News / Africa

Africa's Domestic Violence, Rapes Extend Far Beyond Congo

Activists say one way to help fight domestic violence in Africa would be to have more women's representation in politics, as this sign in Monrovia, Liberia, suggests
Activists say one way to help fight domestic violence in Africa would be to have more women's representation in politics, as this sign in Monrovia, Liberia, suggests
Nico Colombant

While a recent U.S. report has staggering statistics about ongoing mass rapes and domestic violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, human rights activists say the problem exists across Africa.  Our correspondent caught up with African lawyers who are in the United States getting advice on how to confront the situation.

At a meeting in the Washington offices of the U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence, Rene Renick shared with her African guests some of the common challenges women face in fighting for their rights.

"That is something we have been through too just so you know," said Renick. "We have been told we are breaking up marriages, we have been called lesbians and baby killers."

A report released this week in the American Journal of Public Health, based on new statistics, indicated that between 2006 and 2007, 400,000 women had been raped in the Congo - a rate 26 times higher than what the United Nations has been reporting. The study said these rapes were taking place in conflict areas as well as in the homes of the victims.

Gladys Fri Mbuya from Cameroon said that while many Americans hear only about rape and domestic violence from Africa in the conflict-ridden Congo, she said the problem is rampant across the continent.

"It cannot be just Congo," said Mbuya. "Domestic violence I think is everywhere. And it is more rampant in Africa because of our culture. Basically it is encouraged by some households. You grow up, you see your parents fighting and you grow up thinking that fighting is a normal thing for families. They give the impression that your husband is like your father, he has the right to correct you, he has the right to beat you."

Mbuya takes on many legal cases to protect women, and also hosts a weekly radio show for women's issues on her own time, but she says there is only so much she can do on her own.  A new family legislative code has been years in the making in Cameroon, but so far it has yet to be completed.

Mbuya says young women and teenagers are often sold into marriages, which quickly become abusive, and that there is not a single shelter in all of Cameroon, a country of nearly 20 million people.

"You realize that they remain in those relationships because they do not have a way to hide," she said. "They do not know where to run to. They go to their parents, but their parents send them back because of the cultural mindset, they think it is right for your husband to beat you, they keep pushing them back.  Some of them have actually expressed that if we knew where to go and hide we would leave this relationship."

Like Mbuya, fellow lawyer and women's rights activist Selamawit Tesfaye is also completing a fellowship at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Tesfaye says in her home country, Ethiopia, which also does not have laws to cover domestic violence, marital rape is a huge, if largely unmentioned, problem.

She says laws which were recently passed in Ethiopia severely restricted outside funding for non-governmental organizations, making it all the more difficult to address the situation.

"Most of the organizations that were working in that area have been rendered ineffective, literally, because most of our funding was coming from there. I am not saying the government is not focusing on those areas but the non-governmental organization expertise has not been replaced so there is a gap at the moment," said Tesfaye.

She said in addition to more funding to help address the problem, more women's representation in governments across Africa could also help.

Paulette Sullivan Moore, vice president of public policy for the U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence, was one of those giving advice at the Washington meeting.

She compared the plight of women in Africa to the situation several decades ago in the United States when there few laws protecting women, and police were unresponsive to complaints of domestic violence.

"I am not surprised about the current level of struggle," said Moore. "They did not say things that we weren't hearing in this country 25, 30 years ago. So I hope that gives them hope and that they will one day be at a place that they will be helping another country move forward."

Some of the advice at the meeting ranged from compiling precise statistics and starting help websites and hotlines, to striking up partnerships with insurance companies to give loan assistance to at-risk women.

The African lawyers said they were hoping to return to Washington next year when the second world conference of women's shelters will be held from February 27 to March 1, bringing together advocates working to end violence against women from all over the world.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs