According to the recently launched State of African Women (SoAW) Report) one in three African women experience Gender Based Violence (GBV) in their life. Social norms and attitudes are key to social acceptability of violence. In several African countries for example, men can use violence as a means to ‘discipline’ or ‘correct’ their wife or children.
Although violence transcends geography, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity and religion, not all women are exposed to, or experience violence in the same way. For example, younger women and adolescents would be more exposed to sexual harassment in schools and female genital mutilation (FGM) in certain contexts, while older women would be more vulnerable to intimate partner violence (IPV). Women in situations of conflict would also face unique challenges in comparison to women in non-conflict contexts. In all cases, violence against women both manifests and perpetuates gender inequalities and unequal power relations. This is closely linked to the subordination of women and girls in families, communities and states. In recent years, global movements such as “#MeToo” and “#BalanceTonPorc”, as well as corporate walkouts have exposed the extent of violence against women and girls and how often it is normalized.
This year’s theme of the #16DaysofActivism against GBV is #HearMeToo. The theme aims to support women and girls in the global movement of solidarity against the historic power imbalances in which sexual harassment and other forms of violence are deeply rooted. Further, the theme calls to honor and further amplify these voices, to end the culture of silencing and impunity, and to put survivors at the center of the conversation, prevention and response.
At IPPFAR, through our on-going “RightByHer” campaign, ending GBV including harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage remains at the core of our work. The campaign recognizes that violence happens both in private and public spheres and brings together different groups and champions at the regional and national levels including parliamentarians, Civil Society Organizations, young women, religious leaders, African first ladies and journalists. The champions form ‘unusual partnerships’ to dialogue within a safer space and strategically reinforce and revitalize each other in prevention and eradication of violence. This includes information sharing on emerging issues, peer to peer discussions on GBV and joint advocacy at the national level.
Policies and laws on endingGBV
The Maputo Protocol provides extensive provisions on the eradication of all forms of Gender Violence Against Women (GVAW). It articulates every woman’s right to dignity and requires states to take measures to ensure the ‘protection of women from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence’ (Art. 3.4).
This requires states to enact and enforce laws that prohibit all forms of GVAW, identify causes and consequences of GVAW, punish perpetrators, support, rehabilitate and offer repatriation of such victims and survivors of GVAW, and prevent and condemn trafficking in women and girls. It also requires the provision and operationalization of adequate budgets and other resources to implement and monitor actions aimed at eradication and prevention of GVAW.
There have been good examples of translating the Maputo Protocol into reality. For example, Kenya’s 2006 Sexual Offences Act revolutionized the issue of accountability for sexual violence against women and girls. The Act categorizes sexual violence as a crime of violence as opposed to a crime against morality, thereby heightening accountability. At the same time, the Act provides for minimum sentences and envisages the provision of psychosocial support and witness protection, thereby taking a survivor-centric approach.
However, in practice, implementation of the Act was weak, owing to, among other reasons, a lack of cross-sector coordination among the various actors envisaged in the ideal accountability process. Several national state and non-state actors came together to convene 80 government and civil society representatives involved in the provision of legal, medical and other services to survivors of sexual violence. This aided in coordinating among these many actors, and concretely contributed to the adoption of a new and improved Post-Rape Care Form for capturing medical evidence.
The obligations of states in combating sexual violence and its consequences are fourfold: 1) To prevent sexual violence 2) To provide protection and support to victims of sexual violence 3) To guarantee access to justice and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of sexual violence and 4) To provide effective remedy and reparation for victims of sexual violence.
Challenges in ending GBV
There is a strong need for reliable data on GVAW to understand the scope and nature of the problem. Yet the collection of reliable data on GVAW is difficult. Women find it hard to report GVAW and there is frequent withdrawal of reported cases. Factors that undermine reporting include risk and fear of being stigmatised, rejected, discriminated, insulted or blamed by legal, health and social service providers. Also, women are at risk of being turned away when reporting GVAW as it is perceived as a private matter, or even because of a preference to settle GVAW cases outside the court of law (e.g. by traditional authorities, within community or family), in order to preserve family privacy and respect. Limited capacity of service providers to adequately respond to cases of GBV can also lead to rights violations and in turn make it more difficult for women to report violence and seek care and support.
Join the #RightByHer Campaign
To demonstrate our commitment to ending GBV in Africa and indeed the world, IPPF Africa Region is leading a consortium of 8 CSOs to work hand-in-hand with SRHRchampions on the continent. The champions arethe voicethat calls for changeand are also formulating themeans by which Africa ismitigating the challengesthat our women and girlsarefacing. To join the #RightByHer campaign,visit www.rightbyher.organd become a champion too!