Socio-cultural and economic

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his bodyguards. Kabila’s administration named his son Joseph Kabila as the new president. After months of negotiations, in July 2003 Joseph Kabila established a power-sharing government, swearing in four new vice presidents and a new cabinet. Two of the new vice presidents were leaders of the two major rebel groups involved in the civil war, one was a member of the civilian political opposition, and one other was allied with Kabila. In May 2005 the country’s transitional parliament adopted a new constitution, which was approved by referendum in December 2005.

Under the new constitution the president is the head of state and head of government. The president ship is limited to two, five-year terms. This study is based on extensive data, obtained from detailed interviews with 10 rape victims and from the examination of UNFPA files relating to victims of rape and sexual violence in the DRC. 7 members of the armed forces were interviewed, and their statements on the whole were helpful for the analysis of the data. The aim of the study, which is divided into 5 chapters, is to contribute to an understanding of sexual violence in DRC and the aftermath to this violence.

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Chapter 1 gives the Background of the conflict and looks at the socio-economic, political and military context: how the violence is perceived from a socio-cultural standpoint; what are experiences of women in conflict and human rights at time of war? Gender based violence; particularly sexual violence is arguably one of the most challenging human rights violations for the humanitarian community to address. There is no probability to prevent it and no possibility to eradicate its effects. And yet, despite these challenges, there is much that can be done to prevent the impact of this massive violence on women and girls.

With its emotional, psychological and physical effects, girls and women are literally shattered from sexual violence. 7 members of the armed forces were interviewed, but their statements on the whole were not helpful for the analysis of the data. The factors which contribute to sexual violence against women in situations of conflict and militarization in DRC have their roots in the pervasive discrimination women facing in peacetime as well as during and after a conflict. Violence and discrimination against women are embedded in the language and rhetoric of conflict and militarization.

They appear to be an inherent feature of the conduct of war and endemic in the institutions waging it. In peacetime, women rarely have the same economic resources, political rights, authority or control over their environment and needs as men. Situations of armed conflict typically exacerbate women’s unequal status in society, worsening the conditions for even greater discrimination and violence against them. Conflict and militarization reinforce sexist stereotyping and rigid differentiation of gender roles. Weapons proliferate and violence becomes an everyday means of social interaction.

Conflict often creates conditions of severe economic deprivation where the civilian population and in particular women become almost totally dependent on certain authorities (whether occupation forces, peacekeepers, humanitarian workers or any man with a position of power) for survival, leaving them acutely vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation. In emergency situations, civil or political rights are suspended in law or in practice, which further restricts women’s ability to challenge or influence the course of events around them.

To appreciate why these acts of sexual violence are taking place, it is necessary to take into consideration the position of women and socio-cultural environment. ; an awareness of the way social gender relations are perceived, and, above all, of men’s attitudes to women’s bodies in times of peace in Eastern DRC and in the neighbouring countries where some of the perpetrators of this violence come from makes it easier to understand how such atrocities could be made possible. This chapter therefore briefly analyses the position of women in the Eastern society, and the socio-cultural and economic context in which they live.

The position of women, according to a report by a national network of Congolese women NGO’s “Reseau des Femmes pour un Developpement Associatif” (RFDA), in Eastern province is characterised in economic terms by the ‘feminisation of poverty’, exacerbated by the lack of any policies or mechanisms for women’s advancement, and in socio-cultural terms by the existence of customs, practices and legislation that discriminate against women. The Family Code promulgated in 1987 and reviewed in 1999, discriminated women. Concerning women victims of rape, for example, judges often tend to display a discriminatory attitude regarding their complaints.

The question of evidence is aggravated by the fact that for cultural reasons, women abstain from complaining, or they submit a complaint some time after the incidence, rendering it difficult for forensic doctors to collect evidence of the offence. The right of women to submit a complaint for acts of torture or ill-treatment or any other offence is subject to the authorization of their husband (in cases involving married women). Indeed, article 448 of the Family Code expressly provides that “a woman must obtain the authorization of her husband to initiate all legal acts for which she must present herself in person”.

These factors make women more susceptible in a situation of armed conflict. Not only do they make gender-based violence more likely, but, in the eyes of the abusers, they even legitimise it. When the war broke out in the DRC it was against this background in which the local population, and especially women had already been made vulnerable by the dysfunctional state structures and the lack of viable economic and social infrastructures caused by decades of bad government mismanagement as mention in the chapter 1.

For decades, the salaries of civil servants and employees of state enterprises had often gone unpaid, and so local people had been obliged to take on responsibility, as far as they were able, for certain tasks that properly belonged to the state, such as the building of schools, payment of teachers’ salaries, maintenance of roads and provision of medical services. Against this background of generalised impoverishment, the burden of seeking survival strategies has increasingly fallen on women, while the lack of economic and social development has meant the impoverishment of the female population, especially in rural and semi-urban areas.

Women are the main driving force behind the subsistence economy of East provinces, which, essentially, is based on farming and livestock. According to UNFPA, some 80% of the province’s population are engaged in agriculture, and 70% of these people are women. Women are also active in the informal sector, particularly in petty trade, sewing, dyeing, pottery and basketry. They are found as well on the fringes of the mining industry, where they are exploited and employed as underpaid labourers. The war has had a devastating effect on women’s economic and social activities.

The meagre resources and revenue of grassroots women’s organisations, as well as their means of production, have been destroyed or looted. In addition to the volatile security situation, women also face basic structural problems that exacerbate their impoverishment. First of all, it is difficult for them to have access to land because of over-exploitation and overpopulation of fertile lands, and because of patriarchal traditions; by authorizing girls to get married at the very young age of 15 years old, the legislation in article 352 of the Family Code facilitates situations of forced or premature marriage.

Moreover, the parental authority over children as well as poverty encourage parents to arrange the marriage of their daughters according to their own wishes, and to ignore the principle of free consent of the future spouses. The practice of “levirate and sororate” custom , also persists and violates the principle of the free consent of women. This situation seems more frequent in villages in certain provinces.