Violence Against Women in Western Africa
by Ashwini Selvakumaran
“No one gets left behind” are words often echoed as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, in order to ensure this we must eliminate all forms of discrimination, one in particular being: Gender-based violence.
Violence against women is a global phenomenon. It occurs worldwide, and one of its areas of great impact is Western Africa. In Western Africa, women are subject to abuse unparalleled to anywhere else in the world. 67 percent of all women in the entirety of Western Africa have faced some if not all forms of violence (Oyedokun 2008). Female inhabitants experience devastating cases of sexual discrimination and abuse varying from many different forms. Violence against women is not only a form of discrimination, but a manifestation of unequal power between men and women, and a violation of basic human rights.
Victims of domestic abuse in Western Africa experience not only a violation of their right to health but are emotionally and physically scarred as well. This interrelated nature of human rights is evident in the western African nation of Togo where almost 75 percent of women report having been beaten or raped by a family member (Banda 2006). Guinea shows a similar rate, with a staggering 65 percent of women reporting to have experienced this violence (Banda 2006). Domestic violence, however, is not just a sexual aspect but also has physical and psychological problems as well. If the sexual violence a woman experiences does not kill her, it leads to the decline of fertility and the plummet of self-esteem.
Marital rape and domestic violence against African women results in widespread fear and intimidation. The fear of being shunned by society and family, is by far, a woman’s greatest fear. In Western Africa, women are often blamed for having “inflicted” violence amongst themselves. For the fear of bringing shame and dishonoring society, many women in Africa refuse to tell their stories. In Western Africa there is a strong social and negative stigma associated with any woman who accuses another for sexual or domestic violence.
Even today violence against women still persists at a rural and regional level. This is due to a variety of factors. One being that most regional officials in Western Africa are not trained in the law. For example, domestic abuse is banned in Burkina Faso, but the police in some areas are not trained on the law and are not implementing it; it has a prevalence rate of 46 percent among the rural community. I strongly believe that in promoting a more effective society, there should be a period of re-education for the men and women in Western Africa.
Secondly, the fear and intimidation a woman feels that prevents her from going to the courts must be eradicated. We must not only push an implementation on the law by training officials, but by also on allowing communities to have open discussions. Speaking with the United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa, Ms. Angela Lusigi, she has echoed the previous sentiments expressed. Ms. Lusigi strongly believes in a period of re-education from the start. “There is so much silence around the issue. First we must get people to have an open conversation. Lots of countries have laws preventing gender-based violence but there are many illiterate people who do not know how to go to courts. Talking to the men is also important. In Senegal sometimes men are trapped in this cycle of violence because that is how the social norms play out. We must change how children are raised. Teach them to have open conversations from a young age.”
And yes, we must.