Explaining Sexual Violence and Gender Inequalities in the DRC


Freedman, Jane. 2011. “Explaining Sexual Violence and Gender Inequalities in the DRC.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 23 (2): 170-175.

Author: Jane Freedman


Recent reports of mass rape and sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are just the latest in an ongoing tale of gender-based violence that has characterized some of the conflicts to which the country has been subjected. But beyond these conflicts, this violence has also expanded to become a "normalized" part of everyday life. Despite existing legislation and policies on gender equality and women's rights, it seems that this equality is still very far from reality, and women still face serious obstacles to enjoying their rights in the post-conflict DRC. This essay argues that the sexual and gender-based violence that is so talked about as part of the conflicts in the DRC is just one part of a continuum of social structures within the country that perpetuate gender inequalities and forms of domination. Despite interventions from international organizations and international and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) aiming to advance women's rights and gender equality, it seems that there is still a long way to go in this domain.

Keywords: sexual violence, conflict, gender inequality



"Sexual violence should not, however, be interpreted merely as a 'side-effect' of this conflict that will disappear when peace returns." (170)

"The normalized attitudes to sexual violence were reported in research carried out with soldiers from the Congolese Army who made a distinction between 'lust' (or 'normal' rape), understood as a product of 'normal' male desire, and 'evil' rape, which was accompanied by a particularly high and thus unjustified level of violence. This type of typology demonstrates the extent to which sexual and gender-based violence have become a banalized part of social relations within the DRC." (171)

"One of the problems that can be identified in programs aimed at preventing sexual and gender-based violence is the fact that they sometimes fail to place this violence within a wider social context. In focusing on help for victims, they do not address the more fundamental causes rooted in traditional gender roles and representations, and the low social, political, and economic status of women in Congolese society. One interviewee working for an international NGO explained, for example, that her organization worked only in the east of the DRC as this was the only region where there was conflict-related sexual violence. She made a clear distinction between this conflict-related violence and other types of sexual and gender-based violence occurring in the DRC, a distinction that is common amongst international organizations and NGOs working in the country, but which ignores the continuum of violence existing within the country, and thus the fundamental social structures underlying this continuum." (171)

"Although the 2006 Constitution calls for gender parity in elected institutions, this was not adhered to in the constitution of lists of candidates for the elections of the same year. According to women who participated in the debates over this issue, male party members rejected any idea of gender parity or women's quotas and accused any women who supported these ideas of lacking loyalty to the party cause. Following the 2005 elections, only 42 (or 8.4 percent) of the 500 deputies elected to the National Assembly were women. For the Senate, the figures were even lower, with only five women (4.6 percent) elected out of the 108 Senators in total. Women are also under-represented in provincial assemblies, making up just 43 debuties, or6.8 percent of the total. This under-representation of women in elected bodies is symptomatic of a society in which gender equality is far from a reality." (172)

"The costs of bringing a case to court remain high. Women must pay to file a complaint and then for a medical certificate and legal assistance. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that so few cases actually come before the courts. Recognizing the need for action in this area, the DRC government adopted a National Strategy on Combating Gender-Based Violence, together with a detailed Action Plan on the implementation of this Strategy in 2009. It is still early to judge the impacts that this Strategy and Action Plan will have, but as with the 2006 laws on sexual violence, it seems that the obstacles to implementation remain real, and that the Strategy and Plan will not really be effective unless more widespread efforts to increase gender equality are made." (173)

"In addition, a very high proportion of resources for intervention are targeted at the eastern provinces of the DRC where there is ongoing conflict. This concentration of resources means that there is little time or money spent on dealing with questions of violence in the other parts of the country." (174)

"In a country where only 1.8 percent of women have access to reproductive health services, it is not surprising that humanitarian programs providing medical services to victims of sexual violence should be approached by many women who are not themselves victims, but who are desperately in need of medical attention. Thus, a perverse incentive is created for women to name themselves as victims in order to access the medical services that they require. This type of difficulty reflects a more general problem of trying to treat the 'symptoms' of sexual violence without addressing the fundamental underlying causes that are situated not only in the conflict in the DRC, but also in the persistent gendered inequalities." (174)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Humanitarian Assistance, Context-Appropriate Response to Trauma, International Organizations, NGOs, Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Violence Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2011

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