DR Congo’s ‘Mama Par­ity’ fights for women’s role

The China Post - - LIFE - BY MARC JOUR­DIER

In the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, where women strug­gle against ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence and in­equal­ity, a com­mit­ted ac­tivist fights against all the odds to give women a third of all elected posts.

Known as “Ma­man Parite” — “Mama Par­ity” in English — Esper­ance Mawanzo hasn’t stopped to catch her breath since a hotly dis­puted Jan­uary elec­toral law can­celled out Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s pledge to bring more women into pol­i­tics.

Ma­man Parite lives and works in Bukavu, in the east of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, where women still suf­fer in the wake of a sav­age con­flict that in­fa­mously saw all sides us­ing rape as a war weapon.

Armed with hope, the ac­tivist’s Par­ity Ob­ser­va­tory rights group en­cour­ages and pre­pares women to run for of­fice.

“Be­come a can­di­date for the lo­cal (ur­ban) or pro­vin­cial elec­tions!” reads the South Kivu prov­ince elec­toral clinic’s freshly printed fly­ers, some six months ahead of a lo­cal poll.

The east of the vast cen­tral African coun­try was wracked by con­flict even be­fore two ter­ri­ble wars ( 1996- 2003) gripped the area. Scores of thou­sands of women have been bru­tally raped by armed groups or sol­diers.

In Oc­to­ber 2013, Ka­bila pledged bet­ter po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for women. But the elec­toral law that par­lia­ment ap­proved af­ter protests early this year killed up to 42 peo­ple dropped all ref­er­ences to a women’s quota.

Prac­ti­cally all op­po­si­tion MPs were ab­sent from the vot­ing ses­sion that ap­proved the law, seen widely as a manouevre to keep Ka­bila in power be­yond his man­date.

To Ma­man Parite, the new elec­toral law is “sex­ist.”

‘Men un­der­es­ti­mate us’

Can­di­dates must prove they have a de­gree, and pay a US$100 (90 euro) non-re­fund­able fee to run in lo­cal polls — re­quire­ments that are sim­ply be­yond most women’s reach in a coun­try where the U.N. says 2.5 mil­lion girls are out of school.

Both de­mands are “dis­crim­i­na­tory,” ob­jects the short-haired, be­spec­ta­cled ac­tivist, for whom the un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in pol­i­tics re­flects the in­fe­rior sta­tus of­ten im­posed on her gen­der.

Trav­el­ing through the scenic hills of South Kivu, one can only be struck by the fre­quent sight of col­umns of women and girls bent low by hefty bun­dles of crops and fire­wood on their backs. You don’t see men do­ing such work.

“Men un­der­es­ti­mate us,” says a fe­male lawyer who helps Ma­man Parite’s group, adding that the like­li­hood of a man even agree- ing to be rep­re­sented legally by a woman is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Ask­ing not to be named, she also de­nounces sex­ual ha­rass­ment by col­leagues and mag­is­trates. “If we win a case, we’re ac­cused of hav­ing slept with the judge.”

Ma­man Parite’s elec­toral clinic seeks to help women who feel drawn to pol­i­tics, what­ever their views and af­fil­i­a­tion.

As the mid-April dead­line for can­di­date reg­is­tra­tion draws near, “we help women with ad­vice ( on how) to present their ap­pli­ca­tions ... con­duct their cam­paign ... be in con­tact with the me­dia,” Ma­man Parite says.

Fi­nanced by funds from abroad, the NGO has other out­posts in the coun­try, but it is mainly in South Kivu that the clinic can pro­vide full sup­port for can­di­dates.

The goal of women hold­ing 30 per­cent of po­lit­i­cal posts is most un­likely to be reached in 2015. But for the ac­tivist, the process is longterm.

“Fif­teen years ago, we didn’t talk” about women’s is­sues, she points out.

“In 10 years, 15 years, we shall have an­other Congo.”

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