- In the run-up to the June elections in Congo Kinshasa (DRC), union leader Marie Josée Lokongo Bosiko announces a strategy to boost women's participation and representation in politics. The UNTC Vice-President sees "husbands, traditions, religions and sects" as the main obstacles preventing Congolese women from taking up positions of responsibility in society.
Ms Bosiko is among the few women holding a senior post in politics and economy in contemporary Congo Kinshasa (DRC). As Vice-President of the National Union of Congolese Workers (UNTC) since December 2004 - being the first Congolese woman holding such a high position in trade unions - she however actively promotes women's political empowerment in the vast country.
In an interview with the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions(ICFTU), Ms Bosiko explains the UNTC's strategy to boost women's participation and representation in politics. She also reveals that the unionists may throw their support behind one of the female presidential canidates.
"Husbands are often the first obstacle that a woman needs to overcome when it comes to rising through the ranks of positions of responsibility. They find it hard to deal with their wives' absence from the home," Ms Bosiko says.
Besides husbands, there are several obstacles for women wanting a high position in politics, organisations or business. "Tradition too can have a considerable influence. In certain ethnic groups, for example, women are not allowed to speak in front of men. Traditional laws prevent the social development of women," the UNTC leader details.
"Although women are gradually being accorded greater recognition in legislation, they still have to overcome the sway held by traditions. Finally, in the DRC religion, sects in particular, are not always supportive of the advancement of women. Sect leaders have a lot of influence over their female followers," Ms Bosiko sums up.
That said, women play an important role at the UNTC. In the upcoming elections in June 2006, the trade union has several women standing for the national parliament. "It is essential that we invest in these decision-making arenas for the benefit of all lobbying activities that support workers - and Congolese female workers, in particular," the unionist says.
According to Ms Bosiko, the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Congo Kinshasa are "extremely important" for the entire Congolese population. The UNTC is among the pressure groups that propagates the "utmost importance" in organising a fair, free and transparent poll. "We hope that voters can make their decision without any pressure," she emphasises.
Since 2004, the UNTC has travelled the country to prepare for this election. "We have developed civic education programmes that include the concepts of civil participation, democracy, abuse of power and participation in the electoral process," says Ms Bosiko. Especially women had been targeted in these democracy and election courses.
The UNTC Vice-President in particular has fought to see women represented at all levels of power as a result of the upcoming elections. "Women need to be represented in municipalities as well as the national parliament," Ms Bosiko demands. Four female candidates are currently standing for the presidential election and the trade union plans to contact all of them to establish whether they have a pro-workers political platform, which could result in campaigning aid from the UNTC.
Congolese women now should be able to go to the polls fully informed, Ms Bosiko holds. "We have launched all of these actions in a bid to boost representation of women and to see more women in decision-making arenas," she concludes.
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