Redressing Gender-Based Violence in Africa – Amarachi Ottah
Is gender based violence more prevalent in Africa? By Amarachi Ottah
A few years ago in Kaduna State, Nigeria, I overheard a group of young people having a conversation around violence against women. One among them suggested women should hit back when a man hits them.
While someone else pointed out the obvious fact that most women’s physical strength does not match up to that of their male counterparts, another chimed that women could always find another male to fight on their behalf – father or a brother – or pay someone to do it. One other person in the group said, if a woman pays men to hit him, he would in turn pay men to rape the woman.
Yes, you heard right! “Pay men to Rape” her! How does this story relate to you? Why should it be your concern? Walk with me through this article, and I will tell you why the story is important to you and everyone else whether male or female.
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent.
The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault. Believe me, I would very much love to talk about rape and how even though women are the primary victims, there exist other victims as well. But firstly, it must be understood that rape is not a standalone crime but one of the many offspring of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Without this understanding, we might not make much progress in addressing rape. In other words, to call out rape, we must trace its origin and that origin leads us to GBV.
What is GBV? Gender-based violence is violence against women based on their subordinate status in society. This includes physical, sexual and psychological violence such as domestic violence; sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of children by family members; forced pregnancy; sexual slavery; traditional practices harmful to women, such as honor killings, burning or acid throwing, female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence; violence in armed conflict, such as murder and rape; and emotional abuse, such as coercion and abusive language.
OTTAH Amarachi on Gender Based Violence in Africa
Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution, forced marriage, sexual harassment and intimidation at work are additional examples of violence against women.
While Gender-based violence happens in all societies, across all social classes, the extent of the problem persists more severely in Africa that elsewhere round the globe. The scariest part being that African women are particularly at risk from men they know. According to the World Health Organization report 2013, the causes can be attributed to the low level of education, gender equality and/or exposure towards violence, among others.
There is a lot to say on the topic of violence against women on the basis of their gender, but this article will try to beam its light on the issue of rape.
From the above, it is clear that rape is just one of the many offspring of Gender-based violence. That is, Gender-based violence is the spring from which the well of rape flows. Rape is one part of a whole culture that views women’s bodies as fair game. How? Now, picture these scenarios – and that should not be difficult to do seeing we have had them played out at some point in our lives:
A woman says something you do not like, you hit her. See? You justify it because “women talk too much” and somehow you feel that her body is revenge or fair game.
A woman rejects your advances; you find a way to punish her and so you rape her.
Your satisfaction is greater than her own sense of self. Her body is fair game.
At a traffic stop, there is a collision; The man comes out of his car and walks up to the other car. It’s a woman driver. Regardless of who is at fault, he assesses the damage to his car, returns to the driver and hits her hard. She damaged his car. Her body is fair game.
You have a disagreement with a fellow man, you threaten to rape a female member of his family who knows nothing about your dispute as revenge. Her body is fair game.
To settle a debt or dispute, you sexually offer a female member of your family as sacrifice or repayment of debt. Her body is fair game.
The list is virtually endless, one common denominator being that regardless of the cause of provocation – words, property, ego – and much against her will, a woman’s body and sexuality is often used against her.
OTTAH Amarachi on Gender Based Violence in Africa
If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us have either seen this script play out over and over or heard about read of real-life occurrences of such. Either way, in the family, in the streets, in governmental service or in a business company, women are vulnerable to sexual aggression (harassment, intimidation) and commercialized violence (trafficking for sexual exploitation).
It has become such a usual occurrence that except for a few institutions dedicated to raising their voice and resources, the rest of society became numb to it. Up until recently when the cases of Uwa and Tina forced society to re-evaluate its silence.
If you have read this far, I am going to assume that you are either an ally, or willing to become an ally of women to end rape, and in the broader sense, violence against women. Hashtags are great for creating awareness but they just aren’t enough. Awareness is the first step but if not followed with action, it amounts to nothing. On that note, here are some actions you can take as an individual:
• Create conversations among your peers on the issues. It is easier to assume that the people you surround yourself with are good people especially if you are a good person yourself, but until you have these important discussions with them you can never truly tell what beliefs or opinions they hold. And not necessarily because they are bad people, but they may simply be misguided. Guide them; it does not matter whether they are males or females. And just in case you need extra help on how to have these conversations, there are guides available online that you could use.
