March 4, 2024

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When women become a political issue

When women become a political issue

From our special correspondent in Kinshasa – If women are ubiquitous on election posters, the Democratic Republic of Congo is far from a champion of women’s rights on the African continent. During his mandate, President Felix Tshisekedi promised better representation of women. However, these initiatives have a long way to go before they become part of the country’s reality.

On Congolese National Radio Television (RTNC), President Félix Tshisekedi’s campaign clips called “Fatshi Concrete” followed each other. One of them highlights one of the measures taken during his mandate that began in 2019: Free delivery.

The measure, effective from September 2023, is being phased in at public hospitals and health centres. At the “Mama Yemo” General Hospital (named after the mother of former President Mobutu), in the maternity ward, Julie gave birth to little Yumi a few days ago.

Julie gave birth to her third child, a girl, and benefited from free healthcare for the first time. © David Cormesano, France 24

“This is my third child, he was born by caesarean section, for the first two children, I gave birth elsewhere, I paid 40,000 Congolese francs. [14 euros au taux actuel, NDLR]65,000 later [22,60 euros, NDLR] Second. I am satisfied with the free maternity care, because this time, if I had to pay for the caesarean section upfront, I would have died because this operation is expensive. [un million de francs congolais, soit 340 euros, NDLR].”

Free women and hospitals

The pain medication she takes and the medication to treat the newborn’s fever will be at her expense. But his relief is palpable: “Before free deliveries, if you didn’t pay, you were kept in the hospital until you paid the bill.”

Still lying in her bed, Pierrette Mayele Moseka, A little winner’s mother is full of praise for the President’s move. “This is my sixth child. As my husband said, when I arrived, I was in agony. We came from a long way and were immediately treated at the hospital. We are all going to vote for President Fatshi.”

Despite dilapidated buildings and basic equipment, “Mama Yemo” hospital has one of the best general maternity wards in Kinshasa. For doctors, the free care provided to mothers and their babies represents real relief.

General Hospital Maternity Ward "Mom is Amo" In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Maternity ward of “Mama Yemo” General Hospital, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. © David Cormesano, France 24

“This move allows us to free up beds quickly. After two or three days, if there are no complications, the women can go home. This makes our work easier,” said Olenka Manga, one of the two practicing doctors. Change.

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“Often, women refused to have caesareans because they could not pay. With free access, maternal mortality has come down. Today, we can intervene quickly. There is no more worry about whether a woman can pay. Child mortality has also come down,” she adds. , walking through the delivery room, which awaits the new complex in buildings still under construction.

Phased implementation

In his brand new office, the director of the hospital, Dr. Jean-Paul Diwengi, also welcomed Felix Shisegedi’s decision, adding diplomatically that “we should not wait for the president of the republic to come and work in our place.”

In fact, the director explains that free delivery does not only affect maternity wards. “It’s a matter that involves other disciplines: functional rehabilitation, resuscitation, anesthesia, pediatric surgery and mortuary for unfortunate situations.”

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Through free delivery, the Ministry of Health transfers the amount no longer collected from families to its institution’s account every month. “This is a significant improvement not only for women, but also for the general hospital. I have been its president for three years and almost no invoice has been paid in full! To make this project possible, technical partners and financial institutions must also follow suit,” she says between smiles and concerned looks.

Dr. Jean Paul Divengi, Director General Hospital "Mom is Amo".
Dr. Jean-Paul Diwengi, Director of the “Mama Yemo” General Hospital. © David Cormesano, France 24

It is difficult to know where the ambitious presidential program that was implemented only three months ago. Although many organizations in Kinshasa have implemented this method, little data is available at the scale of the continent’s Democratic Republic of Congo, a country of nearly 100 million people.

For lawyer Arlette Otia, a member of former President Joseph Kabila’s (2001-2019) party, this is “a political and populist move. To be sure, you will not meet women who have given birth for free. They are no more than politicians. Who is really talking about it.”

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“Woman President”?

