Congo, Dem. Rep.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is ranked 84 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 79 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

DR Congo’s rating in the Human Development Index for 2011 is 0.286, placing it in 187th place out of a total of 187 countries. According to the Gender Inequality Index, DR Congo has a score of 0.710, placing it in 142nd place out of 146 countries (based on 2011 data). DR Congo is not ranked in the 2010 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Under the Family Code, the legal minimum age for marriage is 15 years for women and 18 for men.[12]  The 2007 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) estimated that 24.6 % of girls in DR Congo between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced, separated or widowed.[13]

According to the 2006 CEDAW report, the 1987 Family Code does not specifically prohibit polygamy (but does prohibit the customary practice of polyandry, i.e. a woman having multiple husbands).[14]  According to an earlier CEDAW report (1997), polygamy is not widely practiced but a phenomenon known as the deuxième bureau (literally, the “second office”) has developed, whereby married men enjoy extramarital relationships with several women.[15]  They act and consider themselves to be genuine spouses, and may even carry the identification cards of married women, but they do not have the legal status of a wife.

With respect to parental authority, the Family Code decrees that men are the head of the household and women must obey them.[16] As such, married women must receive authorisation from their husbands for any legal act, which clearly limits their capacity to independently fulfill activities associated with parental authority.[17]  Additionally, in cases of adultery, women face up to one year in prison and a large fine regardless of circumstance, while men only face the same criminal penalty for adultery if a judge determines that it was of “injurious quality”.[18]

Concerning inheritance rights, the Family Code gives preferential treatment to the children of the deceased and does not discriminate between women and men within the second category of heirs. However, following the death of a husband, wives must share the running of the household with a male relative of the deceased.[19]  The Chronic Poverty Research Centre reports that 23.8 percent of widows inherited majority of assets after their spouses in 2007.[20]

[12] Article 352 of the Family Code, in CEDAW (2004) p.18 [13] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 6.1 [14] Article 412 of the Family Code, in CEDAW (2004) p.18 [15] CEDAW (1997) p.45 [16] Articles 444 and 445 of the Family Code in CEDAW (2004) p.18 [17] Article 448 of the Family Code; CEDAW (2004), p.18 [18] Articles 467 and 468 of the Family Code; Article 3 of the Penal Code, in CEDAW (2004) p. 18, 19; US Department of State 2010 [19] CEDAW (2004) p.17 [20] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.29

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

DR Congo law criminalises rape, but the government has not effectively enforced this law: according to the US Department of State 2010 human rights report, victims and experts cite widespread impunity as the main reason for ongoing sexual violence, particularly in cases where such abuse is perpetrated by members of armed forces.[21]  In addition, in many cases victims are pressured to remain silent in order to uphold the family honour, as sexual assault carries a high social stigma.[22]

Domestic violence is not specifically addressed in Congolese law, and the US Department of State reported that there were no cases that year of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic violence.[23] Sexual harassment is a criminal offence under the 2006 sexual violence law.[24] However, the law is poorly implemented, and the 2004 CEDAW report states that it is a common problem in schools and workplaces.[25]

Although there are no official statistics, domestic violence against women, including spousal rape, appears to be common, and domestic violence has high levels of social acceptance. The 2007 DHS asked women if a husband was justified in hitting his wife for one of five reasons: 76 % responded affirmatively to at least one reason.[26]  The same survey found that nearly two out of three women in the DRC have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner or spouse at some point in their life, while almost half reported experiencing violence within the preceding 12 months.[27]  Further, physical violence is negatively correlated with some measures of women’s empowerment, as women who worked more frequently and were paid in cash reported higher levels of violence than women who did not receive cash wages.[28]

The general problem of violence against women has been greatly exacerbated by armed conflicts.  For instance, the 2004 CEDAW report indicates that rates of domestic violence have increased as a result of the armed conflict in the country.[29] Rates of sexual violence including rape are very high. In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch recorded sixteen thousand new cases of sexual violence for the year 2008, but even that number might underestimate the total number of attacks.[30]  As many as 1,000 women every month were victims of rape as a result of the resumption of armed conflict in the eastern territories in the second half of 2009.[31]  Among women who have had sex before the age of 15, more than one in five reported that it was coerced.[32]  The legal system has very few tools to prosecute these cases on the scale needed. Of the 287 cases reported in South Kivu between 2005 and 2007, only 64 had been tried, and 60 percent of ongoing investigations had been open for more than a year.[33]

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not prohibited under Congolese legislation. In general, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) FGM is not widespread but it is practised among isolated groups in northern parts of the country.[34].

