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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the situation of women's rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women 

9 July 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today reviewed the eighth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, introducing the report, said that the National Assembly was led by a woman, but women made up only 16 per cent of the Senate, and none of the 26 provincial governors or the nine Constitutional Court judges were women.  The National Assembly had adopted three standing commissions: the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender and Children, and the Commission on the Follow-up and Assessment of the National Assembly’s Recommendations.  The second generation action plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was in place, the Minister said, and noted that its operational plan disposed of a budget of $26 million.  The law on public health had been enacted in March 2019; it was based on the principle of health for all and considered sexual and reproductive health care as the most effective way to reduce infant and maternal mortality.  The strategic multi-sectoral action plan for family planning had been put in place and more than 3,000 women had benefitted from reconstructive surgery for obstetric fistula.   

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts remarked that over the past decades, Congolese women had suffered a lot.  The prevalence of gender-based violence remained unacceptable, women were disproportionately affected by poverty, and maternal mortality rates were the seventeenth highest in the world.  Sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread, while the impunity of perpetrators prevailed, not only in conflict-affected areas.  The Experts stressed the critical importance of strengthening women’s participation in the peace process and urged the adoption of a law on women human rights defenders.  More than half of the women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered from violence, and 53 per cent suffered from domestic violence and marital rape, which were not criminalized.  Commending the 2014 law on education which aimed to create access to education for all and eradicate illiteracy, the Experts were concerned that more than three million school-aged children were not in school and girls continued to suffer sexual violence and rape, including by teachers.  Families were the ones who paid teachers’ salaries, the building and maintenance of schools, and school materials, which meant that education was not free of charge.

Chantal Safou Lopussa, Minister for Gender, Family and the Child of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in her concluding remarks, reiterated the commitment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to being in line with all texts it had ratified, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in particular.   

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, commended the Democratic Republic of the Congo for its efforts and urged it to pay particular attention to concluding observations identified for immediate follow up.

The delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Human Rights, Ministry for Gender, Family and the Child, National Assembly, Inter-ministerial Committee for Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the end of its seventy-third session on 19 July.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 10 July at 10 a.m. to consider the ninth periodic report of Austria (CEDAW/C/AUT/9).

Report

The Committee has before it the eighth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CEDAW/C/COD/8).

Presentation of the Report

MARIE-ANGE MUSHOBEKWA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, introducing the report, underlined the efforts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to give effect to the specific rights of women and girls enshrined in the Convention.  The National Assembly was led by a woman and two women were part of the lower chamber of Parliament, but women only made up 10 per cent of those elected during the last election in December 2018.  Women made up only 16 per cent of the Senate and there were two female vice-governors, but none of the 26 provincial governors or the nine Constitutional Court judges were women.  Women’s representation in the senior administrative bodies was quite low and the 30 per cent representation of women, as recommended by various international and African bodies, had not yet been achieved.  Following the submission of the report in 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had continued to make great strides in strengthening the rights of women and girls, said the Minister.  The National Assembly had adopted three standing commissions, namely the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender and Children, and the Commission on the Follow-up and Assessment of the National Assembly’s Recommendations. 

Turning to the situation of women in armed conflict, the Minister noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had in place the second generation action plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, whose operational plan disposed of a budget of $26 million.  A framework agreement for peace adopted by the African Union had been submitted to the Congolese authorities to encourage them to promote the integration of gender dimensions in new institutions.  The Congolese Government, in collaboration with women’s organizations, was actively involved in peace building activities, especially in raising awareness and in solving community conflicts.  In March 2019, the law on public health had been passed, based on the principle of health for all.  The law considered sexual and reproductive health care as the most effective way to reduce infant and maternal mortality, and had introduced free and compulsory vaccination for all those residing in the national territory.  The strategic multi-sectoral action plan for family planning had been put in place and it was accompanied by the setting up of technical and multi-sectoral committees at the provincial and national levels.  More than 3,000 women had benefitted from reconstructive surgery for obstetric fistula.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Programme continued to sensitize communities on the use of agro-meteorological data and the installation of rain gauges in 100 villages in four areas of intervention in provinces of Haut-Katanga, Kongo Central, Lomami, and Kwilu.  In Kinshasa and in North Kivu province, women’s organizations were involved in manufacturing improved stoves to ensure the preservation of the forest.