On the presidential palace side, Felix Tshisekedi’s spokesperson vehemently denies the allegations. Tina Salama, a former journalist of Okabi Radio, an institution in the country, affirms, “The president is a staunch defender of women’s rights. Under his presidency, the country has never done better since independence.”

Tina Salama, a former journalist with Okabi Radio, is President Felix Tshisekedi's spokesperson.
Tina Salama, a former journalist with Okabi Radio, is President Felix Tshisekedi’s spokesperson. © David Cormesano, France 24

“In 2019, there were 17% women in state administrations and public institutions. In 2023, we have increased to 32%.” In the absence of a presidential-candidate, Tina Salama, who toured the four corners of the country (Katanga, Kivu, Kasai…) said, “This is the first time we see women occupying decision-making positions. We have a vice-president, I am the first spokesperson. And I am the head of the Central Bank of the Congo. A woman in charge, a woman environment minister, another a justice minister.”

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In the sprawling gardens of the Palais de la Nation on the banks of the Congo River, she says her boss is a “female president”. In this place where she saw the “big men” of Congo’s historic march from Patrice Lumumba to Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Tina Salama said, “Women’s emancipation, empowerment, she believes in it because this is what she really believes in. It is important for the social development of our country, her life is strongly supported by women. Victim: His mother [la femme d’Étienne Tshisekedi, un ancien Premier ministre de Mobutu, “éternel opposant” mort en 2017, NDLR], his wife and four daughters. She says she is very happy to be surrounded by all these women.

A long road to liberation

At the other end of Kinshasa, on campusJEMA Association A podcast recording dedicated to the dangers of social networks by a group of young women defending women’s rights and access to education and employment.

In the studio there is no air conditioning, but with strength and determination, the young panelists discuss the harassment that women may be the target of or the toxic influence of fashionable influencers on the networks.

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For Dollsaint Wangu, 23, it’s about “listening to me, influencing women who don’t know their rights, their responsibilities, and telling them what they can do with their lives. J. So they can be free.’

29-year-old Ronnie Kaniba at the time of the recording "Your Turn, the Women's Podcast"In Kinshasa.
Ronnie Caniba, 29, during the taping of “À doi la parole, podcast de femmes” in Kinshasa. © David Cormesano, France 24

Ronnie Kaniba, another participant in the podcast we recorded that morning, assures us that the situation for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo is improving. “There is a change. Today, we are heard and we are considered. We are campaigning for gender equality.”

“Significant progress” confirmed Marie-Josephine Ntshaykolo, the president Carter Center who financed the construction of this recording studio. He certainly defuses that by explaining that throughout the Congo, women’s status varies by province, or whether we live in the city or the countryside.

On the streets of Kinshasa, candidate posters are ubiquitous.
On the streets of Kinshasa, candidate posters are ubiquitous. 29,096 women are contesting the Dec. 20 vote, which will enable the election of national and provincial representatives and municipal councilors — as well as the future president. © David Cormesano, France 24

“Barriers to women’s emancipation, especially in the context of public affairs, are primarily at the cultural level. In the Congo, it is generally male dominated. Women are discriminated against by customs and norms that are not in her favor. But at the legislative level there are more women candidates, at the government level, there are more women,” she says. .

Women in politics

Ahead of the Dec. 20 presidential election, Rony is staying away from politics, working as a nutritionist with a UNICEF project. “We really avoid [d’aborder des sujets politiques] Because it can be dangerous. But there are things we can do. For example, I am an observer [du scrutin]. You observe, you observe and you report. You don’t need to publish it because it’s dangerous.

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As the campaign enters its home stretch, the December 20 elections will appoint the president, national and provincial representatives and municipal councillors.

According to a report prepared by UN Women, 29,096 women are candidates for these positions (compared to 71,273 men). The number of elected officials should be announced on December 31, when the election results will be announced Independent National Election Commission (INEC).

Despite logistical difficulties in organizing the referendum, the outcome of the referendum will provide an indication of progress in the representation of women in Congolese public life.

If this election goes disastrously and the results are contested in 2018, it will be very bad news for women and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report was prepared with the participation of Kinshasa-based journalist Ivan Kasongo.