With very little support for redress, they are harassed to silence
By Isatou Bittaye
As the commemoration of 16 Days Activism against Gender-Based Violence draws to an end on December 10 (Human Rights Day), I am providing a highlight on the struggle to end violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls continues to be a gross human rights violation that knows no boundaries of age, race, religion, region or nationality and its roots stems from gender inequality and discrimination. Gender-based violence continues to be a threat to all women and an obstacle to efforts for development, peace and gender equality in all societies.
It is important to take stock and reflect on this year’s theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women”.
Statistics from UN Women has shown that “one in every three women in the world will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.” Among women between the ages of 15-44, gender-based violence accounts for more death and disability than the combined effects of cancer, malaria, traffic injuries and war.
Young women are particularly vulnerable to coerced sex and are increasingly infected with HIV/AIDS. Globally, more than 60% of youth HIV positive aged 15- 24 are female.
In spite of all the global, regional and national progress made in legislating against gender discrimination and promotes women’s rights; violence against women continues to exist. Young girls are being raped, sexually harassed, married as child brides, trafficked into slavery, suffer from female genital mutilation/cutting and deprived of their bodily integrity, and women suffer all forms of violence in their own homes, work places and communities.
In Africa, almost all countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); more than half ratified the African Union’s additional Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo protocol), most countries’ national laws promote women’s rights and above all, the African Union has declared 2010–2020 as the African Women’s Decade, yet violence against women continue to exist at an alarming rate in the continent.
In The Gambia, women and girls are victims of gender-based violence in the homes, schools, work places, communities, and even markets with very little support for redress. In fact, victims are harassed to silence. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010 Report of The Gambia, the prevalence of FGM/C is 76.3% while early marriage of young girls under the age of 15 is 8.6%, and those under age 18 constitute 46.5%.
However, it is also imperative to reflect on one of the focus areas of this year’s theme, challenging militarism as a system of structural violence that infringes upon the human rights and human dignity, safety, and security of women, men, and children.
Women continue to face sexual violence in armed conflict from those mandated to protect them particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the UN Women, in Democratic Republic of Congo an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day and estimate of over 200,000 women have suffered from sexual violence since the recent armed conflict began in 1998.
Violence is still perpetrated on women and girls by state actors who use the threat of force to maintain power in Africa. Women human rights defenders also suffer from gender-based violence as they have been sexually and physically attacked, and in some cases prosecuted and jailed for false crimes that they have never committed.
Even though states are tasked to respect, protect, and promote the human rights of all people, women and girls continue to be denied access to justice and fair trial rights.
State impunity continues to be an obstacle to ending gender-based violence and achieving the realization of women’s human rights.
I would reiterate the UN Women Deputy Executive Director’s call on the world to unite to prevent violence against women and girls on the four Ps;
- Prevention to stop the violence before it even starts
- Protection through the law
- Prosecution of perpetrators; and
- Provision of a comprehensive set of services for survivors of violence to help stop the violence and support their recovery.
However, the struggle to attain full realization of women’s fundamental rights and freedoms is constrained by deeply-rooted foundations of tradition and culture, it’s imperative to state that ending violence against women and girls needs political will and adequate resources, mass awareness raising and commitment from all sectors of society.
All national governments, civil society and the international community must renew commitment and hasten efforts to prevent violence against women because prevention is the most effective way to eliminate violence against women and girls. Let us all take action for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality today and every day.
A version of this post was first published on Maafanta
Isatou Bittaye is the CEO of Globe, publishers of FPI. She is a Civic Rights Educator and is passionate about defending the rights of the vulnerable, and the empowerment of women and children. She holds a degree in Political Science, and has worked as a journalist with the Foroyaa newspaper for several years, winning the “Best Female Sports Writer of the Year in 2009”.