Addressing gender-based violence against women and children in Africa

Author: Kwasi Asiedu Abrokwah
Operational Supervisor, Prime Legacy Construction Pty; Communications Director, The Great People of South Africa


Gender-based violence (GBV) is defined as violence that is directed against a person on the basis of their gender or sex, including acts that inflict physical, mental, or sexual harm (intimate partner violence or non-intimate partner violence), suffering threats of such acts, coercion and deprivations of liberty. According to the United Nations Women’s Organisation (UNWomen), it is estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. In the West African region, Liberia, Cote d´Ivoire and Sierra Leone are examples of countries where GBV were used as weapons of war. GBV has been a huge problem in Africa where women and children are violated by men. GBV occurs in various forms, including femicide, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence and kidnapping. It may also occur in the form of socio-economic violence, including discrimination and denial of opportunities or services on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation.

African Heads of States have failed to put measures in place to address GBV among women and children, which has become a concern to women’s rights groups and civil society organisations across the continent. In South Africa, gender-based violence has been a major concern, as women and children are assaulted, kidnapped and killed. Civil society organisations and women groups are making their voices heard through protesting for their rights and for harsher sentences for the perpetrators. Inefficient criminal justice system means that many perpetrators are left off the hook.

Causes of GBV

There are a number of factors that increases the exposure of women and children to GBV in African, including the lack of physical security owing to the break-down of law and order, presence of armed forces or armed groups (such as the Boko Haram abduction of girls in Nigeria) and the collapse of family, social or community structures. Women and girls are especially vulnerable when leaving their communities in search of work, food or shelter, which makes poverty one of the risk factors. That is, lack of education and livelihood opportunities, and inadequate access to shelter, food, water and income generation can increase exposure to GBV, including forced prostitution or survival sex.

Another root cause of GBV is social or political factors – discriminatory social or religious laws, norms or practice that marginalises women and girls and fail to respect their rights. Others include lack of confidence or trust in social or public institutions, including law enforcement and justice institutions that discourages victims or survivors from seeking redress. Furthermore, there are inadequacies in mechanisms and avenues for protection and redress. Judicial barriers and lack access of justice institutions and mechanism, results in a culture of impunity for violence and abuse. Lack of adequate and affordable legal representation and advice, lack of adequate protection for victims or survivors and witnesses pose a further challenge to fighting GBV. There are also inadequate legal frameworks, including national, traditional, customary, religious laws, that discriminate against women and girls and fail to guarantee their rights, or exposes them to further harm and abuse.

Effects of GBV

Gender-based violence can have long term and life–threating consequences or effects for the victim or survivor. Theses can range from permanent disability or death to a variety of physical, psychosocial and health related problems that often destroy the survivor´s self-worth and quality of life, and exposes her to further abuse. There are emotional and psychological effects of GBV, which includes depression, mental illness, shame, self-hate, self-blame, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Reproductive health challenges such as unwanted pregnancy, fistulas, miscarriage, unsafe abortion, fistulas, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), sexual disorders, menstrual disorders are also effects of GBV. Other effects of GBV include loss of role in the society, social stigma, rejection and isolation, increased gender inequalities and loss of livelihood and economic dependency.

Ways of addressing GBV

Target 5.2 of the SDGs aim at the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in both public and private spheres. This requires all stakeholders in the Africa region to improve and work towards eliminating violence against women and children. One of the measures necessary in addressing GBV is the responsibility of the state, which includes taking all necessary legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of GBV. To that effect, states for example, must criminalise all acts of GBV and ensure that national laws, policies and practices are adequately respected and protect human rights without discrimination of any kind, including grounds of gender. States should investigate allegations of GBV thoroughly and effectively, prosecute and punish those responsible, and provide enough protection, care, treatment and support for victims/survivors, including access to legal aid, psychosocial support, rehabilitation and compensation for the harm suffered. Furthermore, states must take measures to eliminate all forms of beliefs and practices that discriminate against women and take action to empower women to strengthen their personal, legal, social, and economic independence. Another way to address GBV is the role civil society organisations, which entails organising workshops and seminars about GBV, educating women and men, providing support for women who have suffered from GBV, and holding states accountable for failure to take appropriate measures.

In conclusion, GBV is a serious cancer that requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including state actors, international human rights monitoring mechanisms, and civil society groups. Victims/survivors should be given maximum care and support, violations must be properly investigated, offenders prosecuted and sentenced to serve as deterrence.

About the Author:

Kwasi Asiedu Abrokwah is Ghanaian resident in Cape Town where he works as the Operational Supervisor at Prime Legacy Construction Pty in South Africa. He is also the Communications Director for The Great People of South Africa, a non-profit organisation in Cape Town, South Africa. Kwasi is passionate about human rights and gender issues. He holds a Diploma in Aviation Studies from the International Air Transport Association(IATA) and a certificate in Understanding Human Rights from Young African Leaders Initiative.

One Comment on “Addressing gender-based violence against women and children in Africa”

  1. […] Asiedu Abrokwah, Addressing gender-based violence against women and children in Africa, […]

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