Women, land and conflict transformation in the DRC

Makobola village, in the Uvira territory (South-Kivu province) of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Cato Lein

After her father’s death, Furaha inherited a piece of land situated in the village of Makobola, in the Uvira territory (South-Kivu province). However, because of local customs, her land was attributed to her husband who, after the death of their only child, decided to remarry. Then, when her husband died, Furaha was chased away from her father’s land and forced to leave it to the children of her husband’s second wife. Stories like Furaha’s are common in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where local customs often forbids women from owning land, despite the law allowing it.

Women should not be solely perceived as victims of a system, but as part of their respective communities. In the Uvira territory for instance, the Bafuliru and the Barundi, are competing to access territories and the customary power attached to them. In this context, women suffer the consequences of conflicts the same way as men do, but they also contribute. While some are willing to promote and develop conflict transformation initiatives, others may have a negative influence, such as providing supplies or funds to armed groups that commit numerous abuses on civilians. The common denominator of all these rural women is that their role is often underestimated, their opinion barely taken into account, and that they are rarely invited to negotiation tables.

In order to better comprehend and address the multi-dimensional aspects of this global exclusion of women, LPI and its partner Kvinna till Kvinna have, since 2013, supported a project implemented by two Congolese organisations, the Solidarity of Women Activists for Human Rights (Solidarité des Femmes Activistes pour la Défense des Droits Humains – SOFAD) and the Farmers’ Union for Integral Development (Union Paysanne pour le Développement Intégral – UPDI).

During the first phase of the project, the context analysis, LPI’s partners interviewed more than 500 actors from four communities, the Bavira, Bafuliru, Banyamulenge and Barundi, and came to the conclusion that land is a major factor in conflict within and between the communities and that its management, completely excluding women, has a negative impact on their security. This can be analysed through the “Power, Land and Identity” triangle. In the DRC where most of the population lives off farming activities, land is not only a means of livelihood; it is also a way for families and individuals to maintain social influence, as well as a link to their ancestors that forges their identity and their status among the society. Denying women’s rights to land ownership is thus way of making them second-class citizens and denying their legitimacy as potential society leaders.

During the current phase of the Participative Action Research (PAR), men and women from all four communities will be consulted in order to identify the root causes of exclusion which leads women like Furaha to be denied their rights and their willingness to make a difference within conflict mediation initiatives to be ignored. With the guidance of 12 trained facilitators (9 women and 3 men) emanating from the four conflicting communities, the organisation of focus-groups and inter-community dialogues aims at identifying solutions and designing actions that promote women’s right to land and increase their participation within decision-making bodies in charge of land management and conflict mediation.

“Empowering women”, as highlighted by the theme chosen for the 2015 International Women’s Day, is central to this project, because of its potential impact not only on women’s lives, but also on the whole society. Indeed, while we will celebrate in October the fifteenth anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes the importance of women’s “equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security”, a lot more needs to be done in order to reach this goal.