From the 28-30 March 2011, INIREC held a workshop focussing on the issue of women’s leadership and elections. The workshop was organised for and by women, and took place in light of the upcoming elections in DRC this year. There are fears that these elections could see the further marginalisation of women in Congolese politics. As a result the objective of the workshop was to enhance women’s participation in the election, both as voters and candidates.
During the workshop, results of the 2006 elections were used to illustrate the scope of the problems women are facing in politics. Even though more than half of the voters in 2006 were women, they still remain chronically under-represented in Congolese political institutions because of cultural, legal, economic and social constraints. There was a lack of female candidates for the 2006 elections, with the number of women holding political posts declining even further since then. In addition it was highlighted in the workshop how DRC’s legal framework supports such discrimination. Article 14 of the national constitution states that women are entitled to equitable representation in national provincial and local institutions, with the government responsible for implementing such parity. This however contradicts Article 13, which states that the admissibility of a political party’s list of candidates cannot be questioned on the grounds of a lack of gender parity.
In light of these circumstances, the participants expected the workshop to firstly increase their knowledge about the election process, and secondly enable them to pass on this knowledge on to others in order to effectively promote women leadership.
As well as looking at the political level factors that led to discrimination, workshop participants also examined how behaviour at an individual level has an impact. For instance women facing violence often remain silent rather than report incidents. Children are raised based on existing perceptions of inequality, passing on a culture of discrimination and violence, which is in turn further strengthened by local customs and religious beliefs. This is further illustrated by the workshop participants’ depiction of violence against women across all areas of life, from the physical, psychological, and the economic, resulting in severe consequences such as illness, psychological disorder, trauma, isolation and even death.
Throughout the workshop, a number of concrete strategies were developed, aimed to overcome the marginalisation of women and ensure that women will participate as voters and candidates in the upcoming elections. It was agreed that future actions would aim at strengthening women’s capacities on the one hand, while raising awareness and addressing the authorities and government on the other. The former will be achieved through workshops, trainings and discussions, while the latter will be done through media campaigns, lobbying, and demonstrations.
The workshop’s positive atmosphere finally led to the formation of the “Comité d’actions pour la participation de la femme aux elections”, in order to implement these strategies in cooperation with INIREC.