WOMEN"S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS OF DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

31 January 2000
WOM/1172

WOMEN"S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS OF DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

31 January 2000

Press ReleaseWOM/1172

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS OF DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

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Contrary to reports, there was no question of human rights non- governmental organizations having been persecuted into fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo or forced into silence, that country’s Minister for Social Affairs and the Family told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon.

Moleko Moliwa, responding to questions raised by experts about her country’s first, second and third reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, said that the dramatic situation of the Congolese, particularly Congolese women in provinces occupied by foreign forces, had only come to light because of the presence of those non-governmental organizations. That situation included massacres at Makobola, Mwenga, Kabinda and Kasika.

However, she said, it had been necessary to regularize the rules of some of those non-governmental organizations to bring them into conformity with the law of the land. Two non-governmental organization workers had been summoned for misinformation and incitement of the population, but they had been released by order of the Human Rights Ministry.

Another member of the Congolese delegation said the State was aware of the continuing existence of stereotypes and sexist practices, which were magnified by the media and reinforced through family education. Among measures to change those practices was a new education system involving the teaching of human and moral values, the integration of cultural values, the struggle against inequalities and the revision of school texts.

Speaking on education issues, another delegation member said that schools and literacy programmes for women suffered from insufficient finances and lack of commitment on the part of teachers, most of whom were volunteers. To bolster the education budget, peace must be restored immediately, as territorial integrity had taken precedence in the country’s allocation. A plan of action on “education for life” had been developed in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to teach young people responsible attitudes and behaviour.

Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1172 463rd Meeting (PM) 31 January 2000

Aida Gonzalez Martinez, Committee Chairperson, asked the delegation to disseminate the Committee’s review as widely as possible when they returned home.

The Committee will meet again at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, 1 February, to consider the combined second and third, as well as the fourth, periodic reports of Germany.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to continue considering the reports of States parties on the status of implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

It was expected to hear responses by the delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to questions raised by the Committee’s experts about that country's initial, second and third periodic reports. [For background on those reports, see Press Release WOM/1163 of 25 January.]

Statements by Government

MOLEKO MOLIWA, Minister for Social Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, responding to experts’ questions, said the current national programme for the advancement of Congolese women had only obtained Government approval in September 1999. Therefore, a detailed account of that programme would be given in the fourth periodic report.

She stated that from April 1990 until May 1997, the Republic had had no stable institutions. However, in April 1999, a special edition of the official gazette had been published that included the text of the Convention, as well as those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, among other international conventions.

She noted that, contrary to reports, non-governmental organizations did exist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the regulations of some of those non-governmental organizations did not conform to the country’s laws.

She noted that, contrary to reports, there was no question that non- governmental organizations had been forced to flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to persecution. The dramatic situation of the Congolese, in particular, of Congolese women in the provinces occupied by foreign forces, would not have come to light if it were not for the presence of those organizations.

However, she said, the regulations of some of those non-governmental organizations did not conform to the country’s laws. Two workers from non- governmental organizations had been summoned for disinformation and incitement of the population. They had later been released under orders from the Human Rights Ministry.

Turning to the country’s triennial programme (1999 to 2001) for the promotion of women’s rights, she said that it included as its main goals: economic advancement of women through entrepreneurship, legal, cultural and social advancement of women, and equal rights to healthcare for women and children. The Congolese Government had rehabilitated some national roads and improved access to agricultural areas, held general councils on economic reform and had given 750 hectares of land to the Ministry for Social Affairs to be agriculturally developed.

A new gender approach that applied international recommendations and favoured equity and social justice between men and women was being undertaken. That programme was only 5 years old and the Government had trained all the members of the national councils of women to be able to share their knowledge at the grassroots level.

The delegation then aired a video documentary on the activities, protests and demonstrations that were provoked after 15 women had been raped and buried alive in November in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

BOLIE NONKWA, Director in the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Family, said monogamy was the country’s legal system of marriage. The State recognized only one husband and one wife in a marriage. Legally, therefore, other women in a free union with the husband, were unmarried, with or without children. They were heads of families because they lived alone with their children. They had no right of inheritance, but on the civil level they had the same rights as men.

She said that the Family Code had taken up the question of nationality. The right to nationality of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one and exclusive. All other relative procedures were set out in the Family Code. A married woman must have her husband’s approval to obtain a passport.

No new legislation had evolved on the question of employment, she said. Women lost one third of their salary when they went on maternity leave. The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Family was aware of the need to abolish that law and had already passed its views to the Committee for Reform of the Labour Code.

She said the law requiring a woman to get her husband’s authorization in order to conclude a contract had come from the Belgian code and had met with approval in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because it was favourable to the idea that women were inferior to men. Family property was managed by the husband under the notorious article 448 of the Family Code, and the struggle to abolish it was going on.

MAVUELA MAYISA, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Family, responding to questions on the national mechanism for the advancement of women, said the political will of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was reflected in the various departments it had set up in her Ministry, the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Health. However, the financial resources allocated to the struggle for women’s rights represented an insignificant 8 per cent of the national budget. Hence, it was recognized that a great deal needed to be done to raise the awareness of decision-makers.

