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By Mildred Ayafor

Gender Violence[dropcap type=”circle” color=”#FFFFFF” background=”#8C212A”]G[/dropcap]ender Based Violence (GBV) refers to any act committed against the will of a human being on the bases of sex differences. Violence against Women (VAW) refers to any violence perpetrated on women and young girls simply because they are female. Article 1 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women refers to it as: “any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Violence against women is thus presented as a form of discrimination directed against persons of the female sex. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) considers it as such in its Article 1: “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”.

This definition is taken up by the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of Women in Africa in these terms: “all acts perpetrated against women, which can cause them harm or physical, sexual, psychological, and economic suffering, including the threats to take such actions, the imposition of restrictions or arbitrary deprivation of fundamental freedom, whether in private life or public life, in peacetime, in complicit or war”.

Defined as such, Gender Based Violence targets men, women, young boys and young girls. However women and young girls are the most targeted because of their vulnerability. Thus, when we speak of gender based violence, we refer to violence against women and young girls. There is a great variety of gender based violence. Article 2 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women distinguishes:

– Physical, sexual, psychological violence, occurring within the family  (battery, sexual abuse of girls, dowry abuse, rape, female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices, exploitation).

– Physical, sexual, psychological violence, occurring within the community (rape, abuse, harassment, intimidation in the work place, forced prostitution, pimping).

The Cameroonian woman is exposed to all these forms of violence, because her decision-making power is quite minimal and she has limited bargaining power because of the patriarchal society in which violence against women and children fits as a tolerated cultural practice. Despite considerable improvement in the perception of women resulting in a greater respect for their rights, the Cameroonian society still considers her a family asset and an object of pleasure and procreation.

Causes of Gender Based Violence

Studies on violence combine demographic, behavioral and socio-economic factors with the general attitude of the society towards gender based violence. The study on the situation of gender based violence in Cameroon dwells on socio-cultural norms, lack of awareness by women of their rights and available remedies for poverty.

Politically, GBV may be caused among other things by sexist prejudices and stereotypes, bringing about the idea of inferiority and/or inability of women. This is what justifies discrimination against women and their low representation in decision making positions at both national and international levels.

From an economic perspective, the low access to resources and their control, the economic dependence of women vis-à-vis the men are favorable factors to the exercise of all forms of violence and exploitation against women. Our habits and customs tolerate some violence specific to women as it the case with the husband’s right of correction, the practice of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), early marriage and levirate.

Violence is thus explained by age, educational level, difference in perception of man and woman, differences in societal expectations regarding men and women, different perceptions of life, love, relationship intimacy and marital life, a single ended and complementary communication, the low representation of women in spheres of decisions. Violence can also be explained by the tolerance it receives from men and women themselves.

Although there are no recent statistics on all the forms of violence against women, the results of the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS 2011) show that in Cameroon, more than half of women have suffered physical abuse, (55%) as from the age of 15. Mainly perpetrated by their current or most recent husbands/partners, but also by their father’s wife or mother’s husband and/or their sister/brother.

Among women who have experienced marital violence, 43% have had injuries as a result of this violence. Among women who have already had sexual intercourse, 20% did so for the first time against their will, especially those who had the intercourse prior to the age of 15 (30%). Globally, 34% of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, 8% have experienced sexual violence and 21% have experienced both physical and sexual violence. Among women who have already been in a union, 60% have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence from their current or most recent husband.

As concerns marital status, women in cohabitation are the most victim of violence (53%) as compared to singles (19%). With regards to the place of residence, women living in the political and economic capital are more victims of violence (64%) than those in the Southern Regions (59%), Central Region (58%) and Southwest (54%).

Women are victims of violence in all regions of Cameroon. However, some forms of violence are recurring in specific regions where they are maintained by ritual based on mythical and religious principles and perceived as the essence of community life in these Regions. We can site for example: FGM which is practiced in the Far North and the South-West, early marriages in the Adamawa, North, Far North and the East, North-west and South-west, forced prostitution in forest, mining, and industrial exploitation areas and major project areas.

There is no practice site specific to GBV. However, we can notice that is practiced most often in home, in family, school, professional circle, and even in the street. It is perpetrated by spouses, partners, family members, employers, teachers, aggressor, medical practitioners, forces of law and order.

Gender based violence involves denial of persons’ rights and has physical, psychological, economic, and sexual manifestation. It brings about pain and suffering that can affect both the life and activities of the victim and his\her family, the author and his\her family, and the entire community in a punctual or permanent manner, regardless of the perspective from which it is placed (stage of life, psychodynamic, humanistic and existentialists). It affects the physical and psychological human being and acts on his\her relations with the environment.

Consequences of Gender Base Violence

Ultimately, the economic and social development of the country bears the impact. The Consequences of gender based violence can thus be measured in a double context, personal and social context.

At the individual level, the victim may have physical and brain injury and paralysis, impaired health, poor mental performance, risk behavior (addiction, isolation, self depreciation, impairment of life, resignation). It is observed at this level that the victim may develop an aversion to the opposite sex and that girls take up early parenthood which they never desired.

At the social level, violence can cause or exacerbate dysfunction within the family and community, depriving children of parental love, increasing family expenses and impoverishing the family. It can also cause neglect of vulnerable people (the elderly, disabled, orphans, abandoned children), promote early parenthood among children, breed the phenomenon of street children, and thus contribute to the increase in crime and delinquency.

Gender based violence deprives the community and the state of usual work force for development and at the same time engages them in extra costs in terms of services and resources. It minimizes the socio-economic impact of development initiatives and undermines the building of a harmonious society.

To reinforce the fight against GBV, the government, civil society organization, need to elaborate and implement effective strategies such as:

Ensuring the development of women and girls through:

– Capacity building for women and girls at all levels and in all domains to enable them operate judicious and relevant choices (education, health, training and information);

– Reorganization of the socio-cultural environment;

– Promotion of positive actions in institutional processes and practices.

Develop an institutional mechanism for the management of victims and perpetrators by:

– Creating and multiplying shelters for victims and perpetrators;

– Setting up reference and training system for social workers on the management of the shelters;

– Building the technical capacities of staff charged with the psycho-social and legal assistance to victims;

– Developing a social reintegration mechanism for victims.

Encourage the reorganization of legal framework for the protection of women’s rights:

– Updating legal instruments taking in to account international and regional provisions as well as Cameroon’s political  commitments;

– Drafting and adopting specific laws to promote preventive and reconstructive justice;

– Sensitize judicial actors to effectively implement the texts.

– The development of local strategies to fight against GBV in partnership with associations and service of the judiciary police.

This situational analysis of violence against women and girls reveals that the situation of these two social groups in Cameroon is yet to reach the expected level. As a matter of fact, the problem of violence against women and young girls is most present in an environment of poverty. Violence against women is perhaps the most widespread and socially tolerated of human rights violations, cutting across borders, race, class, ethnicity and religion. The impact of gender-based violence (GBV) is devastating. Thus, there is an absolute need to curb this social ill that is causing so much pain not only to the victims but also the society at large. Everybody is concerned and should be  involved in the fight against GBV which is one of the priority of the United Nations’ Secretary General, as in his world campaign; UNiTE to End Violence against Women managed by UN Women.

Mildred Ayafor is a Leadership Intern at the Nkafu Policy Institute

A leading African think tank with a mission to provide independent, in-depth and insightful policy recommendations that allows all Africans to prosper in free, fair, democratic and sustainable economies.