The Epidemic of Violence against Women in Africa
Africa has a long standing tradition of incredibly unequal power between men and women; this has led to an extremely high rate of violence against women.
The United Nations (UN) defines violence against women 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 begins in childhood. African families show an obvious preference for sons over daughters; African society views sons as a credit to their family, while families that have only daughters are stigmatized. Sons are often weaned later, fed better and are more likely to be enrolled in school. These societal norms set girls up to grow into women with low self worth and low self esteem, thus perpetuating a never ending cycle of violence.
Girls are further subjected to violence by the act of female genial mutilation. Research has shown a wide prevalence rate of female genital mutilation in 28 African countries; it ranges from 5% in Uganda to over 90% in Somalia. Female genital mutilation entails the removal of all or part of the external genitalia as a way to control a woman’s sexuality. Female genital mutilation is extremely painful and can lead to heavy bleeding, infection, and even death. Despite the high risks female genital mutilation is a highly accepted tradition in many African countries.
Rape is a powerful tool in violence against women. The unstable political climate in many African countries has led to a high number of conflicts; during these conflicts it is not uncommon for rape to be used as a “weapon of war”. Many women are raped and impregnated; these women are then rejected by their own families and communities, leaving them traumatized and vulnerable. Rape and physical violence is also very common within the home- a study found that 50% of women in Tanzania and 71% of women in Ethiopia reported having been beat or raped by their husband or significant other.
Violence against women in Africa has been brought to the forefront by many non-profit humanitarian groups. Great strides have been made toward ending this violence; but the tradition of inequality between men and woman runs deep, and it will take many years to break this dangerous cycle.