As the 16 days of activism campaign marks this year its 30th anniversary, it remains fundamental to raise awareness about gender-based violence.
16 days of activism: 30 years of mobilization against gender-based violence
As the 16 days of activism campaign marks this year its 30th anniversary, it remains fundamental to raise awareness about gender-based violence (GBV), challenge discriminatory attitudes and call for improved laws and services to end violence against women for good. It is a time to reflect on the immense progress that we have made –across West Africa and beyond. And it is, crucially, a time to renew our commitment to end Gender Based Violence.
At Oxfam, we have initiated programs empowering women and girls to claim their rights to a life free from fear and violence, and challenge harmful social norms and practices which are the root causes of the problem. We have engaged in Women's Empowerment - promoting the successful transition of adolescent girls from primary to secondary school, as well community gender and protection programs. We have been able to break what is described as "a culture of silence on reporting GBV" in some communities.
Unfortunately, these efforts need to be supported and expanded. Gender Based violence remains an acute problem in West Africa after 30 years. Worsened by pandemics like Ebola, Covid-19 and conflicts with reported increase in cases of GBV – with loss of lives, injuries, anxiety, emotional distress, and more. Women and girls are raped in times of peace and war by their partners, family members, and soldiers who are meant to protect. Women’s access to property like land and management of inheritance is still an issue. There is a rise in femicide, forced, early and child marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic abuse, discriminations against girls still existing in education. We are trapped in abusive relationships due to social norms (social stigma). The lack of adequate protection from the judiciary deters survivors from speaking out. There is increased economic insecurity due to mass unemployment which has increased women’s vulnerability to violence in their homes and lack of quality data, disaggregated by gender, race, age and other relevant characteristics, has hindered efforts to respond to the needs of those hardest hit by the compounding crises.
A WORLD WITHOUT VIOLENCE IS POSSIBLE!
Let’s imagine the next 30 years without violence… If the time, energy and resources we are investing in the fight against GBV could be redirected towards the development of our homes, communities, nations and the world. This world will be a better place!
West African governments, donors, and civil society must place women’s rights organizations, movements, and leaders at their core to take on GBV (we must bridge funding gaps). Governments must legislate on the age of marriage in accordance with the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and adopt laws criminalizing early and forced marriages, penalizing domestic violence and marital rape. We must challenge social norms and break the silence on sexual violence and encourage people to report cases of sexual violence.
The taboo surrounding gender-based violence is guaranteeing perpetrators impunity. Governments must strengthen and scale up immediate, holistic service provision for GBV victims (appropriate, quality and free medical and justiciary services for survivors, as well as psychological and economic support), and create an immediate referral system for victims all over West Africa.
The judiciary and police service must be restructured with trained female police officers heading units. Data on GBV must be produced, through periodic updates on violence against women and girls. An information system about the existing structures and services should be made available to all citizens in the different countries of the region. States need to integrate GBV in Covid-19 response programmes and build strong social protection systems to act as safety nets for those facing violence and extend these to informal workers and unpaid and low-paid carers and ensure decent incomes for the poorest women.
A world without violence is possible and this moment demands unparalleled courage and joint action to make this vision a reality. We can build a post-pandemic West Africa where our recovery efforts will benefit to everyone and help construct fairer societies for women and girls. Ending gender-based violence starts with me, you, us and it is an act of responsibility…STOP GBV. #ItStartsWith.
Juliette-Ayuknow Egbe, gender advisor for Oxfam in West Africa.