by WLA Member Ndamo Somba

“GBV is not just about sexual violence or a man beating his wife”

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is the violence committed against women, girls, boys and men within a community which is perpetuated by toxic social and cultural norms that society places on gender roles and which is further exasperated by the unequal power relationships between the two genders. It functions as a mechanism for enforcing and sustaining gender inequality, therefore, women and girls face significant gender discrimination and are accorded a lower socio-economic status than men and boys because of it. As a result, women and girls are disproportionately affected by GBV than men and boys. Most women and girls who are subjected to violence internalise the view that they are worthless and that they do not have control over neither their own lives nor bodies. This, in turn, has direct consequences with respect to their health, employment and participation in social and political life.

GBV against women and girls is, therefore, a public health issue and a violation of their human rights. It violates their rights to, among others, life; not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; equal protection under the law; equality in the family; and the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health.

GBV against women and girls can take the form of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence. It also includes threats of acts of said violence, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Specifically, psychological violence includes ‘threats, humiliation, mocking and controlling behaviours while economic violence involves denying the victim access to financial resources, property, healthcare, education, or the labour market, and denying victims participation in economic decision-making.

The forms of GBV against women and girls include violence in close relationships; sexual violence (including rape, sexual assault and harassment in all public and private spheres of life); trafficking in human beings, slavery, and sexual exploitation; harmful practices such as child and forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and crimes committed in the name of so-called ‘honour’; and online harassment, various forms of sexual abuse instigated or facilitated through the use of information and communication technologies, stalking, and bullying.

“Harmful Cultural or Traditional Practices”

Harmful cultural or traditional practices are forms of violence which have been primarily committed against women and girls in certain communities and societies for so long that they are defended on the basis of tradition, culture, religion or superstitions held by community members. These practices are a violation of the human rights of women and girls because they are often carried out without the consent of the women or girls involved.

In Malawi, the following constitute common forms of these harmful practices:

(a)        Forced or early marriages – these are marriages in which one or both spouses do not give valid consent to the marriage. Forced marriages involve varying degrees of force, coercion or deception and emotional pressure by family members or community members in the form of continuously reminding the victim that the family’s social standing and reputation are at stake, isolating the victim or refusing to speak to the victim. As a result, girls or women who are forced into marriage do not give valid consent.

This harmful cultural or traditional practice is perpetuated by several factors such as endemic poverty whereby families force young girls into marriage at an early age with the view that her “spouse” or his family will fend for the girl and, in certain instances, extend financial or other assistance to her parents; or cultural practices such as Kupimbira or kuhaha whereby a person exchanges his or her young daughter for basic goods and necessities as a means of survival. The girl so exchanged is forced into slavery to pay off the debt; however, sometimes the girl is forced into marriage as a means of repaying the debt; or kutomera (‘betrothed’) whereby girls are exchanged for money from a very young age, virtually from the day they are born. According to the custom, families receive payment for their daughters in a manner similar to the payment of lobola for a bride. An older or wealthy man within a community approaches a family and identifies a very young girl to be his future wife. A price is negotiated and the girl is taken from the family when she is sexually mature.

(b)        Maltreatment of widows – this mainly entails different forms of discrimination against widows such as violations of their inheritance rights under customary law, widow cleansing or forced marriage. The combined effects of these practices leave many widows vulnerable to trafficking, sexual assault and other forms of domestic violence. For example, the practice of ‘wife inheritance’ occurs in some parts of Malawi whereby widows are expected to marry or enter into a sexual relationship with the brother or kinship of her deceased husband. Refusal by a widow to be ‘inherited’ typically leads her to being disinherited, ostracized and expelled from her home. Nonetheless, widows are frequently evicted from their houses or the marital property is ceased by her in-laws upon her husband’s death because traditional or customary property laws are often unfair to women and usually leave them and their children in situations of great dependency.

(c)        Killing of suspected witches- the belief in witchcraft remains strong in Malaŵi as it does in other African countries. In communities where such beliefs are held, witchcraft is attributed to unexplained illness and deaths. Research has shown that women, particularly elderly women, are disproportionately suspected of practicing witchcraft and are usually ostracized or even murdered as a result.

(d)        Female genital mutilation which entails the procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

“Trafficking in Persons”

Trafficking in persons is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.

Malawi is the source for three streams of trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation. These streams entail:

  • trafficking victims to Europe;
  • trafficking child victims to Europe by sex tourists; and
  • trafficking victims across land borders to South Africa.

The vulnerability of women and children in Malawi to trafficking is due, at least in part, to endemic poverty, unemployment, famine, HIV/AIDS and the perpetuation of certain harmful cultural or traditional practices that commercialise and sexualise girls such as the initiation rites known as chinamwali.

 Nsondo and Ndakula

Nsondo and Ndakula are two forms of chinamwali. Nsondo is aimed at prepubescent girls and ndakula (‘I have grown up’) is aimed at menstruating teenage girls. They both aim to introduce girls to the responsibilities of adulthood; however, ndakula specifically focuses on, through secret rites, instructing girls on a variety of sexual skills, to suppress their own feelings and sexual desires in order to please men. They are also encouraged to find sexual partners with whom to ‘practice’ their sexual technique, and to marry quickly – usually from 15 years of age onwards. An older man, called a fisi (hyena), is often employed to break the girls’ virginity and to teach them about sex in preparation for marriage. Further compounded with other harmful cultural or traditional practices such as Kupimbira, kuhaha and kutomera, girls are commodified from a young age because they legitimise the selling of young girls to seemingly successful strangers who often make surprise offers to educate and employ them to ease the burden of their families thereby exposing them to traffickers. In the overwhelming socio-economic circumstances pertaining in rural Malawi, young girls are often the last remaining “possessions” of value that families can sell to buy food and other basic necessities.

 In the areas along the lakeshore, rural unemployment and high HIV/AIDS infection forces many children to drop out of school to become breadwinners. Some of these children have been forced to migrate to towns, border regions and holiday resorts to support their families through informal jobs and often sex work. Others are recruited as cheap labour to be exploited in bars and restaurants in the two main cities, Lilongwe and Blantyre, and towns such as Kasungu, Mwanza, Mangochi and Salima. For many trafficking victims, the process of early sexualisation seems to play a vital role in normalising prostitution among young women and girls which, in turn, brings them into contact with traffickers who often travel to Malawi specifically for recruitment purposes.

Early sexualisation deprives young women of schooling and job opportunities because of the high prevalence of unwanted pregnancies; or confinement to households as cooks and cleaners. This makes offers such as study and well-paying work in Europe or South Africa, which are commonly made by traffickers during recruitment, irresistible to many young women. Additionally, sexual rites encourage early marriages such that offers of marriage from traffickers are favourably received both by young women and their families. These offers of marriage are often accompanied by generous gifts of money, a practice that resembles and is legitimised by harmful customs such as kutomera. Further, early sexualisation further perpetuates the culture of domestic violence and sexual violence among young women and girls in Malawi.

“Violence Against Women with Albinism”

In recent years, there have been several cases of killings, attempted abductions and disappearances of persons with albinism in Malawi. These acts against persons with albinism violate their rights to life; liberty; security; and the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment as has been enshrined in various international human rights treaties to which Malawi is a party. The majority of the violence against people with albinism is committed against women and girls who, in addition to being particularly vulnerable members of society, face multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination.

The attacks against people with albinism are often driven by erroneous beliefs and myths that are influenced by superstition such as the belief that their organs have magical powers that can increase ones prosperity or that sexual intercourse with a woman or girl with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS. Additionally, there is a strong problematic belief in some communities across Malawi that persons with albinism are “like phantoms who do not die but disappear instead”; this belief reinforces members of their community to view them as being less human which, in turn, normalizes the discrimination and violence perpetrated against persons with albinism. These attacks entail, among others, ritual attacks which have sometimes resulted in death of the victim; trade in organs, trafficking and sale of persons with albinism, particularly children; infanticide and abandonment of children; and the decapitation or amputation of limbs to be sold in black markets.