• Realize that a woman’s body is not a currency. You cannot use a woman’s body as a bargaining tool in exchange for goods/services or as debt repayment. That amounts to violation of her human right. Sex for grade, sex for promotion at work and sex by coercion, all constitute rape.
• Start from the cradle. According to a research published by American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘’…father involvement is associated with a decrease in the likelihood of adolescent risk behaviors (even more strongly for boys)”. There is a responsibility on caregivers, especially fathers and father figures to raise boys who do not rape women. Teach them their value as boys and teach them to value and respect the individuality of women. Ask for help if you must, but please, raise them right.
• Consent is Key. The only thing that counts as consent is consent. Without her yes, it is a no. Respect that.
• Stop pretending it does not happen. Ignoring rape issues will not make them go away. It may not directly affect you today, but think of the women you love. And even those you do not love. No one deserves to be raped, so please, lend your voice.
• A child below 18 years cannot give consent. Sexually engaging a minor is a punishable crime by law. Stop destroying the childhood and future of female children.
• Call out and challenge violence against women whenever and wherever you see it. Men are not the only perpetrators of rape and violence against women. Regardless of who is doing it, call them out. You may be a good person, a nice person, even. But if you are privy to rape, you owe it to your humanity to stop the perpetrator and/or bring justice to the victim.
• Support and donate to organizations that help victims of rape. There are individuals and organizations that fight to seek justice for rape victims and provide medical and/or psychological support for them. Volunteer and donate to these organizations.
• Stop stigmatizing victims of rape. Women who have been raped already have enough trauma to deal with. Stop aggravating their trauma by blaming and shaming them. Instead, blame and shame the perpetrators.
• Mind your language. The only person who is to blame in any rape crime is the rapist, and that should reflect in your language. A good way to start is, instead of saying “she was raped” which passively ascribes blame to the victim, go with “he raped her”. This language actively shames the rapist.
Seeing how that it is the State’s recognized role to sanction certain norms that protect individual life, dignity and maintain collective peace, the government and policy-makers, therefore, have an obligation to develop and implement measures that redress gender violence, and these measures should include:
OTTAH Amarachi on Gender Based Violence in Africa
• A unique division within the law enforcement specially dedicated to investigate and address rape issues. This division should be headed by a woman, and members of these divisions should undergo specialized training on handling and investigating rape cases.
In Nigeria for instance, there exists specialized divisions of the police force such as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) whose specializations can be understood by their names. Research shows women constitute almost half of the population and 1 in 3 women experiences sexual violence (that means that you are more likely to be raped as a girl than to be robbed as a person); it makes a lot of sense to ensure women’s safety.
• Stringent punishment for confirmed rapists. Regardless of status or wealth, rape should be treated as a crime and the perpetrators, whether males or females should be considered criminals and treated as such.
• Promote societal norms that protect against gender-based violence and laws to protect women and girls.
• Provide opportunities to support and empower women and girls, because empowered women and girls will be able to empower other women and girls.
The article is long enough already, yet, I have so much more to share. Thus far, women and girls have tried to keep the rules about dressing, about staying out late, etc, but even so, rapists will still rape just as criminals will still commit crime.
So, I daresay it is time to stop running. All of us should stop, take a stand and chase the monsters back into the darkness.
I will summarize with this: In very clear terms, with no uncertainties or excuses whatsoever, rape is always something I have out-rightly condemned right from when I first knew the meaning of the word in childhood. I have never in my life made any excuses for rape or sexual abuse, and I will never do that. It is a travesty, an anomaly; it keeps showing how society fails women and girls. The cases of Uwa and Tina are just a tip of the iceberg.
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I am however, glad for the attention which these cases are getting. I sincerely hope they get the justice they deserve, and in the justice meted out for them, that those whose souls went down in such agony will find some peace as well.
My name is Amarachi (Mimi) Ottah. A woman by nature, an electrical engineer by profession, a tech girl by passion and a gender advocate by choice. I lend my voice, time and talent for children and women’s issues. Reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org.