Why gender-based violence fight is still far from being won

Igiza Africa theater group performed a play about the dangers of gender-based violence during a campaign to end teenage pregnancies and stigma. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Gender-based violence (GBV) is today considered one of the most widespread barbaric human behaviors; and it ranges from physical assault, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and sexual violence.

Though GBV mostly harms women and children, in East and Southern Africa, adolescents and children are the most vulnerable. Barbaric practices like FGM and child marriage have significant consequences on the bodily autonomy of women, impacting on their right to choose when, if and a number of children they wish to have.

Violence against women is pervasive, including on digital platforms. The Economist Alliance Unit worldwide data indicates that 37 per cent of women with internet access have individually experienced online harassment. 

GBV has serious consequences on women’s physical health, sexual and reproductive health and mental wellness. It violates women’s human rights and has adverse economic and social consequences for men, women, their children and communities.

GBV prevalence rate is high in this region because of harmful gender norms, alcoholism and poverty, and violence in urban slums and conflict regions.  In sub-Saharan Africa, the study reveals that partner violence and the fear of abuse prevent girls from refusing sex and jeopardise their ability to negotiate the use of contraceptives.

The region has a high prevalence of GBV and harmful practices among adolescents and young women. In 2023, of girls aged 21 to 25 years, 32 percent were married before the age of 18. Primitive practices like FGM and child marriage continue to persist in the region with significant consequences to bodily autonomy.

In seven countries in the region, about 21 per cent of people aged 16 to 26 years reported that they had experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner. Sexual violence against adolescents aged 16 years and below is highest in the conflict and post-conflict countries like DRC, Gabon, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Though in sub-Saharan Africa, gender-responsive policies and legislation are increasing in momentum and nearly 65% of these countries have laws specifically criminalising GBV, these laws are, however, often limited in scope and coverage or rarely not enforced.

These domestic violence legislation varies greatly in scope and applicability from one nation to the next. Only 36% of the sub-Saharan African countries have laws covering physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence.

The continent has achieved progress in terms of women’s political participation in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, decision-making for young women over their bodies is still limited. The latest UNFPA data indicates that only 54% of married women aged 15 to 50 globally make their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights. Analysis of the data from 57 countries, including East and Southern Africa, shows that while women seem to have the autonomy in deciding to use contraceptives, only three in five can decide on their health care or say no to sex.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court

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