Abortion is only legal in cases where the mother’s mental or physical health is in danger.[35] 

While knowledge of contraceptives remains high in the DR Congo, contraceptive prevalence is extremely low in the DRC. A 2007 survey found that 76 percent of respondents were aware of at least one modern method of contraception.[36]  However, just 4.4 percent of married women of reproductive age reported using contraception in 2002. Overall, 19 percent of women reported using a modern method at some point in their lives, and just 20 percent at the time of the survey were currently using some form, modern or traditional.[37]  Poor quality and inadequate public health infrastructure means it is difficult for women in rural areas to access reproductive health services, and women face cultural and religious barriers to accessing reproductive health service, as children are viewed as a gift from God that cannot be hindered by human methods.[38] In addition, the 2004 CEDAW report states women are not be able to access contraception without their husband’s consent.[39]

[21] Articles 170 and 171 of the Penal Code, in CEDAW (2004) p. 19; US Department of State (2011) [22] US Department of State (2011) [23] US Department of State (2011) [24] US Department of State (2011) [25] CEDAW (2004) p.45 [26] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 17.5 [27] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Tables 18.1 and 18.5 [28] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 18.1 [29] CEDAW (2004) p.48 [30] Human Rights Watch (2009) p.14 [31] US Department of State (2011) [32] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 18.4 [33] HRC (2008) pp. 16-17 [34] WHO (2008) p.30; CEDAW (2004) pp.26-27 [35] United Nations (2011) [36] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008),Table 5.1 [37] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Tables 5.3 and 5.4 [38] CEDAW (2004) p.38 [39] CEDAW (2004) p.38

Son Bias: 

Data from the 2007 DHS survey indicates that overall, vaccination rates for children under the age of 2 are very low, but that slightly more girls are vaccinated than boys.[40] Rates of malnutrition are also slightly higher for boys under five than for boys, and that under-five mortality rates are overall higher for boys than for girls.[41] According to the same survey, 13.6% of women aged 15-19 had received no schooling at all, compared to 5.6% of men in the same age bracket.[42] Overall, this would indicate no son preference in regard to early childhood care, but that son preference is present in regard to access to education.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.99.[43] 

There is no evidence to suggest that DR Congo is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[40] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 9.3 [41] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008),  Tables 11.1 and 12.3 [42] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008),  Tables 3.3.1 and 3.3.2 [43]Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women have very limited access to land. By law, the right to land concessions can be given to men and women without distinction but traditional attitudes and customs that discriminate against women remain strong in this area. Women in DR Congo do not have access to property other than land, since everything must be administered by their husbands.[44] Moreover, they must seek a court order to prevent mismanagement of property, should such a situation arise.

As mentioned above, married women do not have the legal capacity to sign certain acts and contracts without the consent of their husbands.[45] This means that they have virtually no access to bank loans and bank accounts. 72 percent of working women in 2007 reported having a say, either singly or jointly with their husband, over the use of their income. However, according to the 2007 DHS, wealthier and more educated women living in urban environments have significantly more decision making power than rural women.[46]  Power over wages does not extend to other decision making responsibilities, as the same survey shows a majority of women reporting that their spouse had sole decision making power over large household purchases and even decisions concerning women’s health.[47]

[45] Articles 215, 448, and 450 of the Family Code, in FAO et al. (2004); CEDAW (2004) p.18; Mossi and Duarte 2006, pp. 9-11 [46] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 17.2 [47] Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Table 17.3

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Women face restrictions on their freedom of movement. Wives are obliged to live in a residence of their husband’s choosing, and cannot apply for a passport without their husband’s consent.[48]  Widespread instability and militia activity, and the attendant risk of rape and other atrocities, effectively limits the movement of rural women, particularly in the eastern territories.[49]  Freedom of speech is protected by law in DR Congo, but the government places considerable pressure on journalists and media outlets to practice self-censorship, and journalists are frequently targeted for harassment and assault.[50] Rights to freedom of assembly and association are limited under the pretext of maintaining public order, and many local NGOs face pressure and harassment if they criticise government policy, including those working with women survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.[51]

In DR Congo, women enjoy the same rights as men to vote in and stand for election to political office.[52] However, women wishing to stand for office face considerable practical and cultural obstacles, including hostility towards the idea politicians.[53] There are currently 47 women serving in the DRC’s 608-seat bicameral parliament.[54]  In addition, 47 of the 690 seats in the provincial parliaments are held by women.[55]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Labor Code provides 14 weeks of paid maternity leave at two-thirds of wages, with all benefits paid by the employer.[56]  The code prevents employers from terminating the employment of women while they are maternity leave, but it is not clear if this law is enforced effectively.[57] In addition, given that the majority of the population (female and male) earn their living in the informal economy,[58] it is likely that few women actually benefit from these provisions.

