Poverty levels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are incredibly high, and women tend to suffer deeper economic violence and injustices. Limited access to education, reproductive and care responsibilities, gender-based violence, unequal laws and the lack of representation of women in decision-making contribute to gender-based poverty in the DRC.
Women’s Limited Access to Education
Limited access to education and economic opportunities poses significant challenges for girls in the DRC. Although girls’ enrolment in school has increased from 50% to 78% between 2000 and 2017, women still face challenges to higher education and economic access. The main reason for Congolese girls’ struggle to pursue an education is social norms and expectations — marriage and motherhood.
Addressing this issue is crucial to guarantee girls’ access to education and therefore reduce gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, providing Congolese women with the opportunity and means to obtain an education increases their chances of obtaining better-paying jobs and allowing women to participate more fully in the political sphere.
Increasing women’s access to education requires advocacy, improving school infrastructure, providing financial support and combating gender-based discrimination and violence. For instance, the United Kingdom’s new Women and Girls Strategy helps 36,000 girls in the DRC access education in the Kauai province.
Empowering girls will contribute to social and economic development, fostering a more equitable and prosperous society in the DRC.
Reproductive and Care Responsibilities
Reproductive and care responsibilities burden Congolese women, hindering their economic empowerment. Women’s value in Congolese society is often reduced to the roles of wife and mother. According to the 2017–18 MICS, nearly 30% of women are married under the age of 18 years old.
This phenomenon deeply impacts women’s economic agency and thus gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, women’s caregiving roles limit educational and workforce opportunities.
Actively fighting gender stereotypes and expectations could not only allow women to pursue education but also encourage the equitable sharing of caregiving responsibilities in marriage and provide comprehensive support to women in managing their work and family commitments.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is prevalent in the DRC, particularly in conflict-affected regions, impacting women’s physical and mental well-being, as well as partially causing gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, one in two women in the DRC report having experienced physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lives.
Firstly, fear of violence discourages girls’ education and limits economic opportunities. In fact, girls face increased risks of violence, sexual exploitation and harassment by teachers and harmed forces in school settings.
Secondly, the economic consequences of gender-based violence are closely linked with harmful conceptions of gender roles. Because the value of women is based on their capacity to marry and bear children, people often view survivors of sexual abuse as “unfit” for such roles, and their socioeconomic status suffers as a result.
In order to fully address gender-based violence in the DRC, national and international institutions need to implement legal reforms, provide secure learning environments and encourage community engagement to combat harmful norms.
Unequal Laws and Discriminatory Practices Towards Women
Unequal laws and discriminatory practices reinforce gender-based poverty in the DRC. Inheritance laws favor male heirs, denying women their rightful property share. Limited access to land ownership and financial services further hampers economic opportunities. Despite their critical role in agriculture, rural development and food security, women own just 25% of land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In response to unequal laws and discriminatory practices towards women in the DRC, a range of active solutions have emerged. Advocacy for legal reforms is driving the transformation of discriminatory legislation, ensuring women’s equal rights to property ownership and inheritance.
The Lack of Representation in Decision-Making
The lack of representation of women in decision-making perpetuates gender-based poverty in the DRC. Women’s voices are often overlooked in political and community leadership, hindering gender-sensitive policy development. Despite the fact that articles 5, 14 and 15 of the DRC constitution provide a legal foundation for equality and equity policies, women currently hold only 7.2% of positions at the highest level of decision-making at the national level in the parliament and administration.
Promoting gender equality is a critical objective in the DRC to increase women’s participation in decision-making processes. Gender equality creates a way for women to participate in decision-making arenas by removing deeply ingrained gender inequities and discriminatory standards.
Trócaire and partners — with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) — have implemented programs to enhance Congolese women’s participation in decision-making processes in more than 27 communities. Following this program encouraging gender equality, 65% of women now participate in and are represented in decision-making organizations in the communities concerned by the project.
Despite progress, significant challenges persist in ensuring women’s economic empowerment, requiring sustained dedication to create lasting change and put an end to gender-based poverty in the DRC. Addressing gender-based poverty in the DRC demands comprehensive solutions: education access, ending discrimination, combating violence, elevating voices and fostering an equitable future.
– Hannah Klifa