DRC civil society pushes to change electoral law to promote gender inclusion

A woman looks at the list of voters during election day in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011. Photo by: Myriam Asmani / MONUSCO / CC BY-SA

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.

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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.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.