International Human Rights Day: Firm Political Will Required to End Violence Against Women
The Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Women's Rights Ratify and Respect” demands immediate action from governments
10 December 2010, Nairobi, Paris - On International Human Rights Day, as NGO's across Africa conclude their actions marking 16 days of activism against gender violence, the Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Women's Rights Ratify and Respect” calls upon all African governments to take urgent measures to eliminate violence against women.
Africa is the continent that records the highest levels of violence perpetrated against women. Patriarchy, sexism and misogyny are widespread across the 53 countries. Harmful traditional practices, insufficient legal protection and extensive impunity for acts of violence perpetuate violations of women's rights. In periods of conflict or political unrest, crimes of sexual violence continue to be committed on a massive scale.
From November 25th (International Day on Violence Against Women) until 10th December (International Human Rights Day), NGO's have been intensively campaigning for an end to such atrocities. The Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Womens Rights Ratify and Respect” lends its support to the theme for this year's mobilisation: Commit ▪ Act ▪ Demand: We CAN End Violence Against Women! The Campaign emphasizes the need for all actors, starting with governments, to give full support to efforts to end sexual and gender based violence.
The Coalition of the Campaign issues specific recommendations to the governments of Burundi, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Togo and Mali, which have been a particular focus of the Campaign in 2009, and where sexual and domestic violence remain highly prevalent.
In Burundi, perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence benefit from widespread impunity. There is no specific law prohibiting domestic violence. Extrajudicial settlement of cases of rape favours practices such as marriage between the rapist and the victim. Amongst the root causes of persistent violence, are profoundly discriminatory laws, in particular provisions of the Code of the Person and the Family and the Penal Code, as well as the continued application of customary law.
The Coalition of the Campaign calls on the government of Burundi to:
- abolish or reform discriminatory laws including provisions of the Code of the Person and the Family and the Penal Code and customary laws;
- enact legislation criminalizing domestic violence;
- adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women; and
- ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.
In Botswana, customary law, which profoundly discriminates against women, is applied alongside common law. While Botswana has adopted legislation criminalising violence against women (Domestic Violence Act 2008), under customary law men are perceived to have the right to “chastise” their wives. Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Act contains significant gaps. For example, it does not penalise marital rape.
The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Botswana to:
- abolish or reform discriminatory laws including customary laws and ensure that common law is superior to customary law;
- enact legislative provisions criminalizing marital rape; and
- adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women.
In Democratic Republic of Congo, crimes of sexual violence continue to be committed on a massive scale, both in areas of ongoing conflict and areas of relative stability. Two laws on sexual violence adopted in 2006 have so far been ineffectively implemented and perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. Harmful traditional practices such as dowry, levirate, polygamy, forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence, remain widespread.
The Coalition of the Campaign calls on the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement the recent recommendations on combating violence against women issued by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (November 2009). In particular, it urges the government to:
- accelerate the adoption of the law on gender equality and reform of discriminatory provisions within the Family Code;
- enact legislation prohibiting harmful traditional practices;
- raise the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years;
- implement the comprehensive strategy against sexual violence endorsed by the Government in April 2009; and
- ensure provision of compensation, psychological support and health care to survivors of sexual violence.
In Mali, discriminatory laws, in particular in the area of the family, place women in a situation of extreme vulnerability. Harmful traditional practices persist including female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage and levirate. Following ten years of drafting, reforms to the Family Code were passed by parliament in August 2009 but, following widespread protests by ultra-conservative groups, the President sent the law back to Parliament for a second reading.
The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Mali to:
- ensure that the proposed reforms of the Family Code, are adopted, in full, without further delay;
- criminalise female genital mutilation and marital rape;
- adopt the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.
In Togo, discriminatory customs and traditions, including forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation, ritual bondage, levirate and repudiation are widespread. Patriarchal attitudes persist that consider the physical chastisement of family members, including women, acceptable. Proposed reforms to the Personal and Family Code, which would amend some of the discriminatory provisions, have been stalled.
The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Togo to:
- reform all discriminatory legislation including the Personal and Family Code
- enact legislation on domestic violence, including marital rape, and on all forms of sexual abuse, including sexual harassment
- introduce immediate measures to modify and/or eliminate customs and cultural practices that discriminate against women
- ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
“As we mark International Human Rights Day, we remind all governments of the fundamental rights of women to be protected from all forms of violence. It is abhorrent that women continue to suffer such atrocities, and on a daily basis, whilst governments fail to act”, stated Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “Eliminating violence against women is a question, first and foremost, of political will”, she concluded.