Officially, the war is over, but many militia groups remain in the jungles of eastern Congo, groups which attack the villages. Women are still being raped and murdered every night, and many people suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Population: 71.7 million (2011)
Religions: Roman Catholic 50 %, Protestant 20 %, Islam 10 %
Life expectancy: men 50 years, women 53 years (2006)
Literacy rate: men 67 %, women 54 % (2011)
Income inequality: Gini coefficient 0.44 (2006) *
Ranking on the Transparency International list of Corruption Perceptions in 183 countries: 168 (2011) **
Ranking on the UNDP Human Development Index of 146 countries, taking gender equality into account: 142 (2011) ***
Maternal deaths: Just over 900 deaths per l00,000 births ****
Number of children/woman: 5.2 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is forbidden, even when the mother’s life is at risk.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: 1.8 million women will be raped during their lifetime. Congo is the second most dangerous country in the world for a woman to live in.
* Gini coefficient:
An economic metric of inequality in a population, for example in income distribution. The Gini coefficient has a value of between 0 and 1, where 0 implies that the assets of all individuals are exactly the same (total equality) while 1 represents total inequality. The lower the Gini coefficient for income inequality, the greater the equality of distribution of salaries, profits, welfare benefits and other forms of compensation.
In 2011, Transparency International ranked 183 countries according to how widespread corruption was in the country. Position 1 on the list showed the country where corruption was least widespread, position 183 the greatest. Corruption within, for example, the police and justice systems has a marked influence on women’s lives.
Every year, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, measures human development in the world’s countries taking into account health, education and income, in the Human Development Index, HDI. In 2010 a new index was introduced: GII, Gender Inequality Index, which also takes gender equality into account. The countries are ranked from position 1 downwards.
The figures given by different sources vary considerably, although they all point to the difficulty of obtaining accurate figures. The figure of just over 900 has been arrived at by averaging out the figures from three sources:
UN Population Fund: 1,100 for the year 2009 http://allafrica.com/stories/200912220954.html
WHO: 990 for the year 2000 http://www.who.int/whosis/mort/profiles/mort_afro_cod_demrepcongo.pdf
CIA World Factbook: 670 for the year 2008: www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/eg.htm
Is there legislation in place which explicitly states that acts of violence committed against women by someone close to them which take place in private are against the law, and which imposes appropriate punishment on the perpetrator?
A new law from 2006 forbids all violence against women, except rape within marriage.
The general legislation contains a “family code” which gives a husband the right to make decisions which affect his wife.
Certain sections of the “family code” were removed in 2009. Up until then, a married woman was not able to travel freely, open a bank account or take a job without the permission of her husband.
Is there a functioning, non-corrupt police force and judiciary which can pass sentence and enforce punishment within a reasonable period of time?
Congo is a country in chaos. The police and the judiciary are corrupt and have insufficient resources. The few civil servants who do attempt to do their job with integrity encounter great difficulties because of the lack of premises, cars, petrol, telephones and electricity. It is sometimes impossible for the police to make the journey to an isolated village where, for example, a mass rape has been perpetrated. It is not possible to drive from eastern Congo to the capital, Kinshasa. There are no roads or bridges.
In practice, there is almost total impunity for the majority of human rights abuse, not least for violence against women. In 2011, a number of symbolic sentences for sexual violence were passed.
Even when a conviction is secured, the system is inadequate. The prisons are over-crowded and not secure. Sometimes the doors are quite simply left open, and prisoners often escape. There is a big risk that the victim of a crime will discover that the perpetrator is on the loose, or that she will actually meet him. There is, therefore, always a risk involved in reporting a crime or giving evidence in court.
People in general, in common with many members of the police force, lawyers and judges, have neither understood nor accepted the new laws.
Are there accessible and reliable statistics for the incidence of violence against women?
Statistical estimates in Congo are highly unreliable, in all areas. There are no official figures.
Is it possible for women to support themselves and their children, for example after divorce?
It is difficult, since women are not expected to live alone and attempting to do so can lead to a bad reputation.
Divorce proceedings are expensive and most women have no money of their own. If they are satisfied with a separation, they cannot take anything with them.
Officially, women are allowed to own property and manage their own salary. However, should they be widowed, their husband’s relatives usually take back most of the family’s property, leaving the woman destitute.
Are there shelters for women who want to leave a violent relationship?
There are some organisations which offer women who have been raped, for example, a form of “transitional accommodation”, but that is mainly because their family will not take them back, even if they want to return. A woman who has been raped is considered “dirty”, and is often disowned by her husband and relatives.
Women who live in a relationship rarely talk about abuse, and almost always stay, however difficult their situation. Moving, or –worse – reporting the abuse to the police can be a disaster, both financially and culturally.
Has the government explicitly expressed the will to fight the violence by means of public debate and various forms of preventive work, for example in the schools, the legal system and the healthcare system?
A new law against violence against women was introduced in 2006, but no effort has been made to spread awareness of it, either to the public or the judiciary.
Are there any programmes to prevent the abuser from relapsing into violence?
Many organisations have implemented rehabilitation projects on a small scale, where rapists have met their victims to apologise and, sometimes, “compensate” for the abuse by, for example, handing over a goat or a pig. The compensation usually goes to the woman’s relatives, from one man to another.
The poorly co-ordinated efforts which have been made to improve security in the country probably constitute the best form of prevention.
Does society take the view that women are subordinate to men?
Tradition dictates that men are y superior to women. Even when women do most of the work, it is the man who has the power over the result. The woman works the land, but the man sells the harvest.
Small boys are taught that they have the right to decide over their older sisters, and more sons than daughters go to school.
Abuse in the home is seen as normal behaviour – as a “reprimand” – even though it is illegal.
Women are not expected to have their own sexuality or sexual desire.
Congo is one of the worst countries in the world from a woman’s perspective. In the Thompson & Reuters Foundation’s review of the situation of women in the world in 2011, Congo is second from the bottom. Only Afghanistan is worse.
Which direction is the fight to end the violence against women going in?
From an abysmal starting point, the trend is slowly moving in the right direction. The legislation has been rewritten; although the acts of war have not stopped, they are fewer; the support for women who have been raped and abused has improved slightly.