COFAPRI-women2COFAPRI co-founder, Bahati, with group members

Women of DR Congo Speak Out

Women speak out on their status in DR Congo society

The status of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is mostly traditional. 

This means that women in the DRC are traditionally seen as second-class citizens.

The Family Code

In Congolese society, there exists an old set of rules called the Family Code that subordinates women by requiring them to obey and submit totally to the husband. The reason for this is that man remains the only legally-recognised head of the household.

While the Family Code has been abolished and replaced by equalising reformed family codes, this tradition remains deeply rooted in the minds of the Congolese men, and the status of women remains subordinate to men.

The old code dictates that a woman must live wherever her husband chooses to live and work, whenever possible.

But in most cases, Congolese women are not allowed to seek jobs; this remains mostly the man’s right. The code also requires the woman to seek her husband’s authority to bring a case to court, which seems nonsense in my view.

Furthermore, the management of wealth is to be entrusted to the husband. This simply means that a woman in the DRC society does not participate to decision making in the family and the society, broadly.

Most decisions are made by men, whether they be right or wrong. 

This shows clearly how women have been relegated to a lower status in society.

A virgin-whore dichotomy

This, in fact, does not necessarily imply lesser importance. It could instead be an attempt to protect women because of their reproductive importance to the community.

A virgin-whore dichotomy is created, such that society holds virgins in the highest regard and tries to protect them. If a woman is defiled, she is seen as a whore and worthless.

Men in this society believe that such a woman brings shame to her husband, her original family, and the whole society, which makes her be repudiated from her husband’s family.

Here, the reason and context of being defiled should be taken into account because in my opinion, no woman would like to be defiled or raped.

This simply happens against the woman’s will, though men consider it as an abomination.

The other issue is that due to their social lower status, women are not allowed to influence their husbands in matters of sex.

It is said that it is man who should trigger the issue. If not, the woman will be considered as a prostitute, another reason which may open to repudiation.

Fear and reluctance leads to HIV/AIDS, STD

All these facts show that DRC women are very reluctant and fear to ask their husbands to use condoms to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD)during sexual intercourse.

The reason for this is that they fear that the husband may ask them from where they got the idea of using condoms or even who taught them that condoms are useful during sexual relations.

This fear, for sure, is one of the good reasons that AIDS in the DRC.

Besides, these men will not hesitate to accuse the woman being responsible for bringing AIDS in case it appears in the home.

The other issue is that when these men are infected with AIDS, they do not accept they brought it;  if they do not blame their wives for it, then they say they have been bewitched –  which makes them not seek medical assistance, but rather spend all their little money seeking witch doctors.

The latter will also blame the wife as the DRC is a strongly paternalistic society in which once the man has spoken, no woman can oppose his opinion.

This attitude can’t really move people toward development because in order to develop all people, men, women and children must be involved in decision-making and activities that promote human welfare.

By discarding some categories of people, development becomes hindered, and this is may cause conflicts among the people of the same family or community. Hindering the rights some categories of people is never constructive, but this is discrimination and rights impediment.

'Women must produce as many children as they can'

In the DRC, women must produce as many children as they can.

This is often the case in those DRC remote villages where the majority of both women and men are not educated.

As women in these areas are not allowed to seek jobs, therefore they stay home all their life.

The consequence of this is that when the husband comes from where he has been zooming off, he jumps on the wife for sex and because women cannot say no to it – and most of the time they get, sometimes unwanted pregnancies.

In some contexts, you find that the children’s age difference is too reduced that, for instance the older child is one year old and the next is three or even four months [apart in age].  This is explained by the fact that births limitations are never considered in this the bigger part of this society.

Men believe having many children is power and even wealth. This is what they say:  ‘if you have one, two, or even three children, you did not produce’.

In rural areas, as well as in towns, the main hidden reason for men to make their wives produce many children is that they know that this is a strong factor that makes women stay at home eternally and so, remain depend on the husband.

This also is a way of limiting the woman’s options for independence from her husband.

Such an inequality extends to all facets of daily life, including the opportunities for girls to get an education because educating boys is considered more important – and thus, a higher percentage of boys attend school than girls in the DRC.

This is one of the reasons why the majority of the people who work in the DRC are men, because girls –  when they grow up, did not attend school, and therefore cannot seek jobs.

View of women as second-class citizens must change

Today, the situation is changing particularly in towns where men are now understanding that girls must go to school, although the  majority of girls here again do not reach the end; they stop half way and get married.

This enduring cultural norm takes the form of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and is specifically used to destroy the society psychosocially by targeting its most protectedmembers:  women and girls.

The DRC women's status should be changed in order to reach their total development, which is also the development of the whole society.

Lagging women behind men – or, considering them as second class people, will never develop the society.

Views and beliefs must change.

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