Saving-women--childrenPhoto: COFAPRI

Women Are Key to Development

By Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, Founder/Executive Director, COFAPRI

COFAPRI is always convinced that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will never fully develop if both sexes are not working hand-in-hand in every sector.

COFAPRI-members-4Some of the members of COFAPRIThis infers that gender parity is an essential factor for the total development of the DRC; COFAPRI tries to respect this in everything we do. The DRC remains a large community in which women represent the bigger part; it is made of women and men, boys, and girls, youth and the elderly. These categories of individuals need development, which will make them well-situated in their community.

People have a share in their development but they need national objectives through which they must work. In fact, strong development requires the promotion of gender equality in every sector of life. However, in the DRC, the story is thanked thumbs down and COFAPRI deplores this situation as the DRC plunges into a quagmire that is endangering not only women, but the whole nation – men, children, and the environment inclusive.

Is this due to people’s will?

The answer is certainly negative.

Responsibility is put on the government; it should make a lot of progress regarding gender development on various fronts and gender equality throughout the country. In this way, COFAPRI is fighting this by attempting to involve women and men in its different activities at the grassroots level. It teaches through workshops on equal rights based on issues such as rights to education, possession of assets, heritage, and marriage.

What COFAPRI expects from this is that we see DRC remote villages’ women and girls –  together with men and boys, having plain guarantees for equality of the people in the country and rooting out discrimination between men and women in their respective areas.

The DRC finds itself today with fewer females than males in different sectors of life: in education, medical, political, religious and business sectors, which is a strong indicator of underdevelopment. Women are still lagging behind men in every sector of life, but COFAPRI believes this situation can be improved provided that there is a strong political will of promoting gender at all levels.

In the view of COFAPRI and based on its objectives, gender refers to a reference people make regarding social identity of men and women.

If gender is not really promoted, this has a strong negative impact on the individual and the whole community. In fact, not promoting gender hinders development, but its support leads to sustainable development. The current situation in the DRC is that gender is used to exclude women and girls in some sectors of life; both men and women do not work hand-in-hand for development. Men are more privileged compared to women, the same for boys and girls. This builds on social cultures and beliefs that stress the gap between both sexes.

History Shows a Patriarchal Society

DRC-women-toilingDRC rural women at work. Photo: COFAPRIReading through the history of the DRC society, we find that society is highly patriarchal like many others in the region.

This infers that society is distinguished by dissimilar social power relations between males and females and this is seen from the highest institution in the country up to the lowest one that is the family.

In fact, men and boys dominate women and girls, as the latter are considered as subordinates to the former. Such unbalance often culminates into the horrible story of rapes over women that we are experiencing today with the brunt it causes to women and girls.

A very few women courageously engage in tasks of men, but in fact, assuming tasks for which females are not socially made makes men think that such women are challenging men. This is not true since joint work makes work go faster and it takes a short time and besides, this shows unity – which in the long run, propels development.

A community in which only a category of individuals commit to work meets problems of sustainable development. This is the case of the DRC communities; this opposes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that the DRC also ratified. It translated the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action into action and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


The National Consitution: No Observance

Despite the above conventions and the declaration, national instruments and mechanisms to promote gender balance have failed to be put in place in order to successfully address gender inequalities.

In the DRC, gender dissimilarities are not contested by different national institutions such as the national constitution. The DRC constitution contains clauses that protect women in the family and the society in general, but this has never been observed.

This is what makes women and girls become marginalized.

In the context of gender balance, the national constitution does not give any quota to women in the different institutions that exist in the country, mostly in instances of making decisions. The outcome of this is that very few or no women and girls are being either elected or nominated in different instances of decision-making throughout the country.

All in all, the constitution does not strengthen the values of gender balance, although it has the full right and power to address discrimination against females.

Simply, there is no will to do so.


Cinq Chantiers: Five Key Sectors

The other tool that COFAPRI believes can reduce gender discrepancy in the DRC is the famous Cinq Chantiers, or ‘the five key sectors for DRC development.

