Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

January 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm (Blogging, Culture, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guide, Nature, Photo, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Travel, Trip, Vacation)

Rural women find fewer such strategies available. Saddled with the bulk of agricultural work, firewood gathering, water hauling, and child care, they have generally seen an increase in their labor burdens as the economy has deteriorated. In the DRC’s eastern highlands, conditions have grown particularly severe. The statepromoted expansion of cash crop hectarage for export, particularly of coffee and quinine, has reduced the amount and quality of land available for peasant household food-crop production. Plantations owned by the politico-commercial and new commercial elites have increasingly expanded onto communal lands, displacing existing food crops with cash crops. And within peasant households, men’s control of the allocation of household land for export and food crops has led to greater use of land for export crops and the diminution of women’s access to land and food crops. Even when male producers turn to cultivating food crops, the household does not necessarily profit nutritionally. Food needed for household consumption is frequently sold for cash, cash needed to pay for daily necessities, clothes, school fees, taxes, and so on. Higher-priced and nutritionally superior food crops such as sorghum are frequently sold by producers who eat only their cheaper, less nutritious food crops such as cassava. Widespread malnutrition among children has resulted. Among groups where women have more power, the situation is less severe. Among the Lemba, for example, women not only have more say in determining what is grown but also in what is consumed. In a country where the most widespread pattern is for the men to be served the best food first, with the remainder going to women and children, Lemba women traditionally set aside choice food items and sauces for their own and their children’s consumption before feeding the men their food. Their nutritional status and that of their children is correspondingly better. Rural women have arguably borne the brunt of state exactions. In some cases, women have banded together to resist the rising tolls and taxes imposed on them. Political scientist Katharine Newbury studied a group of Tembo women growers of cassava and peanuts west of Lac Kivu who successfully protested against the imposition of excessive collectivity taxes and market taxes levied on them when they went to market. The local chief was hostile. But a sympathetic local Catholic church, which provided a forum for meetings and assistance in letter writing, was helpful, as was the ethnic homogeneity of the group. Although they could not nominate a woman for election to the local council, they did succeed in voting for males friendly to their position. The newly elected councillors hastened to suspend the taxes and the tolls.

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