She noted that the Congolese strategy had been developed after various meetings and surveys on women’s problems around the country. The objectives it pursued included: effective implementation of legal texts in favour of women’s rights, ensuring formal education of the girl child, primary health care programmes and elimination of traditional ideas on stereotypical roles of men and women. The estimated cost for implementing that programme was almost $180 million. Due to the war that had been imposed on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it could not commence until March 2000.

She outlined operational procedures of the National Council for Women, noting that it provided guidance for the implementation of the strategy. In addition to other activities, it had organized the campaign for peace, viewed in the documentary, in honour of the victims of the November 1999 atrocities.

Responding to an expert’s question on violence against women, she said the platform “Network Action for Women” had been used in the past three years in Kinshasa, as well as in the provinces, in efforts to combat its perpetration.

ANTOINETTE KINGWAYA, Chairperson of the National Socio-cultural Council for Women, said the State was aware of the continuing existence of stereotypes and sexist practices arising from the culture of an entire people and the basic personality of each ethnic group. Those practices were magnified by the media and reinforced through family education.

Among the measures for change, she said, were a new education system involving the teaching of human and moral values, the integration of cultural values, the struggle against inequalities and the revision of school texts. Women were becoming aware of the negative image flowing from stereotypes and were organizing education campaigns on moral values through women’s associations in the communication field.

Recalling an expert’s comment that there could be no democracy without equal participation by men and women in public affairs, she said that Congolese women had played an active part in the struggle against the dictatorship and in their country’s liberation. However, their representation in decision-making organs remained low.

She said that in October 1997, a platform called Common Cause, comprising 30 women’s non-governmental organizations, had been set up. It served as a lobby vis-à-vis the Government for the placement of women in political posts and conducted awareness campaigns to encourage solidarity among women.

Regarding rural women, she said they played a preponderant role in the country’s economy, particularly in supplying the urban centres with agricultural products. Agriculture provided a livelihood for 87 per cent of Congolese women in general and 13 per cent of those in Kinshasa. However, their autonomy in the management of their produce and cultivable land was still precarious. That situation was aggravated by their low level of training.

She said that more than 60 per cent of illiterate women lived in the rural areas. To correct the situation, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Family had developed, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an informal training programme with an important literacy component. Non- governmental organizations in the rural areas were also involved in literacy programmes.

FITA BIAVANGA, Second Vice-President of the National Council for Women, responding to questions on education, said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at the crossroads -– it must overcome its backwardness to be able to integrate new structures into its social life. It had been recommended to the transitional government that a general conference on education be held. Out of that proposed event a new draft for education with certain main objectives would be developed. The Congolese society could not be changed without reforming the educational system.

The programme’s strategy adopted guidelines for education as a top priority for everyone, and the new education policy envisaged reducing inequities in opportunities for social advancement, he continued. The national framework, currently being finalized, would expand schooling to all school age children and undertake curricula reform, among other measures. That plan would be detailed in the next State report to the Committee.

On efforts to eliminate illiteracy among rural women, he noted the vast statistical difference in that area between men and women. The State, as well as churches, had established schools and literacy programmes specifically for women, but those suffered mostly from insufficient finances and commitment of teachers. Most of those were volunteers. To bolster the portion of the budget for education, peace must be immediately restored, as territorial integrity had taken precedence in the country’s allocation.

Addressing the issue of health, he noted that a plan of action on “education for life” had been developed in collaboration with UNICEF to attract the attention of the young in particular. The goal of that project was development of responsible attitudes and behaviour.

INNOCENTE BARANSEKA, Director of Women’s Affairs, speaking on health issues, said that after years of family planning programmes, the balance sheet was not very good. Africans were naturally reticent to limit births and the focus had been on the number of desirable births and responsible parentage. Family planning services were organizationally weak and had received little or no financial support, especially since 1990. Family planning services had marginalized men and restricted awareness raising to women.

She said the Government had set up a national committee and drafted a national plan to eliminate female genital mutilation. Pregnancy as a result of rape was still at a high level, considering numerous reports from women in the provinces occupied by foreign troops. However, no statistics were available.

Mr. BIAVANGA, speaking on the situation of the 150,000 women refugees -- including girl children and adolescents -- said the Government had established some social infrastructure with the assistance of UNICEF. Pregnant women had received baby kits and basic equipment in the Lower Congo, while staple foods had been distributed in Kinshasa, Lower Congo and Eastern Kasai with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Statements by Committee Members

An expert stressed the need to take full advantage of the mobilization of women in peace negotiations. Without peace no authentic progress could be achieved. She said a special effort should be made to preserve and emphasize positive values in family education programmes.

AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, asked the Minister, upon the delegation’s return home, to disseminate the Committee’s review as widely as possible, including among the academic and non-governmental organization sectors.

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For information media. Not an official record.