The first "Peace and Equal Opportunities in Congo after 50 years of independence" fair opened on 18th March at the premises of the Kinshasa International Fair (FIKIN). The three-day event, which was organised in collaboration of the United Nations system in the DRC, was held as part of the celebration of International Women's Day. The Minister of Gender, Family and Children, Mrs Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufwankolo, officially inaugurated the event which was placed under the patronage of the First Lady of the Republic, Mrs. Olive Kabila, ambassador of the fight against sexual violence. Several personalities attended the opening ceremony, including MONUC officials.
The MONUC Force Commander spoke on behalf of the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in the DRC, Ms Leila Zerrougui, who was away on mission. General Babacar Gaye noted: "the United Nations has always been committed to promoting women's rights and improving their condition around the world. That commitment is enshrined in the UN Charter signed in 1945 and was strengthened by the decision of 1977 to officially declare 8th March as day for commemorating the struggle for equality, justice, peace and development for women. Each year around the world, all women have thus an opportunity "to take stock and assess the progress achieved in the struggle for equality, peace and development" or an opportunity “to joint together, strengthen strategies, mobilise and campaign for political and socioeconomic changes favourable to women."
General Gaye said the DRC as it approaches its 50th anniversary of independence has significant challenges that the country must meet in the fight for equal opportunities between men and women. He said the DRC should promote and strengthen women's leadership and encourage their active participation in peace building and development efforts in the DRC. Statistics show how much remains to be done. Today, "the current government has just 5 women out of 43 members; the Goma Agreements had relied on the participation of just one woman among the 48 members of the previous Amani programme, while for the current STAREC programme for the stabilisation and reconstruction of eastern DRC women constitute just 28 per cent of the plenary assembly members.”
Another great challenge facing the DRC is to achieve "food security which is linked to gender and nutrition health.” Figures show that "women represent 67% of all internally displaced persons receiving food assistance from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Malnourished women represent 71% of the population targeted by humanitarian assistance programs.
Access to education also requires that particular attention be given to girls and women, as well as to "family planning, promotion and protection of women's rights, gender equality in combating HIV/AIDS, as possible responses to the problem of development, which the DRC needs to develop further,” General Gaye said. He however added that “significant progress has been accomplished in the drafting and adoption of laws addressing gender equality issues.”
In concluding, the MONUC Force Commander noted that “strengthening peace and security, achieving social progress and promoting the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms are inseparable from active participation, equality and advancement of Women."
United Nations support
MONUC and the United Nations Country Team in the DRC are also working to create a common framework and a platform for action to encourage women's active participation at all levels of national life, in all phases of the peacekeeping and peace consolidation process in DRC and in the fight against violence against women and girls.
The United Nations has been encouraging the DRC not just to develop an action plan for implementing the UN Security Council's resolution 1325 which urges Member States to adopt special provisions to protect women and children in times of armed conflict, but also to ensure that women have an active role in peace consolidation and preservation and are able to engage in advocacy actions for approval by the Government of the draft action supported by the UN system in DRC.
Regarding the process of Security Sector Reform, or of strengthening the capacities of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the National Congolese Police (PNC) and justice system, civilian and military, the United Nations, which encourages this process, urged the DRC “to ensure that the FARDC, the PNC, and the main officials of the judicial sector meet professional standards and receive ethics training in gender issues. In this process, the adoption of strategies for recruiting and promoting women will be of critical importance for development of sustainable resources, given that women account for 52 per cent of the Congolese people."
The Representative of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and Coordinator of the UN joint dynamic for gender promotion, called "ONE UN TEAM on Gender”, Ms Gisèle Koula, also discussed UN support provided through the above UN consultation mechanism in the area of gender for a better coordination of UN interventions. Through this group, she said, "the United Nations is firmly committed to supporting the Government's efforts to ensure that the needs of men and women are more fully taken into account and to promote their full participation in their country development process, not only as actors but also as beneficiaries of the gains to be achieved. This is a challenge which can and must be met and which everyone will need to overcome,” despite the existing socio-cultural barriers in the fields of education and training, healthcare, access to justice, access to resources, and political participation. "But together, Government, development partners and civil society, we can and must meet this challenge," Mrs. Koula said.
For her part, the Minister of Gender, Family and Children, thanked all national and international partners, including MONUC and UN agencies, for taking initiatives that contribute to women's empowerment.
This fair, she said, provides "an impulse and strengthens a synergy allowing us to better assist women whose activities, as statistics show, ensure the survival of 80 per cent of Congolese families. Many of those women are represented here through various women's organisations which have heeded the call by the Government's and the United Nations. We are going to create a directory of these organisations, which we will make public.”
She also described the event as an opportunity to let women know that they now can count on “the government which will see how to strengthen their capacities”.
According to the organisers, the fair was not just a celebration of Congolese women's major role in the history and future of the DRC; it was also designed to provide a forum for reflection on what remains to be done to help women realise their full potential for the benefit of the country.
Stands were set up for women of different conditions (vegetable growers, sportswomen, craftswomen, female music artists, culinary artists, human rights activists, political and community leaders, etc. to display, promote and sell the various products of their work and know-how. UN agencies also held stands to present their missions and activities in support of women's promotion. Visiting these stands, one could get information about promotion and protection of women's rights, integration of gender perspectives in Security Sector Reform, specific measures to protect women involved in the disarmament, demobilisation and reinsertion process for ex-combatants in the DRC.