Women and Entrepreneurship in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Walking through a rural area in the Democratic Republic of Congo (or the DRC), you might find a woman with a roadside stand selling food or a hand-made artisan craft. This is a way of life in the DRC, and these women are entrepreneurs just trying to survive.

The DRC has a population of 67.8 million people, making it Africa’s second-largest country. Despite being rich in several natural resources, it remains one of the world’s poorest nations, with over seventy percent of its population living below the poverty line (UNwomen.org).

Entrepreneurship is a way for women to support themselves and their families. It is about survival more than making a profit. In this war-torn country where unemployment rates are nearly eleven percent (tradingeconomics.com) and just seven percent of businesses have a loan from a bank, capital for startups is not easy to come by. Women face even more obstacles, from social prejudice and gender inequality to lower education and more family responsibilities than males. Just 3.6 percent of women-led businesses have a bank loan as opposed to 10.2 percent of male-led businesses (Henckel, 2017).

Yet women entrepreneurs account for more than one-third of all private sector firms, such as agriculture and informal businesses (Woldie, Laurence, and Thomas, 2018). In a struggling developing country, where women dominate the private sector, why then is it so difficult for them to obtain financing for their small-to-medium enterprises (SME’s)?

The answer may lie in the DRC’s Family Code. For years the Family Code prevented married women from being able to open a bank account, secure a loan, register their business or sign a contract unless they had consent from their husband. In June 2016 reform efforts led to a new Family Code being adopted by Parliament (Henckel, 2017). Despite several Articles of the DRC’s Constitution providing some respite from gender discrimination, it seems the Family Code is still a harsh reality for women, and they are still greatly restricted in business endeavors (White & Case LLP, 2017).

Compounding the Family Code barriers to women seeking to start a business are antiquated land laws. These laws apply to married and unmarried women alike. Land belongs to the head of household, which is defined legally as the man. Women are only granted land rights secondarily through their husbands or fathers. There are three methods through which a woman might obtain land: Bwassa, defined as temporary lease of land, Bwimet, defined as inheriting land, and Bugura, defined as purchasing the land. Bwassa is the most common of the three, with Bwimet and Bugura being quite rare. In some instances, women may inherit land, but they are forbidden to sell it. However, land is primarily passed down among men (White & Case LLP, 2017).

Despite the hurdles the women face in the DRC, there is hope. They have opportunities to pursue entrepreneurship that can change their lives and their families’ lives for the better. UN Women DRC is a group that advocates for women’s rights in the country. They have an office in the capital city of Kinshasa and another office in Bakavu. UN Women partners with other groups to accomplish things such as gender responsive planning and budgeting, advocating to end violence against women and girls, helping women get involved in politics and leadership and helping women become successful entrepreneurs (UNwomen.org).

The nonprofit Jimbere is an organization that helps women in the Democratic Republic of Congo out of poverty by providing training and grants to build their businesses. After the businesses have been proven successful, the women become eligible for low-interest loans. This helps to pave the way for long-term success (GuideStar.org).

Make Every Woman Count is a led by African women and provides advocacy, networking, and training for women to help them in business and life decisions (makeeverywomancount.org). The group compiles a list on their website of nonprofits that help women in the DRC and across Africa. This is a wonderful starting point for any African woman looking for a way to better her life.

While there is still a long way to go before the Democratic Republic of Congo sees women as being equal to men, there is light in the darkness of discrimination. There are many groups that are dedicated to helping the women of the DRC achieve success and independence. While it is true that women have more hurdles to overcome than men, many strong women in the DRC prove every day that they have what it takes, and they will not let anyone keep them down. Together, they will continue to show the world how brightly they can shine.

Works Cited:

News:

Henckel, Harald. “What Does It Mean to Be a Woman Entrepreneur in the Democratic Republic of Congo?” www.WorldBank.org. January 10, 2017.  https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/01/10/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-woman-entrepreneur-in-the-democratic-republic-of-congo Accessed September 5, 2019.

Articles:

“Democratic Republic of Congo: Closing the Credit Gap for Women Entrepreneurs.” www.whitecase.com. November 20, 2017. https://www.whitecase.com/publications/article/democratic-republic-congo-closing-credit-gap-women-entrepreneurs Accessed September 5, 2019.

Woldie, Atsede; Laurence, Bushige Mwangaza; Brychan, Thomas. “Challenges of Finance      Accessibility by SMEs in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Is Gender a Constraint?” Investment Management and Financial Innovations 15(2). Pp. 10-50.  April 27, 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.21511/imfi.15(2).2018.04 Accessed September 5, 2019.

Websites:

“Democratic Republic of Congo.” www.unwomen.org , https://africa.unwomen.org/en/where-we-are/west-and-central-africa/democratic-republic-of-congo Accessed September 5, 2019.

“Republic of the Congo Unemployment Rate.” www.tradingeconomics.com , https://tradingeconomics.com/republic-of-the-congo/unemployment-rate Accessed September 5, 2019.

“Jimbere Fund, Inc.” www.guidestar.org , https://www.guidestar.org/profile/81-2899132 Accessed September 5, 2019.

“What is MEWC?” www.makeeverywomancount.org , http://www.makeeverywomancount.org/index.php/about-us/what-is-mewc Accessed September 5, 2019.

mknight829

Amanda Knight is a college student and freelance writer. She is majoring in Communications. She works with several non-profits, assisting them with grant research and writing as well as marketing and branding. She has a background in the healthcare field. She enjoys writing for charitable causes. Her focus is humanitarian efforts.

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