25 November 2023, Banjul, the Republic of The Gambia
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, on behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), and on her own behalf, takes this opportunity to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2023.
The day launches the beginning of the annual 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence, an opportunity for all to come together to reflect upon strategies for the elimination of gender-based violence. The United Nations theme for 2023 is Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls. It is a crucial clarion call for all states, and stakeholders to strategise on how to ensure that programmes that work towards eliminating violence against women and girls are well funded, and that commitments to end it are made with the requisite political will.
Violence against women and girls continues in states that are enjoying relative stability, as well as states that are in conflict. 2023 has been marred by the continued fighting and conflict in some parts of the world, including in Africa. Ethiopia is still reeling from the aftermath of the Tigray conflict which resulted in thousands of women becoming victims of sexual and physical violence. The conflict in the Sudan has seen women and girls bearing the brunt of sexual and gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. In other parts of the continent that are not in conflict, women continue to suffer from different forms of violence. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) in article 1(j) defines violence against women to include physical, sexual, economic and psychological violence. Women in Africa often find themselves at the mercy of intimate partners who mete out violence in different ways.
The effects of gender-based violence are many and are felt by both the individuals subjected to it and by the community. The African Union quoting the International Labour Organisation and UN Women recognised that gender-based violence comes at a cost.[ https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20231027/economic-empowerment-women-can-end-cycle-violence-against-women-and-girls] There is reduced productivity, absenteeism at work, health care costs, as well as withdrawal from social and economic participation, by the affected individuals. Despite these well-known effects, African countries have not adequately provided for the means to fight it. It is reported that while 30 states have adopted national action plans to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325, only half of them have allocated budgets to fund the programmes in the action plans.[ https://www.undp.org/africa/press-releases/ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-requires-urgent-and-tangible-investments]
I take this opportunity therefore to call upon member states, development partners and all stakeholders to make more concerted efforts towards ensuring that meaningful investment is made into the fight against gender-based violence. Policies and National Action Plans will remain pieces of paper if they are not backed by the resources required to carry out the programmes. These programmes should include setting up proper referral frameworks with medical care, access to justice, psycho-social support and safe shelters for affected women and girls. Prevention measures should also be funded, with community engagement at the center of ensuring that the culture of violence in the member states is eliminated.
In addition to funding the programmes, states should include economic empowerment of women as a deliberate strategy to reduce women’s dependency on violent partners. It is a worthwhile investment that will bear fruit, not just for individual women and girls, but for the sustainable development of our countries. As we go into the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence, I encourage activism to include calling for budget allocations to fight violence against women, as most fiscal years begin in the new year.
Honourable Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa of the ACHPR