These sectors include education, infrastructures, health, economy, and social security. In fact, this is a long-lasting framework of development, but unfortunately, it does not involve every Congolese, male and female, in order to expose what Congolese aspire to for their development.

This should focus on different aspects for development, but in what concerns gender, it should allow women and men work hand-in-hand for better development. By covering the gap between women and men, it would have encouraged them to sit and decide together because two heads are better than one.

COFAPRI believes that gender imbalance must also be addressed in economic development, in the context of reducing DRC women’s acute poverty  –  particularly in remote villages.

Focusing on this sector is a good a strategy in case it is conceived in order to interpret better the promotion of women and girls in the whole country via concrete actions of development.

Gender is also an issue of paramount importance here – if it were given an important place in the country’s development. By valuing gender issues in development, it would imply that all levels of management and the different institutions in the country support equity of voice and participation in building the country in every aspect. This means that the government, for instance, would underscore equity of voice as a national possibility of promoting women and men in different ways for sustainable development.

Giving Women a National Voice

In order to make this effective, the DRC should set up a kind of gender policy at the national level, which would be the tool for gender promotion. This would be in the context of giving women a national voice, a way of empowering and pushing them into development actions.

Empowering women is a window for true democracy because this makes them contribute equally to social and economic development, and facilitating the same opportunities for women and men, boys and girls in every aspect of life. This is a way of telling women and men that they have to unite for their and the country’s interests for their own development –  and a better future as a legacy to the future generation.

Understanding gender remains a fundamental need in Congolese daily life, because it has to reach far and deep all the layers of the Congolese society. Based on this, COFAPRI does not reject the biological difference between males and women; in other words, the foundation of gender roles creates a neat difference between men and women as this is noticed since conception. In fact, males and females differ based on their chromosomes and hormones, which creates a clear, physical difference between men and women.


Combating Social Gender Inequalities

COFAPRI promotes a society built on gender equality.

Currently, there exists social polarities and ranks between males and females. Indeed, by stratifying gender, people become classified by their respective ranks based on sexes. 

This makes women lag behind men regarding, education, power, resources, prestige and alleged worth. DRC social realities show that the full range of human and social possibilities are denied to both women and men in some contexts, but village women are particularly the most vulnerable. Gender creates social inequalities among individuals, which generates negative effects.

The existence of many organisations such as The Safeworld International Foundation and COFAPRI, that are giving more value to gender by combating social gender inequalities, is giving hope to women and girls all over the world.

In fact, part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) wants every country to combat gender inequalities.

Motivating Women & Girls in Education

Predominantly, the United Nations (2006) aims at eliminating gender discrepancy at primary and secondary education at all levels by 2015.

Apparently, this situation remains a key concern of policymakers and the DRC should not be exceptional for equity and development reasons.

In developing countries such as the DRC, women’s education is too low and this impacts negatively on the economy. Because gender disparity in education can boost slower growth in the country, thus the different associations operating in the country, international, national, and local should motivate women and girls in education.

This is still a big challenge for the DRC as women and girls are less represented at all levels of education.  Girls are still much less likely than boys to attend school – much less complete basic education, and become literate adults.

Social Status of Women Remains Low

The chance of women dying during childbirth in many of these countries is still very alarming. The social status of women and girls continues to be inferior to those of men and boys. Son preference in some societies in the DRC results in a sex ratio at birth that favors males.

For the few very women who work, their income continues to be lower throughout the whole country, in cities and in villages. Besides, the representation of women in politics and in senior managerial positions in businesses remains far lower than men in the DRC. 

In almost every province of the country, women and girls are more limited in their ability to move about and are more likely to be the victims of gender-based violence at home.

Accordingly, there are women members of COFAPRI, ages 15 to 49, who have experienced violence by their husbands in the home.

Education is a Fundamental Right

This said, in order for the DRC to develop, women must be totally valued; they make the majority of the population and so they represent an untapped source of human capital.

