Over the past several months, escalating violence in eastern DRC has resulted in over a thousand reported civilian deaths and increased gender-based violence. Factors driving this violence, which are exacerbated by existing inequalities and grounded in the legacy of colonialism and corruption, include the proliferation of weapons, absence of transparent democratic processes, lack of social protection, lack of access to economic opportunities, an unaccountable security sector, impunity for abuses of human rights, and natural resources governance that prioritizes corporations over local communities. Displacement is both a result and factor of the conflict, which, combined with regional instability, deepens the humanitarian crisis. As of late 2020, the DRC largest food insecure population in the world (21.8 million) and the second largest displaced population after Syria (5.2 million). The spread of the COVID-19 virus has additionally compounded existing public health challenges in the DRC, including measles and the resurgence of Ebola. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been keenly felt by internally displaced people, particularly women and girls, throughout the country and others who rely on the informal sector to survive.
Despite women’s active leadership in the fight for independence five decades ago, patriarchal structures and norms undermine the protection and promotion of women’s rights. The result is structural discrimination, widespread gender-based violence, exclusion from decision-making processes, and barriers to accessing livelihoods. While evidence provides that armed groups are the main perpetrators of gender-based violence and human rights violations in the DRC, debates regarding women, peace, and security often fail to acknowledge militarization as playing a role in the country’s instability, and discussion of disarmament remains absent from Security Council resolutions and discussions.
Natural resources governance and management
In recent years, the exploitation of DRC’s natural resources has driven conflict and insecurity. Globally, more than 60% of cobalt comes from the DRC, and other minerals, including Coltan, are sought for use in cell phones, electric cars, and green energy. Domestically, competition over the DRC’s natural wealth has attracted bad actors and violent opportunists whom have built criminal networks which include trafficking in persons, weapons, and overall undermine security. Artisanal mining accounts for over 80% of mined products exported by the DRC, yet those that work in the artisanal sector experience dangerous and unregulated working conditions. Further, battling over the DRC’s natural resources has resulted in competition and human rights violations committed by armed groups.
Currently, women and girls primarily bear the adverse effects of the extractive industry. For example, the closer a woman or girl is to an artisanal or small-scale mine, the more likely she is to experience sexual violence, and younger women are at a greater risk. Researchers have found that armed groups use sexual violence as a weapon of war to drive out local populations and control lucrative mining regions. However, for many Congolese women and girls, as with society, mining is central to their livelihoods.
The Security Council’s discussions on DRC fail to effectively link the exploitation of natural resources to human rights abuses, nor recognize how critical it is to embed gender and rights in natural resources governance as broader efforts to prevent conflict and build peace. In fact, although most statements, reports, and outcomes on the DRC reference natural resources, there was not a single instance in which the connection between natural resources governance and gender was made. Rights-based natural resource management can provide positive dividends to women and girls, and given the centrality of natural resources governance to conflict prevention – which the Council has recognized must be gender-responsive – failure to address the gender dimensions is a considerable oversight.
Women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in peace and political processes
Women’s meaningful participation and leadership in peace and political processes have been undermined and de-prioritized over the last two decades. The DRC context serves as an example of why including women at the earliest possible stage of peace processes is fundamental to future inclusion. As an example, no women participated in the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire talks, which mandated Inter-Congolese Dialogue. Initially, there were very few women invited to the Dialogue, and it was only after pressure from women’s groups that women saw an increase in representation, eventually comprising 8% of delegates in the first round of negotiations in Addis Ababa and 11% of delegates in the negotiations in Sun City and Pretoria. Importantly, although representing different factions, women built a coalition before the negotiations in Sun City, which contributed to the inclusion of gender-related provisions in the outcome. However, this success was not reflected in the implementation and follow-up processes, which saw women in symbolic roles. During the political dialogues facilitated between 2013 and 2018, women’s participation was also insufficient: women comprised 6.2% in the 2013 negotiations resulting in the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC; 18% during the October 2016 negotiation defining the electoral calendar, and 9.4% of negotiators in the New Year’s Eve Agreement of 31 December 2016, which defined steps for the electoral process.
The low rate of participation and leadership in peace and political processes which established the structures for elections and governance structures has directly affected the low numbers of women currently in elected office and further created a decision-making environment in which women’s inclusion is overlooked. Several specific policies were enacted that incentivized parties to opt for better-known and more established male candidates, including the rejection of the introduction of quotas in the electoral law, the high threshold of seats needed for inclusion in legislative bodies, and high entry fees. Women’s participation in elected bodies stands at 10.5% in the National Assembly and 11% in provincial assemblies. Among the 50 women elected to the National Assembly, over one third were re-elected. The representation of Indigenous women and women with disabilities in elected office is also non-existent.
The Security Council has addressed women’s meaningful participation in the DRC in an ad-hoc manner. Information flowing into the Council from senior UN officials or reports of the Secretary-General has been limited and superficial. However, in 2018 and 2019, meetings of the IEG on WPS and briefings by civil society briefers provided incisive analysis and recommendations. However, there have only been minor improvements in outcome documents adopted by the Security Council, and expressions of political support by Council members have been overly broad and often only delivered directly following a civil society briefer.
The flow of information to the Security Council in terms of reports of the Secretary-General has increased over the last several years, primarily in terms of including examples of activities or data. However, this information is rarely analytical and often confined to specific sections on women, peace, and security, rather than included in portions of the report focused on electoral or political processes. Further, briefings delivered by senior UN officials have varied wildly in terms of inclusion of information; some briefings have included significant updates, others none.
It is essential to acknowledge that some aspects of MONUSCO’s mandate are strong in terms of women’s participation; however, the mandate is far from robust or comprehensive. MONUSCO has been mandated to address women’s participation since 2012, emphasizing consultation with women’s groups in the political dialogue. In 2014, MONUSCO’s mandate was strengthened with the inclusion of the standard call for mainstreaming gender, including supporting the “participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels […] in the national political dialogue and electoral processes.” This language was somewhat modified in subsequent years to read “in the creation of conditions conducive to the holding of elections” and “in the conduct of elections,” to align with the electoral process phases. Beyond these provisions, which are limited to the paragraph focused on mainstreaming gender as a cross-cutting issue, the mandate for MONUSCO does not sufficiently integrate references to women’s inclusion. For example, mandate provisions focused on the electoral process or local dialogues do not specify that women should be consulted or engaged; instead, the assumption is the provision calling on WPS to be a cross-cutting provision is sufficient, despite research demonstrating that it is not.
Further, despite repeatedly calling for the Government of the DRC to ensure women’s participation, and despite the government’s failure to do so, the Council has not increased its calls in this respect. In meetings of the Council, women’s participation is primarily referenced in broad statements, most notably, immediately after a civil society briefer has spoken. Notably, no Council members or senior UN officials made any reference to the importance of women’s participation in the 2023 elections, despite the frequent reference to those elections’ importance in the DRC’s peace and stability.
In its discussions on the situation in the DRC, the Security Council should:
- Explicitly include strong language calling for the Government to prioritize the full, equal, and meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls in all their diversity in all aspects of peace and security, including conflict prevention efforts, peace processes, and the implementation of peace agreements.
- Call for all peace and security policymaking, strategies, and programs to be rooted in international human rights and humanitarian law, including by guaranteeing the full scope of all women’s human rights in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings, including in natural resources governance and management.
- Specifically address the gender dimensions of natural resources management, including in the context of the mining sector, and call for prioritization of governance approaches which are rights-based and geared towards ensuring local communities have control and ownership.