Congo: Violence against Women and Information Communication Technologies

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.
Publication date: 
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Year of publication: 
2009