Thursday, March 10, 2005

DR Congo: Women, Power and Government

DRC: Women Remain Under Represented in Government

Women are still under represented at decision-making levels in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) institutions, reduced to the role of house help and have even become victims of repeated sexual violence, women's representatives said on Tuesday during the International Women's Day.

"Though it is the woman who is, in many cases, the sole breadwinner of the family in times of crisis aggravated by war, she is the first victim of sexual violence," said Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufwankol, a senator and vice president of the Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et le developpement. Congolese President Joseph Kabila heads Mufwankol's party.
An interesting reality in many African countries - and Western countries too, by the way, just at a lesser level. I always found it quite interesting, with the amount of respect that we are traditionally taught to give women, particularly mothers, how little consideration women are given in Congolese society. There is still a law in Congo making it compulsory - though it is thankfully only applied by police and immigration officers seeking bribes - for women to have a written authorization from their husband or father, in order to travel. When I bring up the subject of women's rights in Congo, in a group of men, I am automatically labeled as a "whipped" man, who will be "a slave to his wife". In a group of women, the talk drifts more towards grandiose sexism, like unpunished rapes, access to property and inheritance. But many women find it quite normal that men should have the lead in Government, because - as my Grandma puts it - "that's what they are created for".

If there are two things I concede to the almighty Marshall Mobutu, they are planting the seeds for the potential of a unified nation (for whatever devious reason he had to do it), and placing awareness of women's rights in the limelight of public life in the DRC (Zaire). Though it was mostly used to reward the ladies in the party who were faithful - sometimes sexually so - to him, and also to tap into the oher half of the population and guarantee their support, it also gave space for women to be considered semi-equals in the Civil Service, as long as they had the credentials - sometimes double of what the men needed. Against the will of most men, Mobutu launched a campaign called "Otumboli basi, otumboli Mobutu" (loosely translated: When you bother/hurt women, you bother/hurt Mobutu). In a country where Mobutu was a half-god, it was a pretty strong statement. And it did help. The Women's Affairs department was quite well funded. But like everything in Zaire, it kind of dwindled away, to today's situation. Thus I am called to conclude that change will entail a much more in-depth INTRA-cultural dialogue, that will unfortunately take a while.

A friend of mine told me that I always talk about needs to be, and never about my own opinion: as a Congolese man, what is my opinion on women's rights? Well, most of my life, I have been raised by my mother, a strong woman who has beaten all odds, and have risen from a sickly, hunch-backed village girl, to a healthy US educated physician, to a high-level health department employee, and for the past 18 years, a high-level UN (WHO) civil servant. To not recognize the rights of women to have equal rights in front of the law, would be denying the story of my life, and the achievement of my mother, and I cannot very well do that, can I?

Now I do not believe men and women are "equal", as in "the same", because I simply believe that, for the most part, they are more competent in different fields. In a heterosexual society, I do believe women are, on average, simply - physically and psychologically - more suited to rearing children, and managing a household, and advising than men (Partly because they are, on average, more caring and cool-minded). That said they have the ability, and should definitely have the right and freedom to pursue a career, be independent financially, and be leaders in their own rights, at all levels of society, even the Presidency.
Concomitently, I believe men are, on average, simply - physically and psychologically - less suited for child rearing (and I do not see that as a strength), and more suited for leading, and for physically challenging tasks. That said it does not mean that they can refuse to be led by women, or that they should not take an active part in house-keeping and child rearing (in fact I believe it is unescapable duty).
Where I am not yet flexible, is that I believe that in a heterosexual household, the male of the parenting couple should be the head of the family (the person where the buck stops), and I believe that children should take their father's last name.

An anecdote that I like to relay, when I talk about this subject, is that contrary to popular belief, men in Congo are quite aware of the importance of women - they just refuse to accept it. An uncle of mine, who used to beat his wife, told me one day, as I was expressing my concerns: "My son, you don't understand. Women already control our lives: they give birth to us, they give us children, they control our sex lives, they run the house, and they control the money you bring home. They own us! if we don't beat them, we lose the little bit of control that we have on our lives". In his strange mysogenistic way, what uncle Boni was saying, was that he knew it would inevitably come to giving women their due rights. What he is doing is mitigating the effects of the inevitable.

There is hope for this issue though. I mean the most common saying about women's position I have heard, was the one stating that "men are the head of house, but women are the neck... there is no way the head is going to turn without the neck's cooperation/approval". I wonder...

1 comment:

mayfieldga said...

I am seeking more clarification:
Is it possible the war in the Congo is strongly correlated to the progression of women in various areas of power? Could this movement to having more power be seen now as a threat to those Males are are attacking those women? Do they fear education of women in schools and other areas? Has the feminist movement created a retaliation of sorts by those men?
Do you have any sites I can go to that may shed more light on this question?

I am currently writing on the growing Male Crisis in the United States and a possible critical point where Males begin to fall behind collectively. I feel at that critical juncture there will be more of a collective retaliation toward women in this and other countries. - Could this be a first in the Congo followed by others in other countries?

My learning theory to all on request. mayfieldga@bellsouth.net

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