Gender based violence is present everywhere in the world and needs to be tackled from different angles. Of course, in some countries it is worse than in others. Unfortunately, Cameroon is still among those countries where it is rather bad and present in many different forms and levels of society. As a disturbing social ill Gender Based Violence (GBV) is quite a complex concept to elucidate and tackle to eradication given that there are myriad forms of GBV with different causes at various levels.
According to UN Women Prevalence Data on Different Forms of Violence against Women in Cameroon, Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence: 37.3 %; Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months: 21.5 %; Lifetime Non-Partner Sexual Violence: Official National Statistics Not Available; Child Marriage :29.8 %; Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: 1.4 %.
Information regarding some of the different types of gender-based violence can be found below:
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, Economic Violence can be defined as: “Any act or behaviour which causes economic harm to an individual. Economic violence can take the form of, for example, property damage, restricting access to financial resources, education or the labour market, or not complying with economic responsibilities, such as alimony.” According to Fawole lufunmilayo, a Nigerian scholar, economic violence is a form of violence in which the abuser has the total control over the economic resources and activities of an abused one. It is still underestimated and does not get enough attention in most studies. It has far reached implications and certainly cannot be detached from other forms of violence. “Economic violence experienced included limited access to funds and credit; controlling access to health care, employment, education, including agricultural resources; excluding from financial decision making; and discriminatory traditional laws on inheritance, property rights, and use of communal land.
At work women experience unequal remuneration for work done equal in value to the men’s, are overworked and underpaid, and used for unpaid work outside the contractual agreement. Some experienced fraud and theft from some men, illegal confiscation of goods for sale etc. some women undergo sexual harassment from their bosses/colleagues and or employers and are forced to adhere for fear of loosing their jobs and eventually landing their families in to abject poverty.
“Normalised violence”, in Spanish known as “micro-machismo”. This constitutes a subtle form of violence, which is deeply internalized and most often not even realized or identified as such by the oppressed subjects themselves- which makes it even harder to fight and eliminate it.
Domestic violence takes place in homes and presents in various forms including Physical Violence and Sexual Violence which most often has been considered to be the lead factors that portray Gender inequality. Some forms of domestic violence would include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); Breast Ironing (BI); Early Child/Forced Marriage (ECFM); and Sexual Violence.
FGM is a horrible form of GBV suffered by young girls shortly before or immediately they attain puberty. This has to do with the cutting of the clitoris by an elderly woman who is considered an expert within the community using crude objects such as unsterilized knives and blades. The aim of such a barbaric practice is to prevent the girl from sexual promiscuity in her parents’ home as well as in her husband house; and this is usually done with the consent of parents/guardians of the victim; the victim who is of course a child has no say but to endure the painful ritual and the associated risks involved. This practice comes with damaging consequences:
- The spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other STIs through the usage of the unsterilized knives and blades on many girls undergoing the ritual at the same time.
- Lack of sexual sensation/satisfaction on the part of the victim throughout her life.
- FGM is also considered the leading cause of obstetric fistulae in young girls which most often causes maternal/and or newborn mortality during child birth. Maternal and newborn consequences during pregnancy, labour, delivery, and postpartum are the most commonly cited as factors affecting the FGM/C and fistula relationship. Beyond obstructed or prolonged labour and fetal distress, particularly in women who have undergone FGM/C Type III which predisposes women to developing fistula, maternal complications of FGM/C include postpartum hemorrhage, perineal tears and trauma and episiotomies; adverse newborn outcomes include infant resuscitation, neonatal death, and low birth weight. Gynecological consequences of FGM/C, a subset of which are also consequences of fistula include urogenital outcomes (e.g. scarring, keloids, abscesses, fistula, damaged tissue, and cysts), infertility, and reduced sexual functioning and satisfaction. Moreover, women who undergo FGM/C and those who develop fistula independently suffer from psychosocial consequences such as trauma, fear, depression, and divorce, all of which affect their association. Additionally, quality of care and the capacity of the health system to prevent, detect, and treat consequences of FGM/C affects the likelihood of a woman developing a fistula (UKaid and Population Council Research May 2017).
“The process during which young pubescent girls’ breasts are ironed, massaged, flattened and/or pounded down over a period of time (sometimes years) in order for the breasts to disappear or delay the development of the breasts entirely.” The pounding/ironing is usually done with a mortar pestle/stick or stones heated on fire. The United Nations (UN) states that Breast Ironing affects 3.8 million women around the world and has been identified as one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence. The custom uses large stones, a hammer or spatulas that have been heated over scorching coals to compress the breast tissue of girls as young as 9 years old. Those who derive from richer families may opt to use an elastic belt to press the breasts so as to prevent them from growing.
The mutilation is a traditional practice from Cameroon designed to make teenage girls look less ‘womanly’ and to deter unwanted male attention, pregnancy and rape. The practice is commonly performed by family members, 58% of the time by the mother. In many cases the abuser thinks they are doing something good for their daughter, by delaying the effects of puberty so that she can continue her education, rather than getting married.
