The following is a guest blog post from Tausi Suedi, co-founder and former CEO of Childbirth Survival International and adjunct professor of international health at Towson University.
When it comes to human rights violations, those directed against women and girls, and in some cases young boys, are especially glaring. What’s worse, these crimes are often committed in common, familiar environments: at home, at school, or at a place of worship. The cycle of violence against women and girls is hard to break because the perpetrators are often related to or work closely with the victims, they have more power, and they are sometimes regarded as untouchable by the law. How, then, do we end gender-based violence collectively?
Gender-based violence is learned in the home, where girls are taught to be silent when abused and boys learn to mistreat women, creating a dangerous framework around gender, entitlement, and expectations. Gender-based violence, then, is a language and tradition learned in early childhood, one that stays with men into adulthood, motivating them to harm women, girls, and young boys.
Some common forms of gender-based violence across the African continent include rape culture, domestic violence, forced prostitution, physical violence, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, political violence, forced marriage, acid attacks, and child maltreatment in the home and as well as in public settings. In many societies, gender-based violence is a norm met with silence, and abusers are rarely held accountable, creating risky, unsafe living environments and traumatizing life experiences for victims. The physical, economic, and social costs associated with gender-based violence correlate with high maternal death rates, disabilities, the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, poverty, undernutrition, and low school-attendance rates.
Among the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the fifth, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” is particularly important. To end gender-based violence across Africa and create the Africa4Her we all envision requires a focus on the household to help families unlearn those practices, beliefs, and behaviors that give abusers the power to abuse. It also requires extensive and comprehensive coordination of social support services for individuals who have experienced childhood trauma. Now is the time for YALI Fellows and people across Africa to contribute to these ongoing efforts to end violence against women and girls.
Africa4Her benefits everyone because when women and girls are educated and healthy, with access to opportunities, everyone benefits: families are happier and healthier, communities are safe and strengthened, national economies grow exponentially, and the global landscape shifts to achieve a balanced future.
One of my favorite books on gender-based violence is Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. I recommend this book because it provides in-depth encounters on the daily acts of violence that women and girls face and offers successful and evidence-based solutions to reverse this violence, underlining the need for multisector, grassroots initiatives to shift norms in societies where gender-based violence persists.
It’s possible to end gender-based violence, and I encourage YALI Network members and others to take active leadership roles, starting with those closest to them: their families and communities.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.