Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women

11 July 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Wivine Mumba Matipa, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, said that the armed conflict had affected the country on many levels.  Domestic legislation had been amended to improve the situation of women but this was not enough to comply with the Convention.  Girls did not enjoy the same level of access to education as boys, and measures were in place to expand their enrolment, attendance, fields of study and literacy.  Access to health had improved, with plans to tackle major conditions, including fistula and HIV.  Pregnant women were monitored and received care with a view to improving maternal and child health.  Despite limited resources, food insecurity and a lack of technology, micro-credit schemes and initiatives to favour women in economic activities had been implemented.

Committee Experts raised several issues of concern, including the time it took to reach agreements, for example on a new Family Code.  Measures to prevent and punish sexual violence against women were also examined.  Regarding the availability of justice in rural areas, Experts inquired about the treatment of women in customary practice and the exact provisions for the protection of their rights in relation to employment, inheritance, land ownership, among other areas.  Questions were also raised about the situation of rural and minority women.  Experts noted the limited representation of women in public roles and called for quotas and measures to increase women’s participation in elections and political activities. 

In concluding remarks, Ms. Mumba Matipa said that the dialogue with the Committee constituted an important exercise even though it was sometimes frustrating and difficult to collect all the information required.  The comments offered would help the Democratic Republic of the Congo to target the challenges it faced.  International support was crucial and as well as help along the road towards women’s equality. 

Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Experts and members of the delegation for their questions and comments.  This productive dialogue had shown that women were the first victims of violence.  The Committee encouraged the Government to continue its efforts to make progress. 

The delegation of the Democratic Republic of Congo consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children.

The Committee will resume its work on Friday, 12 July at 10 a.m. when it will begin its consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Dominican Republic (CEDAW/C/DOM/6-7).

Report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be read here: (CEDAW/C/COD/6-7).

Presentation of the Report

WIVINE MUMBA MATIPA, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, said that war had plunged the country into crisis on many levels.  The Government’s efforts to create peace had brought to the fore the importance of managing conflict prevention and resolution.  Since 2005, domestic legislation had been amended and laws adopted to emphasise the need for the better protection for women and to put an end to discrimination.  The Convention implied results, it was not enough to adopt legislation and the Government was dedicated to do this, considering the local context and the constraints women faced. 

Regarding education, preference was often given to boys over their female siblings, given that poverty imposed such choices upon families and boys would one day head a household.  Education was a public asset, it was important to ensure its quality and that it was available for all.  Measures to eliminate barriers preventing access to education, as well as higher education, had been put in place and basic literacy had been improved.  Measures and awareness campaigns to fight discrimination and harassment and steps to encourage pregnant girls or young mothers to attend school were also in place.  Girls’ school completion rates had also improved and a strategy had been created to support girls to undertake engineering studies. 

Health interventions aimed at reducing the prevalence of cancer, cardiovascular conditions, HIV and other diseases.  Pregnant women received healthcare with a view to improving maternal health, as well as HIV testing and measures to reduce mother to child transmission.  Efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation were also mentioned as well as national programmes to deal with maternal health, reproductive health, family well-being and fistula.  The strategy also included education for men about their shared responsibilities regarding the family and reproduction, contraception as part of development planning, and efforts to reinforce the socioeconomic capacities of women at home. 

Social protection had been extended to women, as well as equal access to capital and commercial opportunities.  The draft Family Code eliminated many shortfalls in the existing legislation concerning gender equality.  Current issues arose from the inability to follow up on initiatives related to gender equality, food insecurity and the lack of resources and programmes to introduce the use of technology.  Micro-credit schemes and work to favour women in economic activities had been implemented.

Regarding the participation of women in political decision-making, the 2006 Constitution enshrined the principle of women’s participation in politics but there was still much to be done.  Focal points had been established between public bodies to promote increased representation and the Government had sought to introduce legislation ensuring that women were appointed to decision making posts.

Violence against women was a serious problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women had been used as weapons of war, and the restoration of the rule of law constituted the basis for the elimination of such acts.  As part of its fight against gender-based violence, a national strategy and a steering committee on Security Council resolution 1325 had been implemented.  Other initiatives, such as centres and strategic study units to promote women and protect children had been undertaken at national, provincial and local levels.  Government, development partners and civil society worked together to tackle sexual violence arising from armed conflict and to provide comprehensive care for victims. 

Despite economic and security obstacles, the fight against discrimination was a priority.  While not every expected outcome had been achieved, progress had been made in the legislative sector.  Customs and traditions continued to hold women back and this could not be changed through law-making.  This report was the outcome of a team of national experts and the Government was thankful for their participation. 

