Violence against Women in Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract

The United Nations' report on the State of the World Population 2000 (United Nations, 2000b) and studies conducted by the World Health Organization (2000a) and Amnesty International (2004) all indicate that violence against women is rampant in Africa and is increasing in some areas. The following study is an effort to highlight some of the reasons why violence against women is particularly problematic in African. The study reveals that violence against women in Africa is mainly due to the existence of discriminatory laws, prejudicial and harmful customs, traditions, beliefs and practices, and partly due to non-enforcement of gender-sensitive laws and constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Based on these findings the author argues that a review of such discriminatory laws, enforcement of existing legislations and constitutional provisions coupled with public awareness campaigns on the part of African governments to inform the public about the ills of certain customs, traditions, beliefs and practices will help stem the tide of violence against women in Africa.

Background:

In a statement to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in September 1995, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said that violence against women is a universal problem that must be universally condemned (United Nations, 1996). He made the statement in reaction to the rising incidence of various types of violence against women in both developed and developing nations. Especially troubling are high incidences of rape, domestic violence, "honor" killings, human trafficking, prostitution, forced servitude, forced and early marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 2000). The Platform for Action-the core document for the Beijing Conference-noted that violence against women constituted a violation of women's basic human rights and is an obstacle to the achievement of gender equality and development and peace around the world (Ganny, 1996; Nosike, 1996; United Nations, 2000a). Although the United Nations has been concerned with the issue of the advancement of women's rights since its founding, but, the alarming global dimensions of female-targeted violence was not made a top priority of the international community until December 1993 (following the June 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna which laid the groundwork for eliminating violence against women), when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Women's International Network, 2002).

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) defines violence against women as "any act of genderbased violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life" (World Health Organization, 2000a). DEVAW notwithstanding, female-targeted violence is still a major problem in the world today (Amnesty International, 2004). The United Nations' report on: The State of the World Population, 2000, noted that gender-based violence still constitutes a life-long threat to hundreds of millions of women and girls across the globe (United Nations, 2000b). Also, in the year 2000, the World Health Organization stated that in every country where reliable studies have been done, results indicate that between 10% and 50% of the women have been physically abused in their life time and that between 12% and 25% have experienced attempted or completed rape (World Health Organization, 2000a). Both reports noted that violence against women is particularly rampant in Africa. Further, Amnesty International (2004), adds that because the human rights situation across Africa is characterized by widespread armed-conflict, political repression, poverty and social inequality, persecution of human rights defenders, and violence against women, women in Africa are at risk of violence whatever their circumstance. …

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