Break the silence on violence against women: A call to action

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The African Development Bank on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 launched the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence campaign with an intense discussion on how to stop violence against women and girls. The event was held at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Around the globe, November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Bank’s Special Envoy on Gender, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, emphasised the need to first address harmful practices against women and girls, which even though outlawed in many countries, continue to be practiced. “We cannot talk about ending violence against women and girls if we do not talk about fighting against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages.”

United Nations statistics indicate that worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, most before the age of 15. “If girls get married at a young age, they lose their education; they are at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases because they are unable to effectively negotiate safe sex, and are also vulnerable to early pregnancy,” said Fraser-Moleketi.

Further, an estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM in 29 countries in Africa and Middle East, where the harmful practice is commonly practiced, with a high risk of prolonged bleeding, infection (including HIV), complications during childbirth, infertility and death.

Fraser-Moleketi urged the Bank to take serious steps in addressing violence against women and girls in Africa, as it did with the Ebola crisis in West Africa, where its total support amounted to US $223 million. “With Ebola, we declared it a pandemic and resolved to make a change. We are not doing this with violence which continues to harm women. The Bank must make a change in this area,” she said.  

The forum cited the need to break the silence on violence especially in schools, where girls continued to be sexually assaulted, especially by their teachers. Jeanne Kopieu, the Sub-Director of Education for All within the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training in Côte d’Ivoire, shared findings of a recent study undertaken by the Ministry, showing that 5,000 girls were impregnated per year. “Victims are ashamed to talk about it. It is difficult especially in rural areas to lodge complaints against a teacher or member of society,” she noted.

Letizia Bazzi-Veil, Chief Child Protection Officer at UNICEF in Côte d’Ivoire, called on schools to play a role in prevention of and responding to violence against children. This, she said, can be done through increasing surveillance of behaviour of those who care for children at school. “They must work hand-in-hand with communities, something that will also increase community protection for children,” she said.

The forum called for strict implementation of child protection policies and regulations, as well as adherence to international instruments that outlaw any form of violence against women and girls.

The AfDB’s Vice-President and Secretary-General, Cecilia Akintomide, reiterated the Bank’s support for activities aimed at addressing violence against women and girls in order to achieve inclusive development across the continent. “AfDB says no to violence. It can be eliminated,” said said.

The forum is one of the many activities the Bank is undertaking to mark the 16 days of activism against violence gender-based violence. These are being held across the Bank’s 35 field offices. This year’s theme is Women at the Forefront of Development: The Fight against Violence.

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