Women and girls with albinism already constitute a minority who are often the most discriminated against and marginalized in society, therefore, their suffering is often overlooked by most members of their community. This, in turn, perpetuates their suffering of gender based sexual violence such as ritualized defilement and rape which, in turn, often leads to victims contracting HIV. Further, the victimization caused by the sexual violence is further compounded by the lack of realization of women’s in rights in largely patriarchal traditional communities; stigma associated with albinism and poverty, thus, there is little, if any, communal support for these victims.

Acts of violence committed against persons with albinism have been strongly condemned by President Peter Mutharika who has called on security agencies to arrest people responsible for such attacks and provide maximum protection to persons with albinism. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of people have been arrested and prosecuted by the relevant security authorities for committing such abhorrent crimes and acts. Increased public awareness and systematically addressing these attacks against women and girls with albinism as well as all other forms of discrimination and marginalization are therefore crucial to ending violence against women.

“Violence Against School Girls”

Every child has a fundamental right to education and to gain its benefits. Through access to education, children can develop essential life skills that will enable them to live with dignity as engaged Malawian and global citizens. In Malawi, an education can transform a child’s life and help entire communities to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Education is also fundamental to achieving gender equality. This view was emphasized by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who stated that “there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls” yet while more than one billion children across the world attend school every day, more than 66 million girls do not have access to education. For those who have access to education, it is estimated that at least 246 million boys and girls annually suffer school-related violence. The girl-child’s right to education can therefore be fulfilled only when girls are able to learn in nurturing environments free from school related gender based violence (SRGBV).

SRGBV is defined as “acts of sexual, physical or psychological violence inflicted on children in and around schools that are due to stereotypes and roles or norms attributed to or expected of them on the basis of their sex or gendered identity.”  School curriculums, physical spaces, classroom management, teacher conduct and schoolyard dynamics often entrench gender norms through messages about what girls and boys can and should do. Research conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa found that GBV against both female and male schoolchildren is common. In several countries, sexual violence against schoolgirls appears to be an institutional norm. Patriarchal values and attitudes that encourage male aggression, female passivity, and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage were also found to be drivers of SRGBV across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The most prevalent forms of SRGBV against the girl-child are sexual violence; bullying; cyber-bullying; physical and psychological bullying.

(a)        Sexual violence

Sexual violence against school girls can take the form of, among others, “harassment, rape, abuse, coercion, and exploitation”. Most cases of sexual violence are perpetrated by people whom the abused child knows such as teachers, peers and other members of the community. For example, some teachers exploit their authority and power over female school children by engaging in ‘sex for grades’ or waiving the payment school fees. Nonetheless, teachers can still constitute key allies in preventing SRGBV against the girl-child.

Conflict such as civil war weakens institutions, accountability structures and social networks pertaining to the school or education system which consequently put girls at greater risk of being sexually violated. In particular, research has shown that teenage girls may be exposed to sexual violence and harassment when parts of their schools are used as barracks or bases by armed forces, armed groups, or police. Fears of such abuse can cause girls to drop out, be pulled out, or not enrolled in higher years of studies. In countries where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, girls are placed in a particularly vulnerable position in that the consequences of rape (which include psychological trauma and stigmatisation) put their right to education at risk for the rest of their lives.

(b)        Bullying

This is one of the most common forms of violence in schools which reflects an imbalance of power relationships. It is carried out through repeated verbal or physical acts with the aim of inflicting suffering upon victims over a period of time. Bullying is often expressed in a gendered manner although the acts of bullying may not always target a child based on his or her gendered identity. As a result, boys are more likely to engage in and be victims of physical bullying while girls are more likely to engage in verbal and psychological bullying.  Research has shown that school children from marginalised groups within a society are at greater risk of being bullied and that they may be targeted because of their race, ethnicity, caste, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Teachers can perpetuate psychological bullying when they speak to school children in a derogatory manner based on the child’s sex, race or class. Research shows that girls may be made to feel worthless, unteachable or stupid if they are viewed as behaving in a manner inconsistent with their assigned role in society.

