DR Congo

Unable to stay in place: Women’s participation in land tenure and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The multiple security threats facing northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are directly affecting land security, the impact of which is felt in unique and acute ways by women and other excluded groups in the area.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of land in northeast DRC and its social, cultural, political and economic importance. Local communities associate land ownership with being an upstanding member of society and available to “people with good morality”. Community members across the area indicate that those without access to land struggle to participate in social and economic life to the same degree as those who have it, and political power is tied up in land.

Traditional economic and subsistence activities for both men and women in the area are agricultural in nature, relying on freedom of movement and the availability of land for fishing, farming and hunting purposes. Constricted land use has restrained the way of life of community members and their ability to survive. This is particularly so for women who have tenuous access to land and few opportunities to own land – a situation which has worsened due to conflict.

This policy brief examines the region’s current conflict dynamics and their relationship to land, insecurity and the impact on women. It is based on participatory research across Ituri, Bas-Uélé and Haut-Uélé provinces during August 2017.


The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been operating in Bas-Uélé and Haut-Uélé provinces since 2007.

Their attacks on men, women and youth and use of fear tactics affect communities in the area both physically and psychologically. The porous border between DRC and South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) has facilitated the movement of criminal activity in and out of Garamba National Park. Trans-national movements of Mbororo cattle herders into the northeast are further eroding the ability for people to remain on their land. The limited reach of the Congolese National Police and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) due to incomplete infrastructure and underdevelopment has hindered responses and security provision. According to one security expert with the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) the trajectory of events are “non-linear”, the risks to the population being unpredictable and varying in nature.

Land and security issues are tightly linked, with land management systems operating in patriarchal ways that are evolving in the context of insecurity, and which in turn further hinders women’s participation. The absence of women’s voices on security and land issues at a community level means women’s unique experiences are rarely taken into account in solutions to insecurity and land conflicts, and as a result responses fail to benefit from their perspectives, insights and participation.

Key findings and recommendations

  1. Responses to insecurity need to address macro- and micro-level conflicts in rural areas to help people remain on their land. Increasing pressure on land availability is complicated by security dynamics which disproportionately affects rural populations and the ability of women to safely participate in economic activities. Localised disputes also contribute to high levels of migration from rural areas.

  2. Land management systems need to go beyond traditional gender roles to increase women’s meaningful participation in access to and the ownership of land. Parallel formal and customary land management systems present barriers to women’s economic, social and political empowerment.

  3. Inclusive approaches to security are needed to maximise the effectiveness of protection of civilians and strengthen the role of women.
    Increased attention to the insights and knowledge from community-based security structures, especially those featuring women’s voices, would improve potential for security in hard to reach areas.