While gender-based violence (GBV) is not a problem unique to Africa, there is little doubt that the extent of the problem persists more severely on the continent than elsewhere in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, in 2013, 35% of women world-wide had experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In contrast, 45.6% of women 15 years and older in Africa have experienced the same. This high incidence of GBV is correlated to low levels of education, exposure to violence elsewhere, and attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality. The patriarchal systems that are so prevalent in Africa, coupled with the lack of education and low access to information perpetuate this cycle of abuse.
To combat both the existence and effect of GBV, the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided funding to 14 projects that addressed gender-based violence (GBV). These projects aimed to prevent gender-based violence, protect the victims of GBV, bring about the social and psychological reintegration of survivors and identify social and community factors driving such violence. These objectives were achieved by reinforcing the institutional capacity for the treatment, identification and resolution of GBV-related problems, as well as using education and communication as a tool for behavioural change and eradication of such perpetrations. In many countries the projects successfully campaigned for the adoption of laws to eradicate domestic and gender-based violence, as well as the ratification and implementation of the Africa Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Other interventions included mapping instances of GBV, motivating victims of domestic violence to attend counselling sessions, and training family counsellors and community agents on domestic violence.
Program implementation was often achieved through decentralised interventions, using community participation techniques, and establishing multisectoral partnerships between the implementation partner and local entities, other NGOs, Human Rights Commissions and National Ministries. The interventions ensured that GBV is less likely to be viewed as a taboo topic and is more likely to be brought to the fore in public discussion. This strategy also ensured that all drivers of GBV violence were targeted; including societal norms, legal support, and lack of knowledge and information.
Key lessons learned from the projects:
Capitalise on existing political will to help achieve the objectives of a GBV project
In a number of projects, it was found that it is important to capitalise on existing political will to help to achieve the objectives of GBV projects. For example, the successful litigation of the cases against women and girls charged with adultery in Sudan, while not translating into immediate reform of Sudan’s rape and public order laws, has resulted in the government expressing a commitment to align with the African Union and its treaties and conventions. In Namibia, the Women’s Action for Development (WAD) project found that it was beneficial and conducive to project progress to first obtain permission to conduct training from councillors/governors prior to entering communities.
Collaborate with political parties, other NGOs, and formal groups to ensure the success of GBV projects
The broader the constituency of actors that are approached to assist with advancing the goals of a project, the greater the impact of the advocacy engagements. For example, in Guinea more than one ministry was involved in the domestication and implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The NGO, Equality Now, further attested that establishing strategic partnerships with the UN Women AU/ECA Liaison office in Ethiopia, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the National APRM office in Uganda and the NEPAD secretariat in Nairobi was crucial to advancing the Protocol campaign.
Working with other partners and collaboration has helped the SAMRC project in South Africa to transform indifferent participants to men and women who are persuaded of the usefulness and urgency of transforming themselves, improving gender relations and doing away with gender-based violence. The Women’s Action campaign that was launched in Zambia by Equality Now, confirmed that collaborating with international and local pressure groups is a good strategy to adopt to advance and protect women’s rights.
Engage the media especially community radio and television in advancing the rights of women
Engaging the media, especially community radio and television stations, in the fight against gender-based violence is a powerful means of reaching out to greater numbers of people. For example, Equality Now used 4 radio shows to disseminate information about the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in Ethiopia.
Sensitise communities, government and religious groups to GBV projects and adopt culturally sensitive interventions when implementing such projects
It is crucial to adopt a culturally sensitive approach when implementing interventions to eradicate GBV. For example, in many cultures it is offensive to discuss GBV issues in public. In Namibia, the Women’s Action for Development (WAD) team found that they had to adopt a culturally sensitive approach to aligning different ethnic groups during their training sessions. In South Africa, the SAMRC team reported that the complexity was compounded when communities had to re-evaluate and reject patriarchal beliefs and hierarchical gender relations which can generate gender-based violence.
It was important for the Women’s Rights Awareness Program (WRAP) in Kenya to first sensitise the community about the subject of GBV to ensure ‘buy-in’ from all local stakeholders to attain the project’s goals. It was further vital to take note of potential group formations which were characterised by tribalism and ethnicity and to address these dynamics.
In Sudan, Equality Now had to overcome the increasingly hostile climate against NGOs and human rights activists as well as the distinct fear of reprisal from the government and an unwillingness of women to come forward to document cases in which the rape law has negatively affected them.
Implement good communication facilities, reporting standards and procedures for GBV projects
It was emphasised in many of the projects addressing GBV issues that it is important to maintain good reporting and project tracking procedures. The African League for Active Non-Violence (LANOVA) reported that improved communication facilities are needed to maintain control of GBV project activities, particularly in the rural areas of Burundi. Equality Now stressed the importance of implementing impact tracking and to collect quantitative and qualitative data to support impact assessment. This was particularly relevant when domesticating the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in Guinea by means of radio programs, local awareness training, and policy workshops with key government stakeholders. The SAMARC project leaders, likewise, emphasized that documenting every activity of the project has proven very helpful to understand the process, what worked well, what could have been done differently and what was achieved.