Violence against Women and Information Communication Technologies: Congo Country Report

2 June 2010

The mostly urban Congolese population is estimated at 3,600,000 and comprises 51% women and 49% men. The country is emerging from years of armed conflict with large illegal circulation of small arms contributing to ongoing violence. Armed conflicts have placed sexual violence in the forefront. Many cases of sexual violence are reported in post conflict areas, most carried out by the military and ex-combatants. There is much exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Sexual harassment is acute in schools and universities. Domestic violence and incest rates are high. Perpetrators usually go unpunished in this patriarchal society. Girls and women are taught to be silent. Dowry or bride price means men believe they “own” women.

There is government concern but the few policy and legal texts that touch upon the issue of violence against women and girls are inadequate. Congo has no specific legislation on violence against women and girls. The procedure for victims of sexual assault and violence is slow and costly. Congo has signed CEDAW and Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and has enacted the Family Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure which outlaws assault, battery and rape. Few civil society organisations are involved in preventing VAW and there is little coordination of responses. United Nations agencies are active in the field and UNFPA funds the Ministry of Women’s Affairs work on VAW. Religious organisations regularly give support to the victims.

The lack of telecommunications infrastructure in the Congo represents a major obstacle to ICT development. Internet access costs are very high. The erratic electricity supply, subsequent use of generators and the high cost of fuel affect the price and the penetration (0.03%) of ICT services in the country. An estimated 250 internet cafes exist in bigger cities but are seen as the domain of young men. The lack of human capacity is an obstacle in the production of local content. Congolese diaspora produce and design much online content.

ICT legislation in the Congo

The principle of freedom of information and communication is recognized. There is legislation relating to censorship but written for the print and broadcast media and made applicable to the internet. Therefore, it is difficult to regulate harmful content as the websites are usually hosted in other countries, often in the West. 

The government does not have control of the .cg domain.

VAW and ICTs

SMS and phone calls are used by some men to harass women and girls; men monitoring women’s use of mobile phones leads to blurring of privacy issues; power relations between men and women are reflected by who has the resources to buy cell phones; 
mobile phones are also used by young people to disseminate pictures of naked girls. In general, victims don’t think that abuse in the use of cell phones is violence. "Video clubs" (replacing cinemas) sometimes screen pornographic films that lead to skewed perceptions of sexuality. Communication rights are an important concern for women, especially those who are vulnerable and have few opportunities to access traditional media. 
Women who disclose their HIV status on TV are harassed; indigenous women talking about their rights on radio have had their homes burned; professional women in the media are often victims of sexual harassment. Media is self-financing and issues of sexuality, VAW, reproductive health are not seen as attractive. But the few programmes that were produced on the subject have collected large audience participation.

Recommendations

For government: develop a specific law on violence against women and girls; reform family and penal codes; increase efficiency in court procedures to punish perpetrators; facilitate access to legal services, especially in rural areas; ensure free medical care to victims of sexual violence in urban and rural areas.

For civil society: advocate for the development of a specific law on violence against women and; take ownership of ICTs for combating VAW; increase networking to effectively combat VAW; make available the necessary ICT equipment.

For international organisations: support the process of drafting a law on violence against women and girls in Congo; develop programmes to combat VAW including the strategic use of ICTs; support capacity-building programmes for civil society organisations involved in ending violence against women and girls.

For the private sector: support projects and stimulate innovations in the fight against VAW using ICTs.

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