Questions by Committee Experts

Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had suffered a lot over the past several decades, Committee Experts said, highlighting as the priority ensuring their participation in peace processes and the elimination of the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.  The Committee welcomed the adoption of the second action plan 2018-2022 on women, peace and security that covered the entire territory, and asked the delegation to inform on the activates therein contained, resources available for its implementation, and the strategies adopted to strengthen the participation of women in peace processes.  This aspect was particularly important given the country’s acceptance of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations to increase women’s participation in peace processes and institutions to 40 per cent.

The Committee was very concerned about the prevailing impunity for sexual violence and lack of compensation for victims, and about the proliferation of small arms, especially given the lack of a law on this matter.  Women remained primary targets of violence and the illicit trade in weapons, the Experts said, and asked about the definition of small arms and weapons of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given the political and economic situation in the country, which had prevented the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, what plans had been put in place to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, and what technical and financial resources had been allocated for the purpose?  Was there an overall national strategy for the implementation of the goals that incorporated women’s rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women?

The Committee welcomed the new political phase in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but remained concerned about the fragile political situation as well as the precarious security and health situation.  The delegation was asked whether the Committee’s recommendations would be presented to the National Assembly and widely disseminated, about the status of the Optional Protocol in the national legislation, and about measures in place to ensure that the new legislative agenda paid due attention to the rights of women.

Welcoming the setting up of the national human rights commission, the Experts asked about its mandate, independence, and resources available to it, and they urged the adoption of a law on human rights defenders, which could represent a new force in the new political phase in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Did the legislation contain an adequate definition of direct and indirect discrimination?  What was the status of customary law in relation to civil law and what resources were being made available to courts to ensure access to justice throughout the country?  What policy would be put in place to preserve the existence and culture of indigenous peoples whilst fully defending their fundamental human rights?  What was being done to protect the rights of sexual minorities? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the operational plan for the implementation of the national action plan on resolution 1325 on women, peace and security 2018-2022 had a budget of $26 million, which would enable its implementation throughout the country.  To date, 10 provincial 1325 Committees for the implementation of this plan had been set up.  An action plan for the effective participation of women would be put in place.  The Government never wanted to act behind closed doors and always involved civil society, including women’s associations.  Civil society was an important stakeholder in the 1325 national secretariat.

On the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the delegation said that the country was building on what had been done so far, and was partnering with national and international partners.  In addition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had made primary school obligatory and free of charge, which would increase the number of girls in schools.  Educated girls and women were an essential part of development of the society.  Women continued to have many children, since it was seen as a sign of wealth, but in urban areas women, especially employed women, were deciding to have fewer children.

At this stage, the delegation could not say whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.  There were genuine concerns about the resources and funding for the national human rights commission, said a delegate, adding that advocacy was ongoing for its adequate funding and for its expansions to the provinces.

On sexual minorities, many efforts had been made to protect all minorities, in particular Pygmies and ethnic minorities, said the delegation.  Same sex sexual conduct was not prohibited; it was practiced in private and was seen as a private affair of individuals.  Homosexual marriage was not legal and would not be made legal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because it was not acceptable from a cultural and religious point of view.

Some Pygmy and other indigenous peoples’ communities had been displaced by mining companies, which were all under obligation to construct schools and dispensaries in the new settlements.  A law for the protection of indigenous peoples was awaiting approval in the National Assembly.

