Women in Congo-Brazzaville
Women in Congo-Brazzaville
- Catherine PorterCatherine PorterHampton University
While the Republic of Congo has been frequently eclipsed by its neighbor with a similar name, women have been active participants in its history. Women’s experiences vary across Congo-Brazzaville, depending on their location and economic status; they create a diverse fabric of histories of multiple ethnicities, occupations, and encounters. The contemporary political boundaries of the Republic of Congo are European colonial constructs from the early 20th century, and today the majority of the population resides in the capital city of Brazzaville and in the other large urban areas in the southwest.
Early contact with the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries at the base of the Congo River destabilized the Kingdom of the Kongo, which was further accelerated by the proselytization of Catholic missionaries. The encroachment of Europeans and missionaries combined with the consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade deeply affected the traditional gender dynamics that women had in rural settings on farming plots. Women lost much of their social and political power that they held in precolonial settings, and this was further exacerbated by traditional roles that were impressed by Christian missionaries.
The establishment of French Equatorial Africa in 1910 with Brazzaville as its capital shifted the importance of the area within French West Africa. The railroad industry and the completion of the Kinshasa-Matadi and the Brazzaville-Point Noire Railways changed the demographics of the southwest, most specifically Brazzaville, into not only an administrative city but also a hub for industrial activity. As men began to move the coast into railway labor camps, women followed suit, where they became predominant in tailoring, domestic labor, and, later, secretarial services. World War I and World War II brought profound changes to Congo-Brazzaville as men were conscripted into the French armed forces and women provided necessary services to the colonial French administration in the form of administrative and tailoring work. During the push for independence and decolonization, women joined political parties such as Union Révolutionnaire des Femmes du Congo, Union de la Jeunesse Congolaise, or Confédération Générale des Travailleurs Africaine, mainly as auxiliary members.
Women focused their political, social, and economic concerns and pushed the emancipation of women to the center of the government in 1967. While women had a greater role in national life for the later part of the 20th century, women faced daily harassment and exploitation, especially with the 1993–1994 and 1997–1999 civil wars. Constitutional reforms in 2002 and 2015 guaranteed women the same rights as men within the country and a proportional representation within the upper and lower houses of the National Assembly. While this has increased the prominence of women on a national level, it has not proven consistent in daily interactions. Generally women are subjected to intimate violence, including domestic and sexual violence as well as street harassment. Organizations based in Congo-Brazzaville, such as Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH), are actively working for the stabilization of gender parity through law, education, and civic participation but face regular roadblocks on day-to-day activities.
- Women’s History