By Natalie Czarnota
Following the presidential elections that took place on December 30, 2018 in the DRC, the electoral commission, CENI, delayed the release of the results, claiming that the tally sheets were coming slowly. However, opposition members and other observers believed the delay might have been a scheme of the government to rig the election. The previous president, Joseph Kabila, could not stand in these elections according to the Constitution, but Emmanual Ramazani Shadary was his handpicked successor, and it was believed that there was interference by the government to ensure his win. Of the 21 candidates, there was only one female candidate, Marie Josee Ifoku Mputa Mpunga. Eventually, Felix Tshisekedi was elected president.
The DRC has a bicameral parliament, in which consists of the National Assembly and Senate. There are 500 seats in the National Assembly and 108 seats in the Senate, and members are elected for 5-year terms for both. The President is elected by plurality vote and serves a 5-year term, which can be renewed once. Article 14 of the Congolese Constitution states that women are entitled to equitable representation in national, provincial and local institutions, and that the State guarantees the achievement of parity between men and women institutions. Addditionally, Article 13 (3) of the 2006 Electoral Law states that each party list is established to reflect the equal representation of men and women.
Women’s Political Participation
As mentioned, there was only one candidate from the 21 who were candidates in the 2018 presidential elections. Ifoku Mputa Mpunga Marie-Josee was the candidate of the Alliance of the Elites for a New Congo. She began her political career in 2015 as deputy special commissioner of Tshuapa, later becoming Vice-Governor and then Governor. She was initially disqualified by CENI, but she was readmitted into the running after petitioning to the Constitutional Courts.
Women hold only 44 of the 492 filled National Assembly seats: 9% of the seats. In the Senate, women hold only 4.6% of the seats. This number has decreased in recent years. At first glance, one can see that the status of women’s participation is higher than 2010, when women represented 8.3% of the National Assembly and 4.6% of the Senate. However, the statistics from 2018 have decreased from 2014, when 10.6% of the seats in the lower house were occupied by women, and from 2013, when 5.6% of the seats in the upper house were held by women.
The DRC has a gender parity law that sets a quota on women representation of the Lower House. Article 61 of the Electoral Code states that candidate lists must consider the representation of women in a proportion of at least 30%. However, political parties have ignored Article 61 due to the lack of enforcement mechanisms, so the quotas have not been implemented. This can explain the low percentage of women’s representation in the DRC government.
Other laws in the DRC include the Law on Parity of August 2015. This law was established to protect women’s rights, including allowing women to participate in economy without the approval of male relatives, providing for maternity care, disallowing inequities linked to dowries and specifying fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. It also provides for equal representation and participation of women at decision-making levels and processes.
Despite all these laws, women are still subjected to extreme gender-based violence, mostly in conflict areas in the country. Rape is used as a weapon of war in DRC and even though rape is legally criminalised, it is underreported by victims and therefore not enforced. Another obstacle faced by women and girls in the DRC is insufficient education, which results in illiteracy, ignorance and inability to participate in decision-making processes. Additionally, these barriers have stems in social and cultural traditions of the country, such as the lack of tradition of civic duty and the sexist media, which make political participation a difficulty for women.
Of the 21 candidates for presidency, only one party chose a female candidate, and that was a difficulty in itself, considering her initial disqualification by the election commission. This highlights the discriminatory practices and barriers women face in the country, in order to be represented in the political system. Existing laws allowing women’s political representation and participation are not properly enforced. The gender quotas set by the government have not been applied due to the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms of the gender parity laws. It is essential to tackle those barriers to protect women’s rights in the country.