The Government had accepted the Universal Periodic Review recommendation to set up a fund for victims of sexual violence but was unable to fully implement it because of the lack of financial resources.  The national budget was inadequate to meet the needs of 80 million people, in particular health and education priorities, and the seriousness of the situation was compounded by the continued precarious security situation.  There was the will and desire, but resources were inadequate.  Sexual violence was ongoing in conflict-affected areas where it had become deeply rooted in the society; it would therefore take a long time for the people to understand that rape could not be used as a weapon of war, said the delegation.    

Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts commended legislative amendments and measures that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had taken to give better effect to the Constitution and the Convention.  However, the prevalence of gender-based violence remained unacceptable, women were disproportionately affected by poverty, and the country had the seventeenth highest maternal mortality rates globally.  How did all the efforts and measures that the country had undertaken translate into tangible gains for gender equality, they asked, and requested information about the institutions, systems, and funding for the national gender machinery which was critical for achieving gender equality.  What had been the impact of measures to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice and how were they linked with the national gender machinery?

Another Expert took positive note of the legal framework aiming to ensure equal access to public posts, especially the law on gender parity, and recalled that temporary special measures aimed to accelerate the achievement of substantive gender equality.  They were not considered discriminatory as they aimed to correct inequality.  Given that women remained underrepresented in all public and political spheres, and that genuine gender equality was not there, what measures had been adopted to guarantee the representation of women, particularly indigenous women, in higher-level posts and in decision-making structures?  In 2014, the Constitutional Court had ruled that quotas were unconstitutional – what measures had been taken since then to put in place measures compatible with the legal framework to promote the situation of women?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that notwithstanding the commitment to gender parity, there was only enough money to pay the personnel in the bodies making up the national gender machinery.  A fund had been created to provide microcredit to women in Kinshasa to enable them to organize activities.  There was a great deal of political will and a raft of strategies had been put in place to eradicate gender-based violence, including rape.  “Rapists will now think twice when they see what happened to others,” said the delegation.

The Ministry of Children and the Family worked with civil society organizations, with gender cell units, and with gender units in ministries, to convey the information about gender equality.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had ratified the Maputo Protocol (the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa,) and was currently working on increasing awareness about this instrument.  It enabled the country to adopt measures vis-à-vis rape and abortion, the delegate said. 

Speaking about maternal mortality, the delegation said that many pregnant women did not know that it was necessary to go to pre-natal appointments, while for others, the cost was prohibitive.  Also, women did not have easy access to hospitals, and often, the health staff was not qualified.  A proposal had been made to the Council of Minister to make maternity and prenatal care free of charge.

Courts in provinces did not have sufficient resources and there were very few judges.  This issue was one of the priorities for the Government.  Peace courts were present in all provinces, but custom could not come before civil law, stressed the delegation – law came before custom, and custom never took primacy over positive law.  Of the nine Constitutional Court judges, none was a woman even if there were enough qualified women, therefore it was important to continue the fight for gender equality.

The previous President had instituted his personal representative to combat violence against women and the recruitment of children; the new President had continued along the same path and had instituted a special adviser on those issues.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had done major work and had been removed from the United Nations’ list regarding child recruitment.  Sanctions had been meted out to those who recruited children into armed forces and any person who recruited children would be severely punished as provided for by the law.  This crime was punishable under international criminal law, and the International Criminal Court had already handed down sentences to Thomas Lubanga and most recently to Bosco Ntaganda.

Indeed, the Constitutional Court had ruled in 2014 that quotas were unconstitutional, the delegation said, and explained that the country had been learning from experiences of other countries on ways and methods used to promote women’s participation and representation.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the incoming president of the National Assembly had said that reforms would take place, and women’s organizations insisted on quotas, so it remained to be seen what steps would be taken soon.

