The links between land, power and identity play an important part in the ongoing conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Women are overwhelmingly affected by the conflict — their access to land is crucial for their livelihoods, as well as for the food security of both the women themselves and their families. Women for Women International (WfWI) has worked with over 84,000 marginalised women in eastern DRC and, despite some progress in women’s earnings, they reported significant barriers.
With funding from the UK government, WfWI recently commissioned research to explore the challenges that women face in eastern DRC. As in many other countries, the study found that national laws and policies had little impact on the rural women with whom WfWI works. These women’s communities are guided by ‘traditional’ laws and practices that tend to discriminate against women, undermining their secure access to land.
The study found that marginalised women are unable to own land, even through inheritance, and depend on their husband’s owned or rented land under ‘traditional’ frameworks. While women were able to make decisions about how to use the land they farmed, men controlled the sale of the resulting products. In instances where women were able to directly sell products, this was only for less profitable items than those controlled by their husbands.
Improving women’s access to land is fundamental to women’s rights and eastern DRC’s broader development, yet the connections between land, power and identity in both policy and practice have been gender-blind. This needs to be addressed. In parallel, greater support for DRC’s women farmers is needed to help them support their families and to challenge discriminatory norms.