Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Second Department

French Studies

Reader 1

Nathalie Rachlin

Reader 2

Pierre Englebert

Reader 3

Thomas Kim

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Rights Information

© 2012 Jennifer Byrne


This paper considers the situation of Congolese women and their almost complete social, political and economic marginalization in society. The Congolese constitution formulates the principle of gender parity between men and women; however, numerous provisions of the law still actively discriminate against women, relegating them to the status of second-class citizens. The violent conflict that the Congo has experienced and continues to experience has only exacerbated the socio-economic and cultural differences in status between men and women. How are Congolese women responding to these obstacles and have they been able to make any sustainable gains in doing so?

The findings of this paper contend that despite the inequities that they experience in the social, political and economic spheres, Congolese women have in fact been able to take steps towards achieving gender equality. The conflict that has so negatively affected them has also provided them with intended and unintended opportunities for improving their situation. One such opportunity is evident in the creation of City of Joy, a women empowerment program established and developed entirely by Congolese women. A refuge for survivors of sexual violence, City of Joy helps rehabilitate these women with the hope that they will have acquired the necessary tools to catalyze social change as they are reintegrated into their respective communities after the six-month program.

City of Joy as a case study illustrates both the opportunities for empowerment and change as well as the difficulties of providing women with meaningful agency given the structural obstacles that they are faced with. Although it is difficult to evaluate the long-term success and sustainability of the program, the general observations that can be gleaned from this example demonstrate that war and conflict can create fresh beginnings and new opportunities for women to produce their own social, political and economic realities. City of Joy, although limited in scope, is a socially enhancing program and a pragmatic step toward increasing the probability of a peaceful outcome in the aftermath of a brutal and long-lasting conflict and will ultimately have a positive long-term effect Congolese society.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.