By: Thandiwe Kubere

Combating gender-based violence tops Africa’s agenda for women’s rights. As the world embarks on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the aim is to create awareness and call for action to end it. It has become Africa’s priority to protect the rights of women and girls which are continually stepped on by perpetrators. 

With this year’s theme, “invest in preventing violence against women & girls”, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence runs from 25th November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) until 10th December, which is Human Rights Day. In support of this campaign, the United Nations Secretary-General’s initiative calls for global action to increase awareness, galvanise advocacy efforts and share knowledge and innovations to help end all types of violence against women and girls. 

New Afrobarometer Pan-Africa Profile shows Gender-based violence (GBV) ranks as the most important women’s-rights issue that Africans want their government and society to address. According to the profile, on average across 39 countries, almost four in ten respondents say GBV is common in their community, though perceptions vary widely by country and demographic groups. The survey findings reveal a mixed picture regarding GBV. While most Africans say that men are never justified in using physical force to discipline their wives, only half think domestic violence should be treated as a criminal matter that requires the involvement of law enforcement, while the other half consider it a private matter to be resolved within the family and declare that sometimes it is justifiable for a men to sometimes “discipline his wife”.

Similarly, the profile reveals while most Africans trust that the police will take reported cases of GBV seriously, more than half believe that women who report such crimes are likely to face criticism, harassment, or shaming from their community. Africans’ perceptions of GBV vary widely by country and demographic group, suggesting that a woman’s fundamental right to safety depends at least in part on her location and circumstances.

Afrobarometer’s Key findings state

▪ Africans see gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s-rights-related issue that their government and society need to address (cited by 31% of respondents), ahead of the scarcity of women in positions of power (20%) and inequalities in education (17%) and the workplace (16%). Moreover, the research continues to prove that perceptions of GBV as the top priority vary widely by country, ranging from just 5% in Mauritania to 69% in Cabo Verde.

▪ On average across 39 countries which the study was conducted, almost four in 10 citizens (38%) say GBV is “somewhat common” or “very common” in their community. In nine countries, at least half of respondents say violence against women is a common occurrence, led by Angola (62%) and Namibia (57%). Poor citizens are more likely to report that GBV happens frequently.

▪ More than two-thirds (69%) of Africans say it is “never” justified for a man to use physical force to discipline his wife. But 31% consider a husband’s use of force “sometimes” or “always” justified, including majorities in eight of the 39 surveyed countries. Poor and uneducated citizens are particularly likely to endorse this form of domestic violence.

▪ Africans are divided on whether domestic violence should be treated as a criminal matter (50%) or a private matter (48%) to be resolved within the family.

▪ More than half (52%) of respondents say it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that victims of GBV will be criticised, harassed, or shamed by others in the community if they report to the police. However, most citizens (81%) consider it “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that the police will take cases of GBV seriously.

Afrobarometer’s 2022 report by Libuseng Malephane states, “Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women in Lesotho. The Police Child and Gender Protection Unit reports that from January through July 2022, there have been 184 sexual offences and 45 assault cases perpetrated against women. In 2021, at least 47% of women murdered in Lesotho were killed by their intimate partners (Mongoshi, 2021).”

The study revealed that majority of citizens say violence against women is a somewhat common problem while others regard it as a very common occurrence in their community.  Moreover, approximately eight in ten Basotho say it is “never” justified for a man to physically discipline his wife. Whereas the other two in ten think it is “sometimes” (11%) or “always” (4%) justified.

Indiran Govender, department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care enlightened that the neighbouring country, South Africa, is considered to be the rape capital of the world with 10 818 rape cases reported in the first quarter of 2022. “The rate at which women are killed by intimate partners in this country is five times higher than the global average. Gender-based violence, a widespread and common occurrence in SA, is deeply ingrained in homes, workplaces, cultures and traditions”, he said. Addressing it as a pandemic, he said GBV has far-reaching effects that go on beyond the violence itself because of unequal power between genders. GBV manifests in various forms that include physical, emotional, psychological, financial or structural harm usually perpetrated by intimate partners, work colleagues, strangers and even institutions.

He stated GBV is recognised by the World Health Organization as a major public health problem. “Not only is it a direct cause of injury, morbidity and death, but women’s health is affected indirectly through unwanted pregnancies and accompanying health risks, as well as mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)”, he said.

Gender and cultural norms can condone and perpetuate violence against both women and men, therefore it is also essential for Africans to reflect on their practices and leave those which tolerate GBV behind. Everyone has a responsibility of ensuring a safe living environment for not just themselves but for the next person. For a better world we need to be accountable for one another to ensure we will not have to live in a fearful, bitter and wounded community.


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