Thus, by adopting aggressive policies toward women and infringing their rights in every sector of life, the result is that women are discarded from educational field and so are  expected to reap lower social and economic benefits.

COFAPRI is fighting hard to promote women and girls’ education. We do this because we are sure no greater investment can be achieved in a country like the DRC where women and girls are refused the right to study.

In other words, girls and women’s education is key to strong national investment as this is a fundamental for growing female contribution and production in the labor market.

This is often seen in the domain of non-agricultural salaried jobs. In this context, we are certain that if women are involved in the national productivity, the outcome is that the economic growth must admirably increase, which will contribute to scaling down poverty in a positive way.

No matter if women and girls are conducting their own businesses, working for themselves or are employed in public services. No matter which, what’s important is that they contribute remarkably to reducing poverty in their homes. When women and girls are educated, this does not only advantage them themselves, but mostly they will also have made a constructive path for the next generation.

Again, COFAPRI strongly supports that allowing women and girls to attend school is not a favour that is given to them, but their right, a fundamental right that every human being should benefit from.

In this way, education will have opened them the window to jobs, technology, and a word in their homes and in society, as well as access to land, credit, and many others. 

Moreover, education is a passport for women to have a hand and a word on household financial and other assets, which can allow women to inject more of it to family members for food, children’s health care –  and even their schooling, which could not be possible with most men. 

Hindering women and girls from acceding to education therefore reduces their community –  and why not the whole country, entirely.


Medical Care: An Imbalance

In the DRC, most women are given little care regarding their medical care.

And this is true if the case is compared to that of men.

Such unbalance causes too many women lose their lives in the country, and particularly in remote villages. This should not exist if women were valued like men; indeed, there are some cases of deaths that could be preventable, but since women are considered as second class people, nobody takes care of it.

In the DRC, this is lived every day since most medical doctors are not paid satisfactorily.

The rule has become that if you bring a patient to a given hospital, you have to deposit a given amount in order for the patient to be consulted, and if you do not, the patient will stay there until you deposit that amount. If you totally fail to give the amount, you’ll simply see your patient not treated and you have to return home –  but you must pay the bed of the hospital.

This applies to both men and women. If the patient who was brought was a pregnant woman in a dangerous situation, can’t she die with her pregnancy – though this could be prevented?

The DRC still has to do a lot in order to give more attention to women.

Another case is that of the women and girls who were raped during the DRC cyclic wars. There is no public hospital in the whole country that seriously deals with these victims; all of them are taken by private hospitals.

This is another point that shows that women are neglected. 


Women Must be Involved in Community Development

The majority of the world population is made of women; they make of 51 percent of it, and the case is the same in the DRC. Moreover, it is these women who give birth to that population.

Thus, it is easy to notice how deeply healthcare policies might affect human beings. In fact, deaths that can be avoided smack a majority of women compared to men. Based on World Health Organization (2004) data, “Deaths under age 75 from certain surgical procedures and pregnancy-related deaths,bacterial infections, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart diseases that are preventable deaths, though they account for 32 percent of deaths for women and only 23 percent of deaths for men”.

In addition to these, there could also mention of women’s deaths caused by wars such as rape and HIV/AIDS infections, mutilation, or simply shooting women by guns.

All in all, believe it or not, gender is an imperative aspect for sustainable and global development of any community. May it be an individual in his household, the household itself, community, society or the nation, all of them need gender balance for harmonious life via development.

In order for a community to develop, people must sit and discuss issues they consider salient to them. “People” means anyone mature who can suggest a constructive opinion, so women should not be excluded in issues regarding their community development.

Putting them aside will not always achieve sustainable development.

No case is ever perfect, but most countries that hinder gender development are called underdeveloped; however, those that try to apply it fairly help their populations to develop. This infers that gender can apply to the different levels and sectors of life and so it can shape positively or negatively the individual in his community.