Civil society to intensify AU fight against GBV
What you need to know:
- Civil society and women rights organisations made the pledge during the 2022 Eastern and Southern Africa regional forum on Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa.
- The meeting, held in Cape Town, South Africa, was convened under the umbrella of the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme.
The Spotlight Initiative being spearheaded by the African Union has received a major boost after civil society organisations in East and Southern Africa pledged to jointly campaign against gender-based violence (GBV).
Civil society and women rights organisations made the pledge during the 2022 Eastern and Southern Africa regional forum on Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa.
The meeting, held in Cape Town, South Africa, was convened under the umbrella of the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme.
The initiative is a global partnership between the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. It is the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
The civil society organisations (CSO) discussed how best to jointly advocate realistic policies and better implementation of policies to fight GBV.
Ms Patsy De Lora, the CEO of Partners in Sexual Health (PSH), lauded the meeting, terming it a step in the right direction towards enhancing gender equality.
"We believe in preventing gender-based violence and must ensure young people are not left behind. We have to make a difference and this gathering is a step amongst many to put a spotlight on ending violence,” she said.
Strong civil society
Ms Victoria Maloka, the head of Coordination and Outreach Division of the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate at the African Union, noted that the elimination of GBV cannot be achieved without strong and empowered CSO.
“We seek to strengthen the knowledge & capacities of CSOs to transform social practice, drive policy change and hold duty bearers accountable,” said Ms Maloka.
Ms Molline Marume, a programme specialist at the UN Women – South Africa multi-country office, gave shocking statistics touching on violence against women and girls in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. She said child marriage is still rampant, with almost 19.4 per cent girls getting married off before the age of 18.
“A woman is murdered every four hours in South Africa by an intimate partner. The country's femicide rate is five times more than the global rate. In Eswatini, one in three Swazi girls will experience some form of sexual violence by the time they are 18 years old, while almost half of Swazi women will experience some form of sexual violence over their lifetime,” she said.
As part of its Africa regional programme, the Spotlight Initiative partnered with PSH, a regional youth-serving non-profit organisation, as an implementing partner to convene the forum.
Continental and regional advocacy
At the heart of the initiative are women’s rights groups and CSOs, given their central role in the fight. Africa regional and women’s networks have been critical in advancing continental and regional advocacy initiatives concerning regulations, laws and their implementation.
Some of the concerns raised by participants include a lack of data on sexual reproductive health, rights and GBV services to inform policy formulation. They also underscored the need to improve sexual reproductive health and rights education in schools, and keep girls in schools to keep them away from sex pests.
Keeping girls in schools would also prevent them from crossing to the neighbouring countries to undergo FGM to avoid legal ramifications in the home countries.
The meeting came hot on heels of a shocking incident in South Africa in which eight women were gang-raped in Krugersdorp in the Gauteng province.
During the forum, participants agreed that the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the AU will strengthen resourcing, accountability, tracking and reporting on human rights and gender rights commitments, including but not limited to the Maputo Protocol (2003).
The AU and RECS also agreed to facilitate standardisation of the rape sentencing across SADC and East African Community (EAC) member states with provisions for minimum mandatory penalties.
Legal and policy frameworks
The groups also called on the member states to review and align national laws and policies to domesticate and implement regional and international instruments for ending child marriage, including establishing comprehensive social protection systems.
The participants have started a group as one of the coordinated advocacy collaborations to share knowledge, network, partner, and jointly advocate for eliminating violence against women and children. They also vowed to use their influence to sway the AU and global policy agenda on the elimination of violence against women and girls in Africa.
According to the UN Children's Fund (Unicef), about 130 million girls in Africa have been married in their childhood. In sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 40 per cent of girls marry before age 18, and African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
Niger has the highest child marriage rate in the world. According to recent data, 75 per cent of girls aged under 18 were married, with 36 per cent of them aged 15 and below.