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The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 on Human Rights: The Case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Like many countries around the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen a sharp increase in cases of domestic violence against women and girls since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020. To better understand the gendered impacts of the pandemic on women and girls in the DRC, WILPF DRC launched a research project in four districts of Kinshasa, the capital city, in May and June 2021.

Credit: Patrizia Scannella
Written by Annie Matundu Mbambi
17 February 2022

The socio-cultural context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not conducive to achieving equality in social relations, particularly between men and women. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, exposing the vulnerabilities of social, political, and economic systems which, in turn, amplify the effects of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, 18 March 2020, the President of the DRC, Félix-Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi, announced temporary so-called “barrier” measures that included lockdowns, suspension of flights from countries at risk, closure of schools, churches, stadiums and party halls, and the prohibition of gatherings of more than 20 people, including mourning and other funeral ceremonies, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Many services were allowed only under various restrictions and remote working was also imposed.

As could be expected and feared, these measures have reinforced violence against women and girls at both the national and local levels. The COVID-19 pandemic, which requires limiting contacts and movement, has produced significant economic and social tensions and has exacerbated pre-existing problems such as overcrowding in places where people already live in high numbers; inadequate or loss of livelihoods; limited and difficult access to basic social services; and weakened or broken circles of support and solidarity.

Prior to the pandemic, a 2013–2014 study estimated that 51 per cent of Congolese women and girls aged 15–49 had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by intimate partners at least once in their lives. Home confinement measures have resulted in an increase in household violence in the DRC as in many other places in the world. Indeed, women and girls surveyed by WILPF DRC have reported that restrictions on freedom of movement and school closures have led to deplorable acts, including incest, and have further eroded human rights and deepened pre-existing inequalities.

In response to the social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, WILPF DRC felt it was imperative and useful to document the impacts of restrictions related to the pandemic, especially during the lockdown period and in the outskirts of Kinshasa, DRC’s capital. Therefore, WILPF DRC has developed and implemented research in this area with a gender perspective.

The research is focused on the impacts of the DRC government’s public health measures on households, and in particular on changes in gender roles, including the division of domestic work between men and women, as well as on marital and family relations.

Through focus groups organised in May and June 2021 in four peri-urban districts of Kinshasa with 40 women and girls, WILPF DRC listened, recorded, analysed, and captured the expression of domestic violence, particularly of physical and verbal violence, during the lockdown period. Women and girls are the witnesses and unfortunately the primary victims of violence within families.

The questionnaire used during the focus groups also explored and assessed the participants’ knowledge of the organisations and governmental structures that support victims of domestic violence and their accessibility, as well as the specific rights of women that guarantee socio-economic support, health care, and legal care for victims of domestic violence.

Through this survey, WILPF DRC learned that, due to lockdown measures, the number of cases of domestic violence has increased in households, particularly cases of marital rape and incest. Early pregnancies increased notably due to school closures and being locked down in crowded home environments, which led to reported cases of incest and children from disadvantaged households resorting to survival sex. Physical and verbal violence by husbands also appeared to have increased, particularly as a result of increased alcohol consumption.

In addition, many of the women and girls who participated in the focus groups were not aware of the organisations and governmental structures that take care of women and girls who are victims of domestic violence. They also did not know how to access the authorities where they can file a complaint.

The bleak prospects for a long-term national recession raise serious concerns, given the manner in which the above-mentioned human rights restrictions are being implemented and the lack of protection that should accompany them.

The former G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equality recently called for prioritisation of the gender dimensions of the pandemic to prevent a continued deterioration in women’s equality and rights.

For WILPF DRC, it is essential to break the silence to let the voices of women and girls victims of domestic violence be heard.


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Annie Matundu Mbambi

Annie Matundu Mbambi is the current President of WILPF DRC, which is focused on promoting peace and political participation at the national, regional, and global levels through advocacy and dialogue. She has been nominated as assistant in charge of gender on the Presidential Panel guiding DRC’s President in his mandate as African Union Chairperson for 2021–2022.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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