Violence against women and girls in Africa: A global concern to ponder on International Women’s Day and beyondPosted: 8 March, 2018
Author: Kennedy Kariseb
Doctoral candidate, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
It has been four decades since the United Nations (UN) observed for the first time International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March 1975. Although there are traces of celebration of this day, dating as far back as 1909, its formal initiation came in the wake of the first World Conference of the International Women’s Year that took place in Mexico City, Mexico. Its object, as aptly argued by Temma Kaplan, is to mark ‘the occasion for a new sense of female consciousness and a new sense of feminist internationalism’.[i]
In a sense, 8 March is meant to be a day of both celebration and reflection for women the world over: a celebration of the gains made in enhancing women’s rights and the overall status of women globally, while reflecting and strategising on the voids and shortcomings still persistent in the women’s rights discourse. The occasion of the forty-third celebration of the IWD clearly marks an opportunity for feminist introspection on the broader question of violence against Women (VAW) and its regulation under international law. This is because while VAW is not the only form of human rights abuse women suffer, it is one in which the gendered aspect of such abuse is often the most clear and pervasive.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the cultural practises embedded amongst the Venda community of north-east of South Africa. Eight weeks or less after childbirth, Venda women undergo a traditional ceremony called muthuso. Muthuso is a process of cutting the vaginal flesh of the mother by a traditional healer. The flesh is mixed with black powder and oil and applied on the child’s head to prevent goni. Goni has been described as a swelling on the back of a child’s head. The Venda people believe that goni can only be cured using the vaginal flesh of the child’s mother. Women who experienced FGM stated that they bleed excessively after the ceremony. Moreover, the women stated that there is no postnatal care in Venda. Consequently, the women use traditional medicine and sometimes this leads to death because of substandard treatment.