Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Violence against women and ICT

Sylvie Niombo with contributions by Josepha Pumbulu, Esquire and Philomène Mukendi
Sylvie Niombo with contributions by Josepha Pumbulu, Esquire and Philomène Mukendi on 4 November, 2009 · Africa
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The DRC population is estimated at 60 million inhabitants, of which 51% are women. For 15 years, DRC experienced instability caused by internal conflict and external pressure. It has one of the most serious human rightsi violation records in the world. Women and girls are the victims of sexual violence perpetrated mostly by combatants from both sides. Rape and sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Victims are discouraged from filing complaints because of lack of confidence in the legal system and strong presence of men in the judiciary. But there is growing mobilisation of women and human rights organisations in the fight to end violence against womeni (VAW) in partnership with the United Nations and international organisations.

Legislation and VAW: Women now occupy 8.4% of seats in parliament, which is an improvement. There are national laws that protect women and girls against violence. These include, the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Law on Sexual Violence; the Family Code; the Labour Code and the Criminal Code. DRC has ratified CEDAW and the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Resolution 1820 of the United Nations Security Council points out that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime. All these provisions exist to protect female victims of violence; however they are often not enforced.

Information and communication technology (ICT): The lack of broadband infrastructure and networks do not support the development of the ICT sector in DRC. Sixty-seven percent of the population lives in rural area and does not have access to ICTs. Interneti services are under-developed and access costs are unaffordable to most. The number of fixed line subscribers does not exceed 10,000 and that of internet users, approximately 100,000. The number of cybercafés is small with approximately 210 cybercafés in the country, of which 65% are in the capital, Kinshasa. There are only 5 or 6 internet service providers that are operational of an estimated 30. On the other hand, mobile telephony has seen a very strong expansion, surpassing 300,000 subscribers in the year 2000 with nearly 10 to 12 million lines (many subscribers have two lines), and a penetration rate about 20%. Sex-disaggregated data is not available.

Intersections between violence against women and girls and ICTs in the DRC are not well established. There are cases of men and boys using mobile phones to film their female partners nude and transmitting them via Bluetooth1. Women and girls seldom have means of defending themselves. Mobile phones are used frequently as a method of control over married women. The internet makes it possible to share experiences and receive information to advance the cause of women’s rights but can facilitate violence towards Congolese women and girls. Poorly trained in the use of ICT tools, Congolese women and girls do not have a technical framework for using ICT to counter the violence they experience. Professional women in the media often denounce they experience sexual harassment, without anything being done.

ICTs used in combating VAW: Projects using ICTs to combat violence against women and girls in the DRC are often implemented by international organisations; very few local women's rights activistsi and organisations have the ability or the technical and financial means to do so. There are radio and television programmes in French and Lingala which play a vital role on matters related to violence against women and girls and which use cell phones to involve listeners and give a forum to voices that would have no other means of access to media. ICTs are used to protect human rights defenders who are often threatened.

Recommendations

For government: promote competition in the telecommunicationsi


Footnotes

1Bluetooth is a wireless protocol for exchanging data over short distances from fixed and mobile devices