Six Steps to Unite against Gender-Based Violence in Africa - Beyond the 16 Days Campaign

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Women at a market Women at a market

Tomorrow marks the last day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – but certainly not the last year. While the fight for gender equality has seen some progress in recent years, gender-based violence (GBV) continues to be a major human rights issue around the world and will require global attention for years to come. As a feminist and a lawyer living and working in Uganda, I think about this issue daily. In this blog I’d like to propose six practical steps so that we can fight GBV beyond the 16 Days campaign.

But first, a bit of background. According to World Health Organization, GBV affects more than one in three women throughout their lifetime. Most of it is caused by intimate partner violence (IPV). Worldwide, almost 27% of women aged 15-49 years report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

Getting an accurate understanding of this issue in Africa remains a challenge: only 18 out of 54 African countries have data on IPV. However, the African Development Bank’s Gender Data Index 2019 suggests a prevalence of intimate partner sexual or physical violence ranges from a little over 10% to close to 40% across Africa, which is some of the highest globally.

Violence against women and girls has a significant toll on not just our well-being, but also on our families across generations and societies more broadly. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP. During the COVID-19 pandemic rates of violence against women increased, making sustained action to address drivers and consequences of violence a dire need.

Against this background, here are six imperatives to unite against GBV beyond the 16 Days campaign.

1. The role of local, national, and regional leaders

Leaders across the continent have a big role to play in taking proper legal action to ensure that gender equality and equity are a lived reality in the lives of women and girls. They must also take the lead in building a social consensus that women’s rights and their ultimate protection are essential to sustainable human development. As a continent, we must move beyond legal and policy frameworks towards effective implementation built on both new and renewed attitudes toward ending GBV in all its forms.

2. Invest in women and girls

It has often been said that a financially empowered woman is a liberated woman. Therefore, aside from ensuring legal protections and rights, we must strategically invest in women and girls. When governments and international organizations provide targeted and sufficient funding, we ensure women and girls have access to quality education and training, feel economically empowered, and are more likely to participate fully in society.

3. Ensure political participation for women

One of the biggest factors perpetuating GBV is that many women are excluded at the social and political levels, especially when it comes to designing laws and decisions that affect community life. This means that many new laws and norms continue to exclude women, leaving them vulnerable to the compound interest of ongoing gender disparities. This is true at any level, from a local council’s disaster-preparedness plan to the national parliament.

4. Educate and engage communities 

We can change legislation, or improve access to services, such as preventative or post-violence care; but to change mindsets and challenge stereotypes, we need to engage at the community level - engage men, boys, traditional and religious leaders at the grassroots level. This engagement must be targeted, based on accurate analyses of the situation and supported by quality, disaggregated and globally comparable data.

5. Believe and support GBV survivors

One of the biggest barriers to ending GBV today is that survivors are often not believed when they speak up. Speaking up is the first step needed to break the cycle of GBV instead of disbelieving, ridiculing, or simply gas lighting survivors and their stories. It also discourages other people suffering GBV from speaking out. This not only harms those experiencing violence, but also entire communities. GBV thrives in silence, and survivors speaking up boldly without fear of persecution helps us understand the magnitude of the vice and how we can respond better. Beyond believing survivors, we also need to ensure that they have the support they need during and after reporting their abuse.

6. Women must support other women

The importance of supporting each other cannot be overstated. This includes women being each other's keepers, standing up for one another, and calling out injustices against fellow women wherever it is happening in the world. Particularly, women leaders must support other women, mentor young women and girls, and make room for women when they can do so.

Collectively, we must commit to making the world a safer place for women and girls and others targeted because of their gender identity. We must continue finding ways to change social norms and to further prevent, mitigate, and respond to GBV on the continent beyond these 16 Days.




Muhanuuzi Dorah

Winner of the 2021 Blog4Dev competition for Uganda

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