ABSTRACT

As the Democratic Republic of Congo entered into the campaign for its 2011 presidential and legislative elections, one of the issues brought to the public debates was that of women’s representation, or rather lack of representation, in formal political institutions and elected bodies across the country. Unfortunately, the outcome of these elections in terms of improving women’s political participation was disappointing. Whilst some of the DRC’s neighbours, such as Rwanda and Burundi, have made impressive progress – at least numerically – in terms of women’s political representation, the DRC has lagged behind. Indeed Rwanda now has the largest proportion of women members of parliament of any country in the world (63.8 per cent women), whilst the DRC remains in 116th place with only 8.9 per cent of women in their parliament.1 Despite the fact that gender equality is inscribed in the 2006 Constitution, both electoral law and practice have undermined this constitutional guarantee. In this chapter we will examine the history of women’s political participation in the DRC and analyse the continuing obstacles to their participation in formal political institutions and elected bodies, obstacles which relate both to the nature of the conflict which the country has experienced and to more general factors concerning gender relations and political culture. However, we will argue that the absence of women from these formal political structures and institutions does not imply a ‘depoliticisation’ of women or a lack of interest by women in politics, but in fact the opposite applies as will be seen by women’s active political involvement and campaigning in many civil society movements, associations and organisations.