The delegation said that there were many multinationals who exploited the country and its immense richness; they were supplying arms and fomenting conflict which was impoverishing the people.  “Leave us alone so that everyone can benefit from the country’s wealth,” pleaded the delegate.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts welcomed the adoption of the national action plan on eliminating violence against women and addressing the deeply rooted stereotypes regarding the role of women and men.  Major gaps, however, remained, particularly in addressing domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, noted the Experts, and asked about the implementation of the recommendations of the several studies on social stereotypes and what other measures had been adopted for this purpose, including those targeting men and boys.  More than half the women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered from violence, and 53 per cent suffered from domestic violence and marital rape, which were not criminalized. 

What measures were being taken to tackle sexual violence in detention?  How many charges of torture had been brought and how many men had been prosecuted for domestic violence under the torture act?

Following his visit to the United States in April 2019, the President had set up the agency to combat trafficking in persons – what was its make-up and the resources at its disposal?  Why were the authorities arresting many prostitutes who were then subjected to violence?

Replies by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the main strategy to change discriminatory stereotypes was awareness raising, particularly among community and religious leaders.  It was important to promote the message that girls and boys were equal and to also promote the education of girls.  Another measure was compulsory education for all which had resulted in 80 per cent enrolment of girls in school.

Domestic violence and marital rape were a hidden side of violence against women, rarely spoken about and minimized.  The practice of dowry was still widely spread and it meant that a husband had bought his wife.  Torture was criminalized and domestic violence should be seen as a type of torture, the delegation said.  Awareness raising work on the issue was being done.  A woman was under the authority of her husband and if she approached justice, she would be considered out of the marriage.  A woman herself had to decide to report the crime, without this, the law could not resolve the problem.  The delegation clarified that the law on torture did not include domestic violence and in principle, there was a need for a specific law against domestic violence.

A woman had the right of ownership over her body, which meant that she could choose to engage in prostitution. 

Questions by Committee Experts

As far as women’s political participation and representation was concerned, the Experts welcomed the adoption of the law on gender parity in 2015 and asked whether the electoral law would be reviewed with a view to introduce measures aiming to reduce the gap in the representation of women and men in elected posts.  Could the delegation provide data about the participation of women in international positions?

Replies by the Delegation

On measures put in place to implement the parity act, the delegation said that an inter-ministerial decree must be proclaimed before the inter-ministerial committee could be set up.  At this point, there was no sufficient information to say with certitude that the electoral law would be revised, even if a number of political parties and the President of the National Assembly were in favour of such a review.  There were over 400 political parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; those were private groups that had their own way of seeing things.  Very few were led by women.  The Government was taking measures to encourage political parties to consider the question of gender and to increase the participation of women.

Questions by Committee Experts

The most important law on education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been adopted in 2014 and aimed to create access to education for all and eradicate illiteracy.  Notably, universal education had become a national priority; the Ministry of Education seemed to be one of the most reform-minded ministries in the Government; and the proportion of the national budget allocated for education had increased from 7.9 per cent in 2012 to 14.7 per cent in 2015.

Still, many important problems persisted, the Experts said, citing low educational coverage and the fact that over three million school-aged children were not in school and of those in school, 44 per cent started school late.  Furthermore, less than half of the children who entered first grade would reach the sixth grade; girls continued to suffer from sexual violence and rape, including by teachers; and because it was the families that paid teachers’ salaries, school building maintenance, and other costs, it could not be said that education was free.

What partnerships were in place to promote the employment of women in all sectors, including the mining industry, and to enhance employment opportunities in agriculture and forestry?  Considering that the great proportion of women worked in the informal economy, what was being done to strengthen their working conditions and ensure decent work?

The 2019 law on social protection discriminated against women civil servants – contrary to male civil servants, they could not transfer their social insurance to their husbands and children.  With 70 per cent of the population living in the rural areas, women’s lack of access to land was of particular concern.

Replies by the Delegation

The Democratic Republic of the Congo had put in place strategies, with its partners, to strengthen access to education.  Under the strategy 2016-2026, pregnant girls were entitled to continue their studies, although not all schools respected this.  The Ministry supported many pregnant girls and young mothers, and those who could not continue to pursue their education could follow other courses.  Falling pregnant therefore was not a great hindrance, the delegation said, and stressed the importance of raising awareness among families about the importance of girls’ education.

