Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world and undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of women and girls.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the incidence of SGBV as the lockdown measures heightened women and girls’ exposure to violence due to their spending more time at home with their abusers.
Even as public narratives about domestic and other types of violence have had increased resonance since the beginning of the pandemic, sexual violence remains taboo. The rise of sexual violence, is affecting women and girls across West Africa, not excluding Ghana.
In Ghana, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are significantly underreported, and the police lack capacity to effectively investigate cases, which can take years to reach court.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) 1 out of 3 women have suffered physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner, could be family, friend, or a neighbor. In Ghana,16,000 cases of violence which is mostly against women was reported by the Ghana Police Service in 2020.(GBCGhanaonline,22a). Community leaders sometimes negotiate for rapists to pay compensation to victims’ families but they have come under fire in recent years for not taking the crime seriously enough.
Across West Africa, in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2015, evidence was collected of a significant increase in sexual and gender-based violence. Yet the local authorities did not take action to put protocols in place to safeguard women and children.
In 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic there was also significant increase in the prevalence of SGBV as the lockdown measures heightened women and girls’ exposure to violence. Even as public narratives about domestic and other types of violence have had increased resonance since the beginning of the pandemic, sexual violence remains a taboo.
Rape does not happen in a vacuum. It is part of a continuum of gender-based violence allowed and meted out on women through harmful social and cultural norms embedded in society.
Stereotypical gender norms and practices endorsed by patriarchy remain at the root of it. When it comes to shifting societal standards towards humanizing women outside violence, most of society remains impervious to young girls. Various actors from legislators to law enforcement, religious bodies, the media and gatekeepers of culture have not taken their role as guarantors of the rights of women, girls and minorities seriously.
Women and girls have been at the forefront of action to highlight, address and end sexual violence and it is vital to centre their voices in planning, design and decision-making on services and solutions to address and eradicate it at the community, national and regional level.
State of the Northern Region
According to the Northern Regional Director of the Department of Gender Madam Bushiru Alhassan statistics from the office revealed that in 2018 over 48 percent of women and girls have been sexually abused while about 94 percent of children aged one to fourteen have experienced some gender-based violence.
The Ford Foundation West Africa Office, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) have also been collaborating to combat the rate, advocate awareness a swell liaise with the various stakeholders and the traditional authorities to address and reduce sexual violence, and its deep-rooted drivers, across West Africa.
The initiative, “KASA” meaning ‘speak’ in the Twi language aimed at “Ending Sexual Violence in West Africa”, is leveraging the growing focus on sexual violence in the region to boost feminist action and advocacy to reduce it.
The project is being implemented in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, with a focus on raising awareness of sexual violence as a violation of human rights and rallying support to combat it.
The initiative focuses on three key areas; prevention, accountability and support including post-rape care and comprehensive sexual violence services. This is to increase awareness and mobilize action to counter existing narratives, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate sexual violence.
A key component of the initiative is to ensure that women and girls are at the forefront of highlighting, addressing and ending sexual violence through advocacy programmes.
To enhance the awareness creation in the Northern sector, Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA GH) supported to train 200 female students in the Northern Region to amplify messages against sexual violence, organize radio and social media campaigns against sexual violence and sensitize healthcare professionals and law enforcement agents to improve services for survivors of sexual violence and hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable
For close to two years, SWIDA-GH has been empowering its “KASA” female advocates with knowledge, skills and opportunities to engage schools, communities as well as traditional and religious leaders on sexual violence.
In line with the aim, SWIDA has been collaborating with the Centre for Equity and Equal Opportunities to organize the “2023 Ending Sexual Violence Conference” across the length and breadth of the country in order the champion the course of complimenting the Sustainable Development Goal
In commemoration of the United Nation’s (UN) 16 days of Activism, the Ending Sexual Violence Conference aims to create awareness of the salient issues relating to sexual violence in the Region, as well as guide policymakers’ efforts to promote women’s rights in Ghana.
It called for the need for more funding for interventions to tackle sexual violence and all forms of violence against women and girls to achieve the SDGs.
It also helps protect the welfare of women and girls in society to harness their potential, creativity and knowledge in contributing to national development.
The Conference year’s conference dubbed ‘Leveraging on the Energy of Young Advocates to End Sexual Violence in Ghana’ brought together state institutions, traditional/religious leaders, heads of educational institutions and students.
Project Lead, KASA! Ending Sexual Violence in West Africa Khadijah Abdul-Samed said, SBVG continue to be rampant in the region which encouraged the organization to embark on the “KASA” programme where young girls were empowered to report all forms of violence made against them.
She noted that the programme was also to educate the young girls to deist from engaging in any activity that would violate their rights.
We would continue to intensify the advocacy until policy makers adhere to the plight of the young girls in the society and also provide alternative livelihoods for the economic wellbeing of the younger generation, she said.
With funding from the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), SWIDA GH has been implementing the ‘KASA’ “Ending Sexual Violence” Project aimed at raising awareness of sexual violence as a violation of human rights and rallying support to combat it, she said.
For close to two years, we have been working with 200 young female leaders, healthcare professionals and law enforcement agents in the Northern Region to achieve this, she noted.
SWIDA has been empowering its KASA! Advocates with knowledge, skills and opportunities to engage schools, communities as well as traditional and religious leaders on sexual violence, she added.
She called for more support to intensify the advocacy in the rural communities where such incidence occurs most.
What can be done to curb the SBVG?
A survey conducted by the Northern regional Team of the Business and Financial Times (B&FT) indicated poverty coupled with lack of job opportunities contribute to the SBVG in the Northern region especially in the rural areas where young females had to depend on either the family or others to survive.
This makes most become vulnerable and therefore had to succumb to violence which most often jeopardizes the future of young girls.
Empowering the young females with the requisite skills would help them become future entrepreneurs and would enable them to be independent and therefore not depend on anyone for support.
Access to job opportunities and hand skills businesses could make them not focus on thinking of using alternative means to make earns meet.
Report from the Savannah Women Integrated Development (SWIDA) office indicated that intensive advocacy on SBNG and women empowerment programmes initiated has curbed the rate of SBVG in the operational areas and therefore need more support to extend the advocacy and the empowerment programmes to other parts of the Country.
This, the Executive Director of SWIDA-GHANA Hajia Alima Sagito Saaed noted would help to achieve Sustainable Development Goal five (5) which calls for an end to all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
“SDG 16 also calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, provision of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountability and inclusive institutions at all level which happens to be one of the core mandates of SWIDA”, she said.
According to her, women and girls in society must have equal rights and opportunities and be able to live free of violence and discrimination as well as empowered which would be the only way they can have the peace of mind to work and contribute to the development of their communities and the country as a whole.
Northern Regional Acting Director of Department of Gender Mad Bushira Alhassan noted that despite the contribution of the private sector to curb the SBVG in the region, those in the rural areas continue to suffer and therefore for more support to extend the initiative of SWIDA, WEE-North, and other private sectors to extend their programmes to the rural areas.
We need to empower the young girls while parents also take the responsibility to take good care of their young girls to prevent them from becoming victims she noted.
A senior lecturer and Women Advocate at the Tamale Technical University Prof Adiza Sadiq also called for more empowerment programmes for the young girls in both schools and out of school to make them more independent.
We need to help protect the wellbeing of young females for a better future by educating them on their rights as well as providing them with means of livelihood in order not to make them become beggars on the street.