society organisations, based in North and South Kivu and Kinshasa, as well as citizens claiming for the women´s rights, have just launched the campaign "Nothing without women!" (Rien sans les femmes!) ¨Their goal is to call upon all the civil society organisations and activists to join them, and to work for more women to participate and be elected in the next elections. In a petition addressed to the National Assembly President, these women organisations demand: the article 13 of the electoral law to be reviewed, so it overrides the electoral lists that do not include female candidates, and to vote and pass a law on women's rights and gender parity in order to strengthen a policy that integrates a gender approach in every level and every sector. "We hope that our rulers respect some of the commitments undertaken with the society, and that they understand that without women, nothing can properly work in this country", says Julienne Baseke, coordinator of the South Kivu Women's Media Association (l'Association des Femmes des Medias du Sud Kivu, AFEM-SK), one of the organisations involved in this campaign and partner of Femme au Fone. The International Alert and Kvinna till Kvinna coordinate the campaign.

Currently, women representation is still low in different fields and country's institutions. The national government, formed four months ago, is composed of 48 people, 7 of them women, therefore less than 15%; the National Assembly has 52 women out of 500 members (10, 4%); 6 women in the Senate out of 108 senators (5, 5%). In the provinces (11) there is not a single female governor, all the provincial assemblies are chaired by men. "There is no lack of intellectual capacity among the Congolese women, they are as smart as the men are; I think there is a lack of political will to involve women. Why are there no women nominated for these positions?", asks Jules Aimé Murhula, the national secretary of the political party PCP.

Constitution guarantees gender parity

We need to consider that the article 14 of the country's constitution guarantees the gender parity and equity; the article states that women have a right to equitable representation in the national, provincial and local institutions. The state guarantees the gender parity in these institutions. The law sets up the rules to apply these rights".

The principle of equitable representation in the decision-making bodies is enshrined in the international legal instruments ratified by the DR of Congo, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1986. In 2010 the DR Congo has also developed a National Action Plan to apply the resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council, which strengthens the State commitment to increase the female representation in the decision-making bodies.

"In this country, there are as many qualified women as men, women deserve, and they have right to participate in the management of our country. Men have always ruled this country and there is no change. I think that we, as women, we have to get together if we hope to bring a more sustainable development in this country", Prudencia Shamavu, states the President of the RFPP.

During the meetings the Congolese women say that they are open to take action and to join forces to achieve the participation of women in the country's management.


Author: Eliane POLEPOLE, journalist of Femme au Fone. Femme au Fone, is a communication and information project for the security and participation of women in South Kivu.www.femmeaufone.net