In the Democratic Republic of Congo in general, and in the city of Bukavu in particular, few women manage to run for positions of responsibility in political institutions. Most women are blocked by cultural prohibitions that curb their rights to work, to express themselves in public, or to emancipate themselves from the influence of men.
In the heart of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo covers more than 2000 square kilometers with a population of more than 100 million inhabitants - 54% of whom are women. Alongside the armed conflicts that have been raging in the country for several decades, women experience several forms of physical, psychological and cultural violence. The life of most women is marked by prohibitions, both visible and invisible: they must not study, and if they do, they must not have high diplomas. They must be available at home. And if they want to work, they have to choose informal trades like sewing or the culinary arts, and not embrace the trades supposed to belong to men like automobile mechanics, carpentry, architecture, aviation, or politics.
Gisèle* stated that the meetings of the political parties take place late in the evening, which is an obstacle for her, because she must be in her house at this time. “I have been married for 10 years and I am mother of two children. I had the idea of joining a political party but I was discouraged. Meetings take place until late in the evening. Whereas, as a woman, it is difficult to go out to participate in meetings. I am a housewife and my husband does not accept that I can be part of it. I have to take care of the children, help them with their homework and put them to bed,” she complains.
Aline,* a stay-at-home mother with four children also experienced resistance from her husband, who forbade her from joining a political party. “He told me that women in political parties are out of control and do not protect their households. My dream was stifled,” she stated. “He also told me that the role of a woman is to look after the children and take care of the housework. And him as my husband, he has to work to support the family.”
Despite legislative advances to promote and protect women's rights, thousands of women still live under the influence of these traditional practices. Article 14 of the country’s constitution stipulates that: "…the public authorities ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women", yet, as Agnès Sadiki of the Nothing Without Women Movement points out, it is important to mobilize community members to understand that women's participation in decision-making bodies is not a favour, but a right. Backward customs should not block the political participation of women. "When the woman reaches the position of decision-making, she becomes a model for current and future generations".
Several women's organizations across the country are increasingly mobilizing to combat these retrograde customs - and demand respect for the laws of the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of women's participation in decision-making bodies.