Gender Based Violence

I came across a ted talk video by award winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “we should all be feminists”.  In this video Adichie argues feminism is bout that women and men given equal opportunities based on their skills, talent, creativity, intelligence and qualification and not based on the gender.

See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Ted talk video

During the talk the topic of domestic violence came up, Adichie mentions how she was approached by people and accused of being feminist which is considered unafrican because in one of her books Half of a Yellow Sun ( highly recommended) a male character who was abusive to his wife  had a bad ending . People were not concerned that the character violated his wife rather the concern was centered about the character being punished for it.  As an African female,this got me thinking about the acceptance of domestic violence in certain African cultures.

Don’t get me wrong violence against women is a universal phenomenon that persists in all countries of the world, with the perpetrators of that violence are often well known to their victims. In fact one in 4 women globally will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.  Domestic violence by intimate partner in particular continues to be frighteningly common and accepted as “normal” within too many societies.  In West African culture in particular where in six out of every ten woman is faced with this problem it is an unquestioned norm.

See video on Gender Based Violence

In Western Africa , domestic violence is rarely a one-time event rather fear, threats  and physical violence are used as tools to control the actions of female partners. The violence may begin with insults or intermittent physical violence ( shove or a slap) and overtime develop into more severe form that endangers a women life such as choking, burning and kicking.

Until recently, most west African governments and policy-makers viewed violence against women as a relatively minor social problem since it was hardly reported . Too often women that experience  gender based violence (GBV) fail to report it  with stigma, shame and fear being the most frequently cited barriers.  In west African societies where men are considered an unquestioned authority figure over their wives, many individual see GBV as a way a man proves this authority and disciplines an unruly wife.  Women would isolate themselves and not ask for help from community members, family and friends because of the fear of being judged as a bad wife or mother warranting the violence against them.  Women who choose to report these cases are met with little or no cooperation from law enforcers such as police who would refuse to interfere because it is considered a personal matter that should be solved at home.

Economic and social dependence on men especially if children are involved and stigmas of being a divorcee are both factors that keep women in abusive relationships.  Women who choose to leave are advised to stay in the relationships for their children’s sake, endure and try to make their partners happy at all times.

Even though domestic violence is one of the most urgent, pervasive and significant protection issues for women in West Africa, the humanitarian community,  nongovernmental organizations and UN  agencies have not prioritized it as a humanitarian issue. Rather it is been minimized as a culturally rooted problem that is either too complex  or not severe enough to warrant urgent attention in especially in   west African countries rebuilding from war such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast

In my opinion gender based violence must be looked at from a public health perspective to capture the many dimensions of the phenomenon in order to develop a multisectoral response.

Below is a video of a short  video that raises awareness about gender based violence and staying in abusive relationships





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