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The African Woman Foundation

Violence against Women in Africa

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What Is the Way out?

At some point in their lives, 35% of women around world, according to estimates from the United Nations (UN), have suffered physical/sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence from a non-partner (excluding sexual harassment). But in some national studies, it has been shown that as much as 70% of women, in their lifetime, have had the tragic experience of physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

Without a modicum of doubt, gender-based violence is a serious issue, threatening the health, peace, and safety of vulnerable girls and women worldwide, including Africa’s developing countries.

What causes violence against women in Africa?

 

Gender-based violence has its roots deeply in gender inequality — a perennial problem in various parts of Africa — and continues to be among the most notable human rights violations within every society globally. Gender-based violence is a term, denoting violence that is directed against a person due to their gender. While both women and men experience it, the majority of victims are women and girls, with poor countries on the African continent being one of the worst hit regions in the world.

Intimate partner & sexual violence leads to severe short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health issues in women. They also incur high social and economic costs not only for women but also their families and societies.

Perhaps, one of the most significant impacts of gender-based violence is in the children of women, who are victims of the menace and grow up to become abusers of women, ensuring the vicious cycle continues.

According to data from a multi-country study involving some countries in the Middle East and North Africa, men who watched their fathers using violence against their mothers, and men who witnessed some form of violence at home during their childhood, are much more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence in their adult relationships.

Research has also shown that women that have been at the receiving end of physical/sexual intimate partner violence experience higher depression rates, go through an abortion, and acquires HIV, in comparison with women that haven’t.

What strategies can be deployed to end this menace? Let’s find out in the heart of this article.

Understanding Gender-Based Violence Targeting Women

Violence against women, explains the UN, is “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” The dismal phenomenon is rooted in gender-based discrimination, social norms and gender stereotypes, perpetuating the form of violence.

Violence against women and gender-based violence are terms, often used interchangeably since it has been widely acknowledged that women and girls suffer most gender-based violence, inflicted on them by men.

But making use of the “gender-based” aspect is crucial because it accentuates the fact that the root causes of several kinds of violence against women lie in power inequalities between women and men.

The UN classified gender-based violence into two: intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Intimate partner violence is regarded as any behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner, which brings about physical, psychological or sexual harm, in addition to physical aggression, psychological abuse, sexual coercion, and domineering behaviors.

The United Nations defines sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.”

Root Causes of the Problem in Africa

How boys are raised in African societies is the underlying cause of acts of violence against some women in the region. Boys are raised to dominate, rule, and oppress girls and women in many countries in Africa.

Backed by cultural and religious dogma in society, the typical African man sees the woman as property to be owned, used at will, and dumped when deemed to be no longer of use. On her part, the African girl is raised to be dominated and subservient to the will of the man.

This sort of informal education breeds societal ills such as gender oppression, slavery of women, and related issues.

Violence against women on this continent starts right in the home, community, moving up all the way to the national level. How does that happen? There is violence perpetrated by families against the girl-child in the home in the way she is raised, she is told how to dress, she is told never to speak when a man is speaking. But the boy-child is left off the hook to enjoy all these privileges.

While the girl is regulated, the boy is not, thus, laying the foundation for violence against African women.

At the national level, the African woman and girl are still told how to dress in some countries or in almost all nations in Africa. If a woman dresses in a certain way, she is accused of corrupting public morals. When she suffers rape or sexual harassment, she is blamed that she dresses “ungodly”. Rarely, she has to keep the horrid experience of rape to herself, for fear of being stigmatized in society.

But the man — the culprit — never gets punished most times.

While the girl has to be wary of her dressing style, the boy is free to dress and do as he pleases. While the girl is “caged”, the boy is free to do as he likes. All these border on discrimination against women, spawning violence against the poor African women.

In many parts of Africa, there are much more rules for girls and women than there are for boys and men. Enslaved and treated as a subject, the woman lives under perpetual gender oppression. But the man is the ruler, is the “king” to be served in each and every way by the woman, whom he rules over.

Risk Factors Associated with Gender-Based Violence

As earlier stated, gender inequality and norms that condone perpetration of violence against women in Africa are a root cause of the menace.

Here are some risk factors for the two types of gender-based violence (intimate partner and sexual violence) in Africa:

  • lower educational levels (applicable to both perpetration of sexual violence & experience of sexual violence)
  • witnessing family violence (perpetration & experience)
  • a history of exposure to child maltreatment (perpetration & experience)
  • anti-social personality disorder (perpetration)
  • unhealthy consumption of alcohol (perpetration & experience)
  • having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity (perpetration)
  • attitudes condoning violence (perpetration)
  • low levels of women’s access to paid employment (experience)
  • community norms ascribing or privileging higher social status to boys and men and lower one to girls and women

Health Consequences of the Problem

Intimate partner & sexual violence leads to severe short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health issues in women. They also incur high social and economic costs not only for women but also their families and societies.

Perhaps, one of the most significant impacts of gender-based violence is in the children of women, who are victims of the menace and grow up to become abusers of women, ensuring the vicious cycle continues.

According to data from a multi-country study involving some countries in the Middle East and North Africa, men who watched their fathers using violence against their mothers, and men who witnessed some form of violence at home during their childhood, were much more likely to engage in intimate partner violence in their adult relationships.

 

Seeking the Ways out: TAWF’s Recommendations

Gender-based violence and gender oppression in Africa have to stop!

 

The African Woman Foundation (TAWF) offers a number of measures to address the issue of violence against African women.

Due to the devastating effect such violence leaves on women, efforts have been primarily concentrated on responses & services for survivors. Sadly, according to the available data, in most countries, less than 40% of the women that are victims of violence consider getting help of any kind.

TAWF urges every African girl and woman, who is a victim of gender-based violence, to speak out and seek help! They shouldn’t suffer and die in silence!

Indeed, the most effective strategy to end violence against women and girls is, preventing it from happening at all in the first place. This is done by addressing its root and structural causes.

  • Following the UN’s recommendations, we advocate that preventive measures should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality.
  • We are raising awareness of the dangers of harmful religious and traditional that cause gender discrimination against women
  • Some of our activities involve tackling violence against girls in school and challenging and speaking out about violence against girls and women in homes
  • We support government policies at all levels and in African countries that place a strong focus on prevention through promoting gender equality, empowerment of African women, and upholding their human rights.
  • TAWF advocates means of making the home and public spaces safer for African girls and women to enhance their economic autonomy & security, increase their participation and decision-making powers in their homes, relationships, public life, and politics.

The African Woman Foundation encourages every traumatized African girl and woman from gender-based violence to speak out and seek help!

Don’t suffer and die in silence!

Joseph Moyo
Founder: The African Woman Foundation (TAWF)  

References

https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures#notes

https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/prevention

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

https://plan-international.org/ending-violence/16-ways-end-violence-girls

https://eige.europa.eu/gender-based-violence/what-is-gender-based-violence

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