Women have been underrepresented in Congolese politics — until now. Ahead of the December 20 elections, support for a fresh wave of female candidates is growing.
In the city of Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local resident Alexandrine Kisikutila is urging everyone around her to vote in next week’s general elections. More specifically, for female candidates.
“As a Congolese citizen I’m ready to go to the polls and vote for a woman,” she told DW.
“Not because I’m a woman too, but because I believe that women can achieve great things, as several renowned women around the world have proved. I think we can continue to have an impact on the world by supporting each other.”
Women have typically been underrepresented in Congolese politics. But now, support for female candidates is growing — particularly in the conflict-ridden east of the country.
An ‘aggressive’ and ‘insecure’ job
Voters in Congo are due to head to the polls on December 20 to elect a president, as well as members of various assemblies and councils at a local and national level.
But entering politics has never been easy for women, who are still held back by cultural barriers.
Generose Kagheni, coordinator of the organization Women Today, which is engaged in the defense of women’s rights in North Kivu province, believes women’s rights are often flouted in Congo because not enough women are in decision-making positions.
“The low representation of women in decision-making bodies is a major factor affecting the consideration given to their specific needs, the allocation of resources and even the formulation of social and economic legal reforms,” she told DW.
“That’s why it’s important to ensure that women participate at all levels of decision-making so that they can present and defend their rights in our highly patriarchal society.”
As a candidate in the presidential election, Marie-Josee Ifoku said she understands why many women shy away from the inevitable pressures of a political career.
“It’s a pretty aggressive and insecure world,” she told DW. “If you don’t have a strong personality, you’re not going to make it in politics.”
Ifoku speaks from experience. As the official candidate for the Alliance of Elites for A New Congo party was the governor of Tshuapa Province from 2016-2017 and was the only female candidate to run in the 2018 presidential election. But despite the hardships, she is optimistic that more women will follow in her footsteps.
“In spite of everything, we’ve decided to defy fear, because you have to admit that there’s a lot of fear behind it, and that takes courage and daring,” she said.
Seeking ’empowerment’ and ‘national reconciliation’
Promoting greater gender equality across Congo is perhaps unsurprisingly one of the biggest goals of female candidates.
Joelle Bile, a journalist and politician who is running with Alternative pour un Congo Nouveau (Alternative for a New Congo), said women are the ones in the best position to defend themselves.
“Due to my status as a woman, I think it is difficult for me to let go of this important fact, so I can only continue to promise [the voters] that when I am elected, I will do better,” she told DW.
“But also, policies will be formulated which will truly encourage the empowerment and advancement of women.”
Beyond gender equality, Bile has other plans for her country if elected.
“I would start by requesting a population census. From then on we will find the right solutions to the recurring problems of our society.”
Ahead of the vote, Ifoku is also making her ideas for the future of Congo known.
“I propose to rid Congolese society of an archaic system to move toward something new. We advocate awareness as well as national reconciliation,” she said.
With the election being held against the backdrop of ongoing rebel violence, conflict resolution policies are the centerpiece of many campaigns.
“We want to rebuild and restore the Congolese,” said Ifoku. “It must be strong, rebuilt and it must be dignified. The brooms [used as a campaign logo] symbolize our fight and embody power. Cleanliness is unity. It is the new.”
This article has been adapted by Ineke Mules from a report on DW’s AfricaLink, a daily podcast packed with news, politics, culture and more. You can listen and follow AfricaLink wherever you get your podcasts.
Correction, December 15, 2023: An earlier version of this article misspelled the names of Generose Kagheni and Marie-Josee Ifoku, of the Alliance of Elites for A New Congo party. DW apologizes for the errors.
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Publish date : 2023-12-17 11:27:16