The consequences of BI are grave;
- This practice could lead to breast cancer.
- A lifelong psychological torture on the victim as a result of the echoes of the pains they undergo during the breasts ironing/pounding exercise.
- Brest itching; tissue damage and discharge of milk.
- Abscesses and fever.
- Dissymmetry of the breast and even complete disappearance of one or both breasts.
- This form of mutilation not only has negative health consequences for the girls, but often proves futile when it comes to deterring teenage sexual activity. The practice not only seriously damages a child’s physical integrity, but also their social and psychological well-being.
Child marriage is a marriage or similar union, formal or informal, between a child under a certain age typically 18 years and an adult or another child. The vast majority of child marriages are between a female child and a male adult, and are rooted in gender inequality. ECFM is a common practice in Cameroon, parents or guardians push or entrust their children in to marriages at a very tender age without the children’s consent and in most cases the girl child is the victim of ECFM. Girls who are victims of ECFM are often forced to drop out of school to take up responsibilities as wives and parents. Thus, children become Child Mothers and others die during child birth as a result of their tenderness. Aside the fact that these children are young and innocent; they are physically and emotional not apt for the numerous tasks they have been forced in to. As a result of their incompetence in their duties as wives and parent they are further subjected to physical torture from their partners who are most often older men.
In Cameroon Child Marriage is so common, in 2017, 31% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday, and the national median age for first marriages is 18.5. Cameroon holds the 8th highest marriage rate before age 15 among African countries, with 10.7% of Cameroonian women married before age 15 as of 2020. Compared to the national median age of marriage of 18.5, the median age of marriage for girls without education is 16. In Northern regions of Cameroon, Adamaoua, Far-North, and North, the median age is 16.5. 8% of adolescent girls give birth before the age of 16. Child marriage is most significant in the Far North Region, with 80% of women being married prematurely (Cislaghi, Beniamino; Mackie, Gerry; Nkwi, Paul; Shakya, Holly (2019-10-03).
Sexual violence is sexual activity when consent is not obtained or freely given. It is a serious public health problem in Cameroon that profoundly impacts lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being negatively. Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages. Anyone can experience or perpetrate sexual violence. The perpetrator of sexual violence is usually someone the survivor knows, such as a friend, current or former intimate partner, coworker, neighbor, or family member. Sexual violence can occur in person, online, or through technology, such as posting or sharing sexual pictures of someone without their consent, or non-consensual sexting.
Unfortunately, as a result of the Anglophone crisis in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon; Boko Haram insurgency in the three Northern Regions and Rebel attacks from the Central African Republic on the East Region, causing inhabitants to flee their comfort zones; as such, sexual violence perpetrated on women has been on the rise especially on women and girls who have flee their homes in search of “safety” yet they are faced with another form of danger which is sexual violence often pathetically coming from those whom they seek refuge from.
- Our aim is to sensitize, spread awareness and educate on the various forms of gender-based violence; how they are all interconnected, what consequences they can have as well as possible ways to overcome them.
- To empower both perpetrators and victims of GBV so as to reduce the incidence of some forms of GBV such as Breast Ironing; Female Genital Mutilation; Early/Child/Forced marriages and sexual violence.
- To promote education and economic empowerment of girls and women as a tool for combating a wide variety of GBV perpetrated on them.
- To build capacities of stakeholders from communities to national levels to push policy change that can help in the eradication of various forms of GBV against women.
- Organize capacity building workshops with appropriate authorities in other to find solutions to the different forms of GBV women encounter on a daily basis.
- Build schools and equally offer scholarships to encourage basic; secondary and university education especially for the girl child.
- Construct and run economic empowerment centers across the country to serve as emancipation centers for the rehabilitation of the victims of GBV and influence adult literacy in a well-coordinated manner.
- Hold incessant talks on various radio/television talk shows alongside persistent social media posting on the various forms of GBV to educate victims on an escape route while pleading on the consciences of perpetrators and the powers that be.
Our ongoing efforts
- So far, we have been building capacities of community heads in the presence of government officials within a good number of communities around the country on the stakes of GBV and thus influenced policy change to an extent.
- Carrying out nation wide sensitization and awareness creation of the different forms of GBV through Radio/TV Talk Shows and different Social Media platforms over the years.
- Empowered women and girls to become economically viable through cash transfers to enable small business startups/enlargement and through vocational training programs in varied trades.
- Offered scholarships and prizes to the female folk attending school to encourage female education and the venturing in to STEM by girls which is considered a male dominated field of studies in Cameroon.
- Provide sound lectures in schools on the topic of career orientation to guard against school dropouts and wrong career paths by youth especially girls in Cameroon.
- We however lack the resources to construct schools and emancipation centers across the country to create a deeper and wider impact in the area of GBV prevention and eradication.
- We are equally in need of more resources to foster our ongoing awareness raising campaigns on GBV prevention and eradication; women economic empowerment program; scholarship scheme and career orientation program in schools to bring our impact to scale in time and space.