By Ashley Dale
Since the end of the first war in the DRC there have been multiple attempts at DDR, including a multi-country DDRRR effort to deal with the hundreds of thousands of foreign fighters from six other countries that were engaged in the conflict. However, despite the complex and immense effort at demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants in the DRC, special needs groups (SNGs) including women and children were largely left out of the planning and implementation processes.
Both women and children are considered SNGs and fall into two sub-categories – those as dependents and outside actors to the conflict and those as ex-combatants and/or fulfilling conflict support roles. Each of these four SNGs needed to be considered in the DDR process from the outset, but early in the initial planning stages they were not. Later as DDR programs were evaluated and reconstructed, it became clear that these SNGs were too large to ignore, especially those who took part in the conflict. Special projects such as a Gender-based Violence Trust Fund and a Social Action Fund were set up to assist these groups specifically. With a high level of women ex-combatants, the National Demobilization and Reinsertion Commission (CONADER) developed a gender strategy. However, even with this strategy, women on both sides of the conflict were largely neglected in the DDR process.
Women as dependents rarely enrolled in the DDR program due to cultural stigma that the program developed. Many of these women self-reintegrated back into society instead. One issue was that women dependents only needed to go through the reintegration process, not the disarmament or demobilization phases so it was easier for them to fall between the cracks in the process. Some felt that their inclusion in the process could have perpetuated combat relationships.
Women who took part in the conflict either directly as combatants on the front lines or indirectly in conflict support roles didn’t have any more luck in the DDR process than women dependents. Women ex-combatants and supporters were unfairly discriminated against in the DDR process. One main issue was that in order to receive a demobilization package the ex-combatant needed to surrender a weapon. In the case of women ex-combatants, not all of them were engaged in active combat or were in possession of a weapon. In cases where women did have a weapon, it was common for their commander to strip them of it so they couldn’t get their demobilization package. For those who were able to get far enough in the processes to obtain a package, there were not enough to go around. The lucky few who actually received a package had them stolen by their husbands or families.
In Phase 1 of DDR, 3,478 female ex-combatants were demobilized, of which 1,520 benefited from reintegration assistance. However, in Phase 2, only 1,046 were demobilized as that was the total number of females who registered for processing. Out of the group of women ex-combatants who were demobilized overall, roughly 67 percent benefited from the reintegration process.
Currently a third DDR attempt (DDR III) is underway in the DRC. Only time will tell if this attempt will be more successful than the previous two and more inclusive of SNGs in general. Full inclusivity of SNGs all around will push the process closer to a ‘successful’ outcome. Women are a crucial part of Congolese society and the peace process to rebuild the country, and being part of the peace process means they need to be included in the DDR process as part of the peace-building effort.