Indigenous Peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The government and civil society organizations in the DRC acknowledge and support the concept of Indigenous peoples, referring to four main groups: the Mbuti, the Baka, the Batwa of the west, and the Batwa of the east. These groups reject the derogatory and discriminatory term pygmies. The exact number of Indigenous peoples in the DRC is uncertain, with estimates ranging from 600,000 to 2,000,000 individuals.
Indigenous peoples in the DRC live nomadic or semi-nomadic lives, with their way of life intimately tied to the forest and its resources. They rely on hunting, gathering, collecting and fishing, and treat illnesses with traditional medicine derived from the forest. The forest represents the core of their culture and living environment. However, the historical and ongoing expropriation of Indigenous lands for conservation and logging has forced many to abandon their traditional way of life and become landless living in extreme poverty. Others have been forced into bonded labor relationships with Bantu masters. In particular, land access problems are severe in the east of the DRC, with a high population density. In Orientale, Equateur, and Bandundu provinces, industrial operations are encroaching on Indigenous peoples' living spaces. The creation of protected areas has also become problematic, given the strict policing of conservation areas established in all national parks.
Indigenous peoples in the DRC are in a considerably worse situation than the national population, facing inferior living conditions and poor access to basic services like health and education. Discrimination against them takes various forms, including racial stereotyping, social exclusion, and systematic violations of their rights. Without proper protection, their living spaces will continue to shrink, depriving them of the resources they depend on for survival and causing their culture and traditional knowledge to disappear.
Although there are no laws or policies in the DRC explicitly promoting or protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, recent legal texts have influenced advocacy efforts. These include the 2002 Forest Code, the 2006 Constitution, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which the DRC is a signatory.
The Indigenous World 2022: Republic of the Congo - IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
Indigenous Women and Girls in the DRC
Indigenous women in Congo face various challenges, including discrimination, stereotypes, and a lack of access to fundamental human rights, such as education and healthcare. Indigenous women also face difficulties owning land and being involved in income-generating activities, limiting their economic empowerment. Additionally, Indigenous girls have lower school enrollment and retention rates, and Indigenous women have restricted access to healthcare services, resulting in high rates of home births and early sexual encounters.
In 2021, United Nations agencies launched a program called the Joint SDG Fund in the southern department of Lékoumou to improve the quality of life of Indigenous populations. The program, implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, seeks to improve Indigenous women's access to healthcare services and remove barriers to land ownership and income-generating activities. One notable initiative is a project implemented jointly by various groups aimed at improving the conditions of Indigenous women and girls in the village of Tsiaki in the Bouenza department. The project includes awareness-raising regarding rights and protection, literacy classes, and soap-making and marketing training for 100 Indigenous women.
While these initiatives are commendable, the protection of Indigenous women's rights still faces significant challenges, including stereotypes and discrimination, low rates of prosecution and conviction, and inadequate mechanisms to identify victims of contemporary forms of slavery.
The empowerment and protection of Indigenous women's rights remain critical issues.