Bullying in schools is often inappropriately regarded as an adolescent rite of passage. A common means through which girls bully one another is through relational violence such as rumours, gossip and social exclusion. This form of violence targets a girl’s critical social relationships, and can increase her risk of long-term socio-psychological distress. It is often overlooked by educators and policy-makers as a mere expression of ‘girls being girls’ despite its long-term consequences.

 (c)       Cyber-bullying

The advancements made in information and communications technologies (ICTs) such as instant messaging, email and social media have introduced a new aspect of orchestrating violence among school children in the form of cyber-bullying.  The devastating nature of cyber-bullying is that it extends fear, intimidation and in some instances sexual violence well beyond school grounds. Considering the demographic of adolescent girls, cyber-bullying affects these girls at a vulnerable stage when they are developing into sexual beings without necessarily having developed the skills nor the knowledge to protect themselves against attacks pertaining to the same. Girls are often subject to online harm from friends, classmates, or boyfriends. Of fundamental importance is that online bullying follows the bullied child to her home. The young victims will probably experience the bullying every time she turns on her mobile phone or computer.

(d)        Physical and psychological violence as ‘discipline’

Corporal punishment is illegal in the penal system and public institutions of Malawi as per the Constitution, but it is still administered in the home or in private schools. Physical violence by teachers, especially male teachers, is a common experience for both female and male children and it includes being punched, kicked, whipped, or beaten with an object

This use of physical violence is often arbitrarily imposed in that research has shown that some teachers resort to using physical force to inflict pain on schoolchildren merely because the children have displayed behaviour that they do not personally like. This is exacerbated by the stressful teaching and classroom conditions, such as overcrowding, insufficient resources, and increased emphasis on student achievement which create stressful teaching and classroom conditions that may force teachers to resort to punitive discipline as a control measure. Further, in communities where corporal punishment is meted out in schools, such punishment is often in tandem with deeply entrenched beliefs about acceptable forms of discipline, and often stems from a lack of institutional accountability.

In addition to physical violence, psychosocial punishment is also inflicted on children through actions designed to belittle, humiliate, threaten, scare or ridicule.

The Effects of SRGBV against Girls

The effects of SRGBV against girls are such that girls who witness or experience SRGBV are less likely to do well in school. Additionally, many girls dropout of school because of their experience, fear and feeling of disempowerment to condemn the violence committed against them. Research shows that sexual harassment and violence are major factors in school dropout rates for adolescent girls, and partly explain girls’ lower enrolment rates at the secondary level. Beyond the psychological suffering and trauma they experience, young female victims of sexual violence face unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections including HIV. These health risks compromise girls’ schooling and their broader development because many schools do not permit pregnant girls to attend school or allow girls to bring their babies or return to school following childbirth. Young mothers often experience delays in progression to higher school grades and periods of withdrawal from school. In Malawi, girls are thus significantly less likely to return to school after the birth of their child. These young victims are also commonly stigmatised, undermining their status within the community and their ability to access health and social services.

SRGBV against girls contributes to poor performance, lower enrolment, absenteeism and high dropout rates among female school children thereby reducing opportunities for girls, particularly rural girls, to find decent jobs and earn decent income.

Lack of Access to Justice for Rural Women”

The ability to claim one’s rights and seek a remedy is influenced first and foremost by the contents of the laws that establish these rights and regulate the processes for claiming their protection. In this regard, the content of Malawian law and the legal system operate on the presumption that every person is equal and that all of them have equal opportunity to seek the protection of the law when they have had their rights violated. However, this is not always the case as research has shown that both the content of law and administration of justice are often obstructed for the less powerful and privileged, most of them being rural women. The major obstacles to women’s access to justice and equitable enjoyment of their rights and entitlements are the lack of information and knowledge of the relevant laws and harmful socio-cultural norms. In addition, rural women, in comparison to other demographics of the Malawian population, have less time, money and lower levels of education to benefit from the current set up of the law.