Questions by Experts

Experts thanked the delegation for their honesty concerning the problem of discrimination and inquired about plans to repeal discriminatory legislation?  What was the timeframe for the reform of the Family Code?  Were measures being put in place to ensure access to the legal system for all citizens?  What training would be offered to those working in the traditional justice sectors?  Where did the Democratic Republic of the Congo stand in relation to the ratification of the Optional Protocol?  Noting that Pygmy groups were being dispossessed of their ancestral land, Experts asked what steps were in place to recognise the rights of women among them?  Would the new Family Code better protect women?  Security forces and armed groups continued to commit human rights violations.  The Committee had previously issued various recommendations; would those emanating from this session be included in a national action plan for implementation within a concrete timeframe?

Impunity remained of concern, how was the Government addressing this?  What was the state of the bill on compensation payments for victims of violent acts?  Were there plans to establish a comprehensive screening process for members of the security services?  The State had the responsibility to punish those who committed human rights abuses and to compensate victims.  Were there plans for the appointment of counsellors particularly charged with protecting women?  Was the Democratic Republic of the Congo planning to strengthen its cooperation with the International Criminal Court and the United Nations in order to address the problem of violence?  Were there plans for the establishment of mixed military/civilian courts in the future?  What emergency services were available for victims of abuses? 

Response by the Delegation

The amendment to the Family Code would be carried out in a timely manner and the Ministry had urged Parliament to consider the draft during its next session.  The need for women to obtain authorisation from their husbands, as head of the household, for a number of activities weighed heavily on Congolese women.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo was a large country and significant resources were needed to set up all the peace tribunals required; considering the small budget of the country, this was very difficult. 

In 2010 2,000 new judges had been hired, bringing their total to 4,000, and a number of women had been recruited specifically because of the problem of violence against women.  No figures were available regarding the use of the Convention in national courts.  There were a number of tribes and ethnic groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Pygmy population did not require special attention because of their background.  Many groups had put forward allegations claiming that they were being dispossessed of their land by businesses or groups seeking to take advantage of resources.  Land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the exclusive and inalienable property of the State; however, the Pygmy population was entitled to community land.  Legislation on forestry and land planning were currently under review. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo allocated a significant portion of the aid it received to military justice.  Specialised courts should be reintegrated into the Congolese court system; perpetrators of war crimes could be tried in front of their victims; and international judges could be involved in these processes.  A draft law on mixed courts had been submitted to Parliament.  Local hearings were important due to the lack of peace courts throughout the territory.  Sexual violence cases had been heard by mobile courts at the local level in an attempt to reduce the backlog.  The budget for the compensation included not only victims of sexual violence but the entire justice system and was extremely small.  Lawyers were encouraged to submit compensation requests as very few had been submitted.  Obstacles remained in relation to courts, detentions, and other aspects of the justice system, but the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a party to the Rome Statute. 

Questions by Experts

Concerning the recent change in the name of the ministry in charge of gender issues, did this signal the watering-down of efforts to tackle this issue?  How were gender issues tackled at the local level?  The condition of women needed to be considered not only in terms of legal provisions, but also with regards to the provision of resources.  What resources were being provided to the National Council for Women? 

Experts reiterated questions about instances of multiple discrimination faced by indigenous women or those living in the streets.  Could the delegation comment on the status of the National Human Rights Commission?  Were there any updates regarding the bill related to forced labour?  Were there plans to improve arms control or to sign up to the arms control treaty?  Was the Democratic Republic of the Congo willing to improve conditions for women in prison?  

Response by the Delegation

Policy targeting gender violence needed to be made operational and efforts were being made to this end.  Mainstreaming policy through each of the different national action points had been considered and the National Council of Women had a budget heading.  The title of the Ministry was not as important as how the Ministry was used to achieve goals and efforts had been made to increase the number of women in senior positions. 

The delegation mentioned a number of prosecutions and stressed that a culture of impunity was not prevalent.  Violence was sometimes committed in areas which were not under Government control.  Cooperation with the International Court of Justice had always been excellent and there was no reason to think this might change in the future. 

There was an action plan regarding penal system reform.  Women in prison were held separately from men, although they sometimes shared exercise yards.  Prison conditions were not optimal and reflected the economic situation in the country.  A law on the National Human Rights Commission had been promulgated and new commissioners would be appointed.

A number of strategies were in place to ensure that mothers and daughters living in the street received protection, and some funding was available for the provision of social support to these vulnerable women.  A university network was conducting research on the situation of indigenous women so that they could be better protected. 

