NAIROBI — Civil society organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are arguing that a recently passed law discriminates against women by setting up financial barriers.
Joseph Kabila, president of DRC, signed a law in December that places certain restrictions on political candidates running for national office. One of these includes a provision that requires a deposit of $1,000 before a candidate can run.
Civil society advocates and academics warned a congressional committee on Thursday that the United States should not simply accept an announced election in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a sign that the country is on the right track.
These requirements indirectly exclude many women from entering the political arena, Justine Masika Bihamba, executive director of Synergie des Femmes, told Devex. Synergie des Femmes is an NGO that provides services to victims of sexual assault in North Kivu.
“This is a fortune for women. Women in the DRC, on average, are making less than $1 per day and are struck by poverty at a much higher rate than men,” said Bihamba. “This fee basically excludes women from the very start.”
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, some 14 percent of the parliament in DRC is comprised of women. These figures are below the parliamentary average for sub-Saharan Africa, which is 24 percent.
Women civil society leaders from 11 of the 26 provinces in DRC galvanized last year to form the Congolese Women’s Forum on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, with a primary aim at increasing female political participation in DRC. Bihamba is one of the women leading these efforts.
The coalition is pushing to have U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 seen as reality on the ground in DRC. The resolution, which was adopted in 2000, is aimed at increasing the participation of women and incorporating gender perspectives in all U.N. peace and security efforts, which includes political participation.
The electoral law that was passed in December also requires a candidate, in order to be elected to a national seat, such as in parliament, win 1 percent of the vote of all eligible voters.
The women’s forum argues that because of the massive population of over 78 million in DRC, this could cripple a woman’s chances to win a national seat. The law favors well-established men, with money and the backing of political parties, she said. She argues that improving the national quota system, to push for strong gender quotas, could help to increase the participation of women.
A group of civil society organizations filed a petition with the country’s constitutional court in December, arguing that the law violates a citizen’s constitutional right to be a candidate and be elected.
Other efforts by civil society organizations to enhance women’s participation in politics include educating women on their political rights, helping to fundraise for women who want to run, training women on how to navigate the political process in DRC, and working with the government to create a more conducive environment for female candidates. For example, in 2017, Synergie des Femmes trained 50 women and educated another 3,788 women on their political rights.
Read more Devex coverage on the Democratic Republic of Congo.