Community Protection Committees in Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Community Protection Committee (CPC) programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows what can be achieved in promoting rights and protection in the most inauspicious circumstances. Promoting a process of non-confrontational dialogue and strengthening women
  OXFAM ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP CASE STUDY  COMMUNITY PROTECTION COMMITTEES IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO By Duncan Green The Community Protection Committee (CPC) programme in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows what can be achieved in promoting rights and protection in the most inauspicious circumstances. Promoting a process of non-confrontational dialogue, and strengthening women’s voices within it, has had tangible results in reducing abuses, improving gender equality and developing more positive relationships between citizens and those in power. The DRC experience offers important lessons for how to promote active citizenship in chaotic and conflict-prone environments.  2   BACKGROUND 1   In the conflict-affected eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Oxfam is helping local people to assert their rights and seek protection from abuses by those in positions of power. The program uses a community-based approach centring on a structure called the Community Protection Committee (CPC), made up of six men and six women elected by their communities. A ‘women’s forum’ is also established to focus on protection issues that particularly affect women. In addition, ‘change agents’ are elected from further remote villages or locations, in order to expand the geographical impact of the CPC’s work. Oxfam and partner staff support these groups to help conflict-affected communities identify the main threats they face, and the actions they can take to mitigate them. They facilitate links with local authorities, and provide training to civilians and authorities on legal standards and laws relating to protection issues, as well as providing orientation to service providers. EXTERNAL CONTEXT For over 20 years, armed conflict has devastated large swathes of DRC. The situation is fluid and, while exact numbers are disputed, it is clear that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have lost their lives, and many survivors have fled their homes to other provinces or to neighbouring countries. Civilians in many parts of the eastern provinces face constant threats of forced displacement, sexual violence, abduction and extortion. They are regularly terrorized, not only by militia groups, but often by the police and armed forces that are supposed to protect them. The conflict continues to stifle the country’s development, particularly standards of education and health, the development of strong civil society groups, and gender equality. The average life expectancy is 48 years for women and only 46 for men, and this has barely changed since 1990. Weak state authority, the illegal exploitation of mineral wealth, and the ease with which weapons enter the country have all helped fuel cycles of violence, with women, men and children caught in the crossfire. The long-term instability and insecurity has left virtually no industry and limited opportunities for education and jobs. This provides an economic incentive for many young men and boys (as well as some girls), to take up arms. But there are many other causal factors including the lack of access to political representation, feelings of personal inadequacy and stereotypes of masculinity. In addition local-level conflict and the mechanisms in place to manage (or that fail to manage) these conflicts sometimes mean that people join armed groups to deal with a local   issue. Finally, of course, people are often forcibly recruited. Gender and conflict Women face many inequalities in DRC. They play a very limited role in public life and constantly confront deep-seated attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate discrimination and gender-based violence. Following the 2006 elections, women accounted for only 9.4 percent of seats in the national parliament. The adult literacy rate (among those aged 15 and over) is  3 56 percent for women compared with 78 percent for men. Women are also under-represented in paid employment and are often denied rights of inheritance. There are many similarities in how men and women assess their overall insecurity, but the causes of insecurity and the type of threats they face – abduction, murder, arbitrary arrest, sexual violence, illegal checkpoints, forced labour – are often different. Men are more at risk of being killed, tortured or abducted, used for forced labour, or imprisoned. We are frequently told that women are less likely than men to be abducted or killed when they go to the fields, but they are at high risk of rape – which often leads to rejection by their husbands. The survival strategies used to avoid these risks include choosing not to go to the fields or market, which has serious effects on well-being and livelihoods. The alternative is to send women to do such work as a conscious family choice – women may face sexual assault, or other forms of taxation or exploitation, but this is considered preferable to men being killed outright. The conflict has, however, significantly affected traditional gender roles in what was previously a largely patriarchal society. War brings great danger, but also phases when institutions – including gender norms and rules for formal hierarchies – are in flux, providing a valuable window for good change to take hold towards more inclusive arrangements. Women report that taking part in the various committees set up by NGOs has given them the confidence to participate in decision-making in their households and communities. Displacement towards urban and peri-urban centres and nearer main roads has introduced new ideas to men and women in previously isolated communities. Women’s traditional roles in providing for the household, often through cultivation or small-scale trade, has become more important as men have struggled to find livelihoods. Women’s associations and solidarity groups have enabled them to develop more self-confidence. However, this new role for women has, in many cases, been accompanied by a diminished sense of self-worth among civilian men. Humanitarian interventions have primarily focused on opportunities – economic, social and political – for women, without creating positive opportunities for men. This comes at a time when alternatives to participation in armed violence are needed more than ever, particularly for young, unemployed men. Violent conflict clearly affords certain privileges, and it values ideals of manhood that are associated with aggression, physical power and violence – ideals that devalue and belittle other, more positive models of manhood. Conflicts in Africa’s Great Lakes Region have been the focus of some excellent and ground- breaking research on gender roles, and sexual and other gender-based violence. However, this has not always translated into policy and practice. In narratives of sexual violence in DRC, women have been simplistically presented as ‘victims’ and men as ‘criminals’ or perpetrators of abuse. This has overlooked the fact that men are also subject to sexual and other violence, and has denied other roles for women besides ‘victimhood’. These portrayals have had a negative impact on community dynamics, creating conflict and hostile relations between some men and women, and reinforcing the idea of militarized masculinity and other gender stereotypes.  4   BUDGET In 2014, the project had an annual budget of £617,000.  A European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) grant of €1m from 2009 to 2012 was the most important of all the project grants. Its relatively long time span allowed the project team to learn, adapt and gave potential for thinking ahead, developing the underlying ideas for the programme. The Swedish International Development Cooperative  Agency (SIDA) offers ongoing support with flexible annual grants. Otherwise, it has proved hard to find long-term funding – the timescale is too long for most donors, especially humanitarians. The project has instead had to manage with a series of short-term grants from IrishAid, UNICEF, individual European women’s organizations, ECHO and others. Short-term grants also take a lot of management time, making it harder to focus on quality, and lead to insecurity in staff jobs and partner contracts, often putting stress on relations. MONITORING, EVALUATION, LEARNING Three external evaluations (Canavera 2011; Kemp 2012; Hughes 2012)   of the programme were conducted from 2010 to 2012. This paper draws substantially on their findings. THEORY OF CHANGE Power analysis The understanding of power in the project takes place on several levels. Firstly, the programme was designed to support people to take action to improve their own security – often this was through addressing power imbalances between men and women and duty bearers. A critical part of this was women’s lack of access to power, given their social marginalization. The women’s forums seek to build both ‘power within’ (personal confidence and awareness of rights) and ‘power with’ (social capital through organization). This then enables them to better raise their voice in the CPCs in pursuit of better protection (‘power to’). Beyond gender inequalities, the project seeks to address power imbalances between armed and unarmed groups and between ‘duty bearers’ (e.g. authorities, army, police) and ‘rights holders’ (civilians).  A close observation of broader power structures informs the programme, and is highly localized and fluid. At the start of activities in a new area, a power analysis is carried out, and updated every three months. An initial evaluation in 2011 identified some weaknesses, which were subsequently addressed: the power analysis often focused on formal power (e.g. local government, army, police), neglecting informal structures like ‘sages’ committees, which still exist in some communities although in others they have lost influence. Similarly, traditional authorities, such as village chiefs, are more influential in some communities (especially in more isolated areas), while formal administrative authorities are dominant in others, such as the major towns. Faith institutions are also influential, but to varying degrees.
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