Questions by Experts

Experts inquired about plans to strengthen legislation and to allow women to hold 50 per cent of the seats in Parliament.  Would there be special measures and targets to increase the representation of women in public administration?  Was there an overall system to promote gender parity in all State services and branches?  Would any urgent measures be taken to provide health and social services to indigenous women? 

Were health or reproductive services, above and beyond the regular services, available for victims of sexual violence?  What consideration had been given to recommendations to remove the costs of forensic examinations to identify victims of sexual violence and to appoint specific judges to deal with cases of sexual violence?

The availability of arms and post traumatic stress were seen as drivers of domestic violence, were these factors being addressed?  It had been also reported that women were being punished for witchcraft with impunity, were steps being taken to address this situation and how was impunity to be addressed, given current structures? 

Were there plans to improve the collection of data in the future?  Were there plans to ratify the Palermo Protocol on transnational organized crime?  There were experts in the African region that could support the development of a strategy on trafficking.  In this context, Experts highlighted that under a human rights-based approach, the victim should be given due consideration.

Response by the Delegation

Trafficking in women was not acute or a chronic issue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though armed groups were now often moving women and girls around the country and across borders.  The International Organization for Migration was conducting a study that could serve as the basis for future legislation against trafficking but additional studies were needed to collect data and develop policies.  Children living in the streets were often victims and a system for the provision of assistance was in place in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Maternal and child health, reproductive health and neo-natal mortality had also been in focus, and women were being tested and received treatment if needed.  Regarding education, the Government hoped to bring more vulnerable girls into education and to reduce drop-out rates.  Girls who left schools because of pregnancy received particular attention.

There was a tendency to inflate the number cases of sexual violence, among additional obstacles for the compilation of data, such as in the case of places overrun with armed groups.  Judges who had fled areas affected by conflict had now returned.  Medical certificates for victims of violence should be free and the Government was working with lawyers and other officials to establish the best way to help women who had filed complaints before a court.  A mechanism was in place to provide assistance to victims of rape in relation to legal costs and women’s shelters also provided support in these cases.

Questions by Experts

In the official report, the number of cases of sexual violence had been described as alarming.  Exploitation and prostitution also seemed to be an issue of concern.  Experts repeatedly inquired whether the Government was willing to increase the quotas for representation for women in Parliament to 50 per cent.  Were there plans to draft legislation on domestic violence?  How was the Government planning to improve the situation of women in the context of the Peace and Security Framework in the region?  What was being done to control the flow of small arms and was the Government intending to join the Arms Control Treaty?

Noting that the level of women’s representation in politics and public life was well below the recommendations of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Experts inquired about the national plan for increasing representation which had been mentioned earlier?  Were efforts being made to encourage political parties to improve their gender balance?  How could the work of NGOs be harnessed to create a new political class that could stand for office and be elected? 

Experts also asked about the worsening situation of human rights defenders.

Response by the Delegation

The Government was committed to try to control weapons and the Peace and Security Framework was an excellent opportunity to find solutions for a lasting peace.  The law on gender equality was not yet in place; the Senate had reduced the quota and, as it was still to be considered by the National Assembly, the Government hoped that it might still be revised.  The national gender policy had been adopted at all levels and it covered four areas: knowledge on women’s rights, equality in the household, the economic sphere, and the family.  Changes had been made to the bill as it was thought that gender equality should constitute a progressive process, with the gradual increase of women’s representation.  An interim measure was in place to ensure that among any three candidates put forward by any political party, at least one woman was included. 

Regarding youth prostitution, the law on child protection included measures to ban child marriage and prostitution.  The Optional Protocol on child prostitution had been ratified.  Poverty in rural areas posed a challenge and the Government was taking steps to increase the provision of education.  Pygmies were not isolated and no barriers were imposed on their lives.  There was an infrastructure problem and the question about the situation of Pygmies was perhaps better posed as a local rather than as a minority issue.  Citizens’ claims to land ownership needed to be investigated on the basis of forestry law, and there had been no land expropriations.  Health centres were planned to increase access to health in rural areas.  Forced labour was prohibited and a unit within the Ministry of Employment considered the issue. 

A critical mass of educated female activists was needed and education was key in this regard.  Poverty rates were high and, even in households where no distinction was made between boys and girls, financial constraints prevented all children from attending school.  For this reason, efforts were being made to provide free education.  The problem of discrimination with regards to employment was not due to the legislation, but to the lack of will for its implementation.  Women needed to form alliances as their opinions were considered as minority voices. 

The delegation indicated that a draft bill would be submitted to the Parliament to protect human rights defenders, and more information could be provided regarding specific cases.  

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked how the building of new schools would enhance girl’s participation in education.  What assistance was offered to pregnant girls?  Were there opportunities for the introduction of new technologies?  Were guidelines available regarding bullying and sexual harassment?