[48] US Department of State (2011); Article 165 of the Family Code in CEDAW (2004) p.17 [49] US Department of State (2011) [50] Freedom House (2010) [51] US Department of State (2011); Freedom House (2010) [52] CEDAW (2004) p.29 [53] CEDAW (2004) pp.29-31 [54] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010) [55] US Department of State (2011) [56] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [57] Article 62 of the Labour Code in CEDAW (2004) p.16 [58] US Department of State (2011) 


DR Congo is a country rich in natural resources, including cobalt (used in the manufacture of mobile phones and computing equipment), copper, gold, and diamonds.[1] Established as a Belgian colony in 1908, the country became independent in 1960, experiencing five years of civil conflict before Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized power in 1965 (and changed the name of the country to Zaire).[2] Mobutu’s autocratic rule lasted until 1997, when he was overthrown in a coup led by Laurent Kabila, with backing from Rwanda and Uganda.[3] Since then, the country (renamed DR Congo) has experienced ongoing political upheaval, and armed conflict between government troops (backed by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe) and rebel forces (backed by Rwanda and Uganda), resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3 million people, and an ongoing humanitarian emergency.[4] While a peace deal signed in 2003, and elections held in 2006 for the National Assembly and the post of president (won by Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph Kabila) have brought some stability, the eastern area of the country remains blighted by ongoing conflict, with a 2011 survey by Oxfam International revealing that 90% of inhabitants of one province in eastern DR Congo were living in fear of their safety.[5]  DR Congo is classed by the World Bank as a low income country.[6]

The long-running, persistent armed conflict in the eastern portion of the country has created a situation where brutal acts of sexual violence against women have become a routine tactic of the warring factions. Tens of thousands of women have been raped since the conflict began, and the country lacks the judicial and legal mechanisms to handle these violations of Congolese law and human rights. As a result, these acts of sexual violence are committed by members of the various armed factions with impunity.[7]

Article 14 of the 2006 Constitution of DR Congo upholds the principle of equality between men and women. However, many provisions of the Congolese Family, Labor, and Penal Codes still discriminate against women, particularly in the areas of civil liberties and ownership rights.[8]  The DR Congo lacks effective national machineries to implement the gender equality provisions in its constitution.[9]

DR Congo ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1986, but has yet to ratify the optional protocol.[10]  DR Congo ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2009.[11]

[1] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [2] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [3] CIA (2011) [4] BBC (n.d.) [5] BBC (n.d.); Oxfam International (2011) [6] World Bank (n.d.) [7] Human Rights Council (HRC) (2008) p.2 [8] Article 450 of the Family Code, in CEDAW (2004) p.18 [9] Mossi, M. and M. Duarte (2006) p.3 [10] United Nations Treaty Collection (2011) [11] African Union (2010)


African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010).

BBC (n.d.) ‘Democratic Republic of Congo profile’, BBC News, (accessed 8 November 2011).

Central Intelligence Agency (2011) World Factbook: Congo, Democratic Republic of the, Washington, DC: CIA, online edition, (accessed 8 November 2011).

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at (accessed 7 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1997), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Zaire, Second Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/ZAR/2, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2004), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/COD/4-5, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2006), Concluding Comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Democratic Republic of the Congo, CEDAW/C/COD/5, CEDAW, New York, NY.

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (2003), Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, UN, New York, NY.

Human Rights Council (HRC) (2008), Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural, Including the Right to Development, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk, Addendum, Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, A/HRC/7/6/Add.4, HRC: New York, NY.

Freedom House (2010) ‘Freedom in the World 2010: Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)’, (accessed 8 November 2011)

Food and Agriculture Organization  (FAO), IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), ILC (International Land Coalition) (2004), Rural Women’s Access to Land and Property in Selected Countries: Progress Towards Achieving the Aims of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, FAO Gender and Population Division, IFAD Technical Advisory Division, and ILC, Rome.

Human Rights Watch (2009), Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, HRW, New York, NY.

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO: Geneva, Switzerland, (accessed 6 January 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva, (accessed 6 January 2010)

Ministère du Plan and Macro International (2008), Enquête Démographique et de Santé, République Démocratique du Congo 2007, Ministère du Plan and Macro International: Calverton, Maryland, USA. (accessed 8 November 2011)

Mossi, M. and M. Duarte (2006), Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Alternative Report prepared for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 36th Session – 7-25 August 2006, AADHR (African Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Réseau Action Femmes, OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture): Geneva, Switzerland.

Oxfam International (2011) ‘90 per cent of people in LRA areas of Congo still live in fear of their safety, new Oxfam survey reveals’, press release, (accessed 8 November 2011)

United Nations (UN) (2011) ‘World Abortion Policies 2011’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2011) Human Development Report 2011, (accessed 8 November 2011)

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-               CEDAW: (accessed 8 November 2011)

-               Optional Protocol: (accessed 8 November 2011)

US Department of State (2011) ‘2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Congo, Democratic Republic of the’, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC. (accessed 8 November 2011)

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Congo, Dem. Rep.’, (accessed 8 November 2011)

World Economic Forum (2010) ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2010 rankings’,

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at (accessed 2 March 2012)

WHO (World Health Organization) (2008), Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An Interagency Statement, WHO: Geneva, Switzerland.

Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: