Source: All Africa
In the penultimate part of our series to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, read about how each one of us can participate in ending this vice.
"Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women."
- UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993).
Every year since 1991, November 25 to 10 December is globally dedicated to 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals, organisations, groups, institutions and governments around the world to amplify calls for the elimination of all forms of sexual and gender based violence.
According to a 2013 Global review, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non partner sexual violence.
In Africa, many laws and policies to address gender based violence have been put in place, both at the regional and national levels. Despite this, some national studies on violence show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced sexual or physical violence in their life time.
In Kenya, Anita Osebe, a four-year-old girl, was recently raped and subsequently died of acute heart failure; another three-year-old girl was raped by three of her uncles; reports of women and girls being stripped in public in both Kenya and Tanzania have emerged; in Uganda, a young woman was incessantly assaulted by her ex-boyfriend causing a crack in her chest that refused to heal and recently resulted into oesophageal cancer; in Ethiopia Hanna, a 16-year-old girl was kidnapped, brutally gang raped by five men and died as a result.
In Cameroon, reports indicate that one in every four girls in puberty undergo a practice of breast ironing with a goal to make them less desirable to boys and prevent them from getting pregnant.
In Sudan, a woman can be stopped by the police, sent before a judge and sentenced to a public flogging of 40 lashes for nothing more than wearing trousers or leaving her hair uncovered.
Thousands of people, mainly women and girls, are reportedly arrested every year in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, under Article 152 of the 1991 Criminal Code of Sudan, for wearing what is arbitrarily deemed "indecent" clothing.
Despite local and global media coverage and pressure, justice is yet to be served for Liz, a girl in Busia, who was gang raped and developed obstetric fistula and suffered from a slipped disk in her spinal cord which had restricted her to a wheelchair; in Nigeria more than 200 girls who were abducted over seven months ago are still missing despite knowing their whereabouts.
Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is heightened during armed conflicts where women and girls are used as weapon of war. In countries such as Rwanda, Somali, DRC and Sudan numerous women and girls were raped during armed conflicts and continue to suffer the physical and psychological consequences of violence.
From the above mentioned cases it is clear that SGBV takes many forms including physical, psychological, sexual and economic. It happens in homes, in communities, work places, in streets, by intimate partners, those known and unknown to the victim or survivor. It happens during armed conflict situations and in situations deemed peaceful.
Through my work and that of my organisation, Femnet, focusing on ending discrimination and all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls, as well as asserting women's rights to their bodies and to their bodily integrity and dignity, women's bodies are often viewed as the property of others -- with cases of violence against women and girls not afforded the priority they deserve. It takes us a lot of advocacy, protesting, calling on the media and decision makers simply to implement frameworks in place and get the perpetrators arrested. Even when perpetrators are arrested, ensuring justice is still a long way away.
I was full of hope when I heard that the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, was going to launch the 16 Days of Activism Campaign in Kenya. I eagerly awaited his message which I hoped would be a game changer, even if only politically, on issues of violence against women and girls. I hoped that the President was going to testify to Kenyans in general and women in particular that indeed his intention to remove the Ministry of Gender and placing the responsibility of gender equality under his office was a testament of the importance he places on it and to enable him to closely monitor it himself as he has repeatedly said when asked why he removed the ministry. I hoped that the President's message was going to change the culture of impunity for rape and other forms of SGBV in this country.
To my disappointment the President's message as I heard it on news, social media and from those in attendance focused on citizens' responsibility to ensure the safety of women and girls. Much as I agree that citizens and all of us collectively, as civil society organisations, as activists, teachers, parents, caregivers, institutions, security apparatus, legislative and judicial branches of government have a key role to play in protecting children, girls and women against any form of abuse and violence, the President's message ought to have explained to citizens what his government is doing to end discrimination and violence against women and girls in terms of prevention, protection and provision of justice.
Violence against women and girls is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women. To comprehensively address violence against women and girls, we must address the root causes of inequalities between men and women and change societal attitudes, norms and practices that perceive women and girls as lesser beings.
We must recognise the inherent right of all to a life of dignity, freedom and respect. Indeed, we all have a role to play in ending violence against women and girls. Governments have an even greater role in protecting more than 50 per cent of its citizens who face the threat of violence on a daily basis. Let this be the legacy we leave behind, by honouring the lives and dreams of those no longer with us, the likes of Anita Osebe and Hanna and the countless others whose names we may not know, whose stories were never told, or ever heard. We must, collectively, end violence against women and girls - now!
Dinah Musindarwezo is the executive director of Femnet, a pan-African, feminist organisation working to advance the rights of women girls since inception in 1988.