Experts also inquired about provisions for maternity leave; did the new labour law contain conditions outlawing direct and indirect discrimination?  Was it the case that women could not take maternity and annual leave in the same year?  It seemed that sexual harassment laws should be adopted to cover difficult environments, had anything been done about this?  The numbers of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies due to sexual violence were high, were anti-retroviral drugs available?  Was there any scope for the reconsideration of the prohibition of abortion in cases of sexual violence? 

Were gender impact analyses completed for legislation adopted?  More information on fistula treatment and about concrete examples of steps to reduce HIV transmission was requested. 

Response by the Delegation

An article in the labour code had been amended to remove any limitations on women’s right to work, and according to the law there were no discrepancies in the wages of men and women.  Perhaps the definition of sexual harassment needed attention.  A draft being sent to Parliament established that women could not lose their jobs because of pregnancy.  The delegation was not aware of anything in the labour law that did not allow women to take annual and maternity leave in the same year, although this might be a practice and further information would be appreciated.  Abortion was a very sensitive issue.  All health programmes should take gender issues into account and three programmes were in place to bring down HIV transmission rates, which was being used as a weapon of war. 

The Constitution ensured there was no discrimination in the workplace, although some provisions could be considered discriminatory against men, such as those concerning night shifts.  The levels of psycho-social resources were low and these issues were often dealt with within the extended family unit.  Victims of sexual violence were sometimes stigmatised and efforts should be carried out with development partners to raise awareness on this issue.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo appreciated the technical support provided by a number of organizations.  

There was no particular discrimination between boys and girls.  Enrolment levels were very low and more needed to be done to increase levels of attendance and reach out to girls on the ground.  Sometimes children were not able to travel to school and the Government was working to develop infrastructure.  It was very difficult to collect data from conflict zones and the understanding that statistics were useful had not yet taken root.  Many challenges remained regarding the electrical grid and solar power could be very useful.  The criminal code addressed sexual harassment.  It seemed that bullying was not a significant problem.  Steps to increase literacy had been introduced through national plans. 

Questions from the Experts

The report showed that a woman needed her husband’s permission to acquire land, was this to be repealed?  Were there plans to abolish customary practices that discriminated against women in relation to credit?  Why had a focus on the idea that women were agents of development not been included?  Had the Government considered a gender dimension in support of income generating activities? 

The micro-credit strategy mentioned in the report was funded by European aid, how was the Government planning to sustain this in the future?  It was important that the voices of rural women were heard at the national level.  The Committee would appreciate additional data, for example, regarding differences between men and women’s leisure time.  Efforts to strike a better balance between women and men could follow along the lines of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Experts suggested that the amount of time taken to confirm the Family Code was also a key problem behind many other issues, how could the Committee provide support for reaching agreements?  What standing would customary law have under the new Family Code?

Response by the Delegation

Congolese women had an opportunity to have their voice heard.  Women were not discriminated against in land tenure or inheritance and civil law should take preference over customary law on these matters, although women in such circumstances faced significant pressure from families to renounce to their entitlements.  The new Family Code sought to address these issues. 

It was difficult for both men and women to get loans and unemployment rates stood at 70 per cent.  Agriculture was at the root of development and therefore the focus was on improving road access and the distribution of agricultural inputs.  Educational efforts were needed to ensure that men shouldered a fair share of work in the countryside.  Women’s empowerment was a critical issue.  A well-structured programme to train women and provide guidance on how to leave the informal sector should be developed.

Succession laws did not distinguish between women and men and judges sought to apply the law in this regard.  It was important to educate girls about their rights to ensure that they were respected.  Concerning the ratification of the Family Code, it was necessary for the law to go ahead of people in order to secure agreement. Compromises had been necessary in order to get the new draft this far.  In order to get the draft through the legislature, women needed to mobilise their support for the process. 

While there was only one body of law, it stood alongside customary practices.  In rural areas, such practices held sway and without additional efforts to extend the justice system this would remain a problem. 

Concluding Remarks

NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Experts and members of the delegation for their questions and comments.  This productive dialogue had shown that women were the first victims of violence.  The Committee encouraged the Government to continue its efforts to make progress. 

WIVINE MUMBA MATIPA, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the dialogue with the Committee constituted an important exercise even though it was sometimes frustrating and difficult to collect all the information required.  The comments offered would help the Democratic Republic of the Congo to target the challenges it faced.  International support was crucial as well as help along the road towards women’s equality.  The delegation appreciated the questions put forward and additional information would be provided as soon as possible.

For use of the information media; not an official record