The Ministry of Gender had a mechanism, together with UNIFEM, the agency to combat violence against women, to address the question of sexual violence in schools, while Children’s Courts criminally pursued the perpetrators.  The national strategy to combat gender-based violence was in place, under which training of educators was foreseen. 

Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts noted that the healthcare service still suffered major setbacks, including the lack of health equipment, infrastructure, medicines and resources, which was particularly acute in rural areas.  The delegation was asked to outline main activities contained in the new strategy to eliminate obstetric fistula 2018-2025 and to outline the impact of the strategy to reduce infant mortality. 

Maternal mortality rates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were among the highest in the world, the Experts noted with concern, and asked about the plans to institute free of charge maternity services for underprivileged women.  Most Pygmy women gave birth at home and over 53 per cent did not have information about pre and post-natal services available.  One of the main drivers of such high rates of maternal mortality was unsafe abortion – what were the intentions concerning the decriminalization of abortion?

It was regrettable that no measures were in place to promote women’s access to loans and credit, or to change patriarchal systems in land ownership, which significantly affected women.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that women reported sexual harassment and discrimination on the grounds of sex in employment, and said that the solution for such problems lay in the law on the matter.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo was fully committed to strengthening access to education, and to increasing health care coverage and high quality health care, but it did not have sufficient resources to ensure the implementation of the well laid plans.  Over the past decade, most of the national budget had been allocated to maintaining the integrity of the country and fighting armed groups, while multinationals continued to plunder its resources. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo had set up a programme to eliminate obstetric fistula in partnership with the United Nations.  The commitment was there to provide maternal care free of charge, which would contribute to reducing maternal mortality rates.  Abortion was legal when pregnancy threatened the life of the mother or was the result of rape, as defined by the Maputo Protocol.  Otherwise, abortion was prohibited.

The delegate said that there was no discrimination against women in access to loans and credits.

Questions by Committee Experts

The majority of the 4.5 million internally displaced persons were women and children, who were mostly in need of humanitarian aid.  The Committee was concerned about the precarious situation of women displaced by the mining industry and the impact of mining activities on the health of women and girls.  What was being done to address those problems?

Women human rights defenders faced two-pronged discrimination, because they were women and because of their political activism, and were often considered as spreading “Western lifestyles”.  During the 2015 demonstrations, 56 women human rights defenders had been arbitrarily arrested – had any action been taken to sanction the perpetrators and compensate the victims?  There were a number of pending bills that related to freedom of assembly, of expression, and of opinion, the Experts remarked, and asked whether those were aligned with the country’s obligations under international human rights instruments.

The Experts welcomed the reform of the Family Code which had removed certain provisions that discriminated against women, notably the lack of legal capacity of married women.  The concern still remained that the Family Code was not conducive to the achievement of gender equality as men were still seen as heads of households.  Although the law had set the legal age of marriage for women and men at 18 years of age, this provision was still not fully respected in practice and child marriage continued to be practiced.

Replies by the Delegation

A fund to empower rural women had been set up, explained the delegation, and various other activities had been undertaken to improve the situation of women living in rural areas, who represented one of the many priorities for the Government.  Activities for vulnerable groups of women were being implemented together with partners, such as UN Women.  The situation of displaced women was a major concern.  Traditional leaders were involved in the implementation of the action plan against child marriage.

Concluding Remarks

CHANTAL SAFOU LOPUSSA, Minister for Gender, Family and the Child of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, concluded by thanking the Committee for their questions and recommendations.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo was committed to being in line with all texts it had ratified.   

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation and invited the Democratic Republic of the Congo to accept an amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time.  The Chair commended the country for its efforts and urged it to pay particular attention to the Committee’s concluding observations identified for immediate follow up.

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