Located in Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced several decades of war, rebellions and civil strife between communities. While peace has been established throughout the majority of the country, the eastern provinces of the DRC remain areas in which gender-based violence frequently occurs. Recent nationwide surveys have indicated that 57 percent of Congolese women have suffered extreme physical or sexual violence, including rape. The issue continues to be exacerbated by a culture of impunity and gender-based violence; highlighting the need for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The issue of gender-based violence continues to be perpetuated through several key factors:
- Women care for an average of four children
- The average daily income of a woman in the DRC is $0.74
- 57 percent of women have no formal education
- Congolese culture perpetuates harmful gender discrimination
These factors place women at heightened risk for gender-based violence and exploitation as a result of their socioeconomic position and cultural norms.
What is being done to help
Women for Women International is an organization that works in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to empower women through a yearlong program. Since 2004, the organization has served 91,000 women ranging in ages 31-40. Throughout the course of the program, Congolese women are taught skills in a wide range of fields including agribusiness, basket-making, restaurant and catering and small business. By teaching women these skills, Women for Women International saw an increase from $0.74 to $1.22 in the average daily earnings of women. While this is a small improvement, the organization is actively trying to improve the livelihood of the Congolese women they serve through skill building, education of their rights as women and advocacy.
The organization also attempts to engage Congolese men as part of the widespread social change that is occurring across the country. The team that works in the DRC has developed a program for men by providing them with knowledge about health, and social and economic issues that can negatively affect women. To date, they have had close to 10,000 men participate.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) understands the need for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UNFPA helps to aid survivors of sexual violence by providing them with medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and legal assistance. They also have trained thousands of armed forces on how to protect and care for survivors. Since the UNFPA arrived in the DRC, over 15,000 sexual violence survivors have received basic medical care.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also did a tremendous amount of work in 2014 and 2015 to encourage women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They provided medical treatment, psychosocial support and life skills training to over 9,000 survivors of sexual violence. They also provided economic programming to improve economic capabilities for close to 16,000 women.
The work of these organizations and agencies have had profound implications for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their efforts have helped to shift cultural norms and provide women with the necessary skills and services to overcome the violence they have experienced.
– Sarah Jane Fraser