Research on women, peace and security provides strong evidence that gender equality and women’s empowerment are associated with more peaceful and stable outcomes. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in Resolution 2612 (2021), the Security Council calls on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to support women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the realms of politics, security, and peace processes. Over the past few years, the Mission invested considerable efforts in advancing the participation of women in peace and mediation processes at the grassroots, provincial and national levels.
Research on women, peace and security provides strong evidence that gender equality and women’s empowerment are associated with more peaceful and stable outcomesTweet
Women as actors of peace
At the grassroots level, the Mission facilitated the establishment of a network of over 350 women mediators who play key roles in preventing and resolving conflicts in their communities across North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, and the Kasais in the DRC. For example, a network of 20 women mediators in Nyiragongo Territory, North Kivu province, whom the Mission has supported since 2019, successfully resolved six conflicts over the past year related to family, land and inheritance. They also referred two conflicts related to sexual violence to the local police.
Similarly, MONUSCO facilitates the inclusion of women peace activists in local conflict early warning and prevention mechanisms. Though limited in number, women community leaders participate in community alert networks and local peace committees to ensure that women and girls’ protection needs are addressed and to inform gender-responsive protection of civilian strategies.
Trained women mediators are involved directly in peace efforts, including in talks between armed groups and local populations. In Kasaï Central province, for instance, they successfully encouraged civilians in Dibaya to avoid taking revenge on a Kamuina Nsapu element. Also, in Kasaï Central, women who received training from the Mission in land law, as well as negotiation and mediation techniques, are well equipped to facilitate the peaceful resolution of land disputes, which features among the root causes of intercommunal conflicts in the region. Furthermore, in Ituri Province, women participated in intercommunity dialogues between the Bira and Hema communities following their training, coaching and community sensitisation with MONUSCO. These women were subsequently involved in a peace process from July to August 2021. The process resulted in a landmark local peace agreement that addressed persistent intercommunal violent conflicts that had led to killings, destruction of property, and displacement of civilians.
Women in Eastern DRC further engage in community awareness and peace advocacy by encouraging peaceful cohabitation among IDPs and host communities, negotiating the release of children associated with armed groups, holding talks with elements of armed groups, and sensitising relatives who belong to these groups to lay down their weapons. In Ituri, where women mediators were involved in disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration initiatives, they supported the identification and profiling of female combatants and dependents. Other female mediators actively participated in awareness sessions addressing the Force de résistance patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) militia in Kamatsi, which encouraged over 900 militiamen to join a pre-cantonment in southern Irumu.
With the support of the DRC national programme for the Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan for War-affected Areas (STAREC), MONUSCO and women mediators established a permanent consultation framework to discuss the issues, challenges and prospects of the conflict in the Hauts Plateaux of Uvira, Fizi and Mwenga in South Kivu province. The Mission brought together women leaders from five ethnic groups in the Uvira, Fizi and Mwenga Highlands to exchange and assess their perceptions of the crisis in the area and their approach to resolving this ongoing conflict. In Uvira, for example, with the support of MONUSCO, the women mediators brought together and sensitised women of different ethnic groups who are associated with the different armed groups, urging them to join the peace efforts.
Unfortunately, despite their vast experience and wide-ranging interventions, Congolese women’s peace efforts are often overlooked. Insecurity and violence, patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, and limited socioeconomic opportunities continue to impact negatively on women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in political, peace and security efforts.
A network of 20 women mediators in Nyiragongo Territory, North Kivu province, successfully resolved six conflicts over the past year related to family, land and inheritance.Tweet
Permeating the political realm
Article 14 of the 2006 National Constitution guarantees the implementation of parity between men and women in national, provincial and local government institutions. While today there is still a long way to go before gender parity in the political realm becomes a reality, recent developments have been encouraging. Notably, women’s representation in the current government under Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde jumped from 17% to 27%, with women now occupying several key ministerial posts.
Nevertheless, more must be done at the legislative levels, as only 9% and 19% of the National Assembly and the Senate are women, respectively. Furthermore, only 16.6% of the seats are held by women in the provincial assemblies. Therefore, MONUSCO prioritises the use of its good offices to enhance the role of women in political processes. It also supports local media outlets, such as Radio de la Femme, which focus on promoting the participation of women and youth in the electoral process.
Leading by example
Women’s limited representation in national and local peace and political processes in the DRC reflects the efforts MONUSCO itself still needs to make if we are to lead by example in advocating for gender equality and women’s full participation and influence. Having more women in peacekeeping missions goes beyond balancing the number of posts between men and women. When women are well represented among the staff, the institutional culture changes, which leads to greater effectiveness. It also translates into fewer cases of sexual and gender-based violence, increased opportunities for building the capacity of local women, and breaking down traditional views that discriminate and marginalise women.
The Mission’s Leadership is therefore committed to working towards a more gender-balanced workforce, both with regards to its civilian and uniformed components. To increase women’s representation, and following the launch of the UN System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity in September 2017, MONUSCO adopted internal directives and annual targets for international staff, and developed guidance for recruitment and promotion and the establishment of a conducive work environment to advance gender parity within the Mission.
As of December 2021, women represented 20.6% of the national and international civilian staff. Regarding uniformed personnel, women represent 26.5% of all Individual Police Officers and 16.7% of all Formed Police Units. Only 5.4% of all members of the MONUSCO Force are currently female, which nevertheless represents an increase of over 2% since 2019.
More efforts are needed to address the challenges that delay the realisation of gender parity across all levels and for both international and national staff, increased understanding that inclusivity is a tool for efficiency, sustainability and ownership of peacebuilding processes and mechanisms remains key, especially as MONUSCO engages on the path of transition.
Bintou Keita is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the DRC and the Head of Mission at MONUSCO