Rural women’s access to justice and effective legal remedy and compensation in cases in which they have suffered a violation of their human rights are therefore crucial for them to achieve true equality in accessing resources and services, decent employment and work conditions, social protection in civil and family matters, and in decision-making processes of their communities. These serve as preconditions that are necessary for women and their dependents to live their lives in dignity; realize their human right to food; and become active members of society.

Research found, however, that when a dispute arises, most rural women choose to seek protection of their rights through customary justice systems. These customary justice systems were found to often be more affordable than the formal justice mechanisms and were easier for rural women to access therefore customary legal systems were found to hold a more prominent value among the rural populations of Malawi. Additionally, customary justice systems are more likely to provide women with more space for dispute resolution that is acceptable to the members of the broader community, particularly the men, in which they live. However, the rules applied by customary institutions often fail to comply with the acceptable standards of equality and non-discrimination pertaining in Malawi therefore rural women are often denied justice.

On the other hand, formal courts or other, alternative formal dispute resolution bodies such as the Malaŵi Human Rights Commission or Ombudsman’s offices are, for most rural persons, located far away from the areas they reside. This is compounded by many women’s lack of childcare support facilities or the prevailing social practices in use within their communities which may limit their ability to travel in order to reach these institutions. Additionally, having regard to the rural women’s financial and time constraints, the court processes in Malawi are not long and costly, rural women also face difficulties in getting legal advice and sustaining their claims.

The concept of “access to justice for rural women” should therefore be understood to go beyond rural women having mere access to lawyers and courts; rather, it should be understood to mean that the law and justice mechanisms should be made less complex and accessible to all women and men, including the most vulnerable amongst them.  In this regard, the concept will entail the insurance and protection of the human rights of rural women being recognized through law. Additionally, rural women must be provided with access to institutions (including customary or traditional ones); and to clear, simple and affordable legal procedures and effective remedy for the violation or abuse of their rights.

Lack of Legal Literacy for Rural Women”

Women in rural areas are often not aware of their legal rights. They may not know that they have a right to claim their protection or how to do it because most of these women do not think about their every-day conflicts from a rights-based point of view; therefore, they often have less confidence in themselves as claimants of rights and resources. Consequently, most rural women do not even consider the possibility of filing a complaint before a Magistrate or Judge. This situation is usually perpetuated by practices and socio-cultural norms that dictate a subordinate position for women both in public and private spheres. These norms apply to all dimensions of women’s lives including their work-life and employment thereby affecting them to a great extent. For example, male members of some rural communities in Mzimba, Malawi have refused to allow civil society organisations to educate members of their communities, particularly women, in the new land laws that expressly extend the constitutional right to own property to women because the sociocultural norms pertaining in their communities do not allow women to own property. Such sociocultural norms make women fearful of retribution or ostracism if they pursue land claims or seek for protection from violence. As a result, women tend to be denied access to justice more often than men, and are also more likely to be denied justice altogether.

Several laws and policies that aim to close the gender inequality gap or address gender based violence (GBV) have been enacted in Malawi. These laws include the new land laws; the Gender Equality Act; and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act which has widened the scope of what domestic violence entails. Further, law reform efforts such as the recently completed reform of electoral laws by the Malawi Law Commission show the government’s will to enact gendered laws that will further promote greater gender equality in Malawi. However, GBV and other forms of human rights violations against women and girls, in particular are still prevalent in Malawi mainly because survivors of GBV do not report or know where to report them. In response to this predicament, the Women Lawyers Association, mHub through its Ufulu Wanga (human rights portal) programme and the British Council have entered into a partnership in the form of a digital campaign through which they will update and summarise these laws and other information on where survivors can get legal remedy for GBV or other human rights violations committed against them; and disseminate this content to the general public in Malawi by uploading it on, among others, the Ufulu Wanga human rights portal and social media sites, all of being easily accessible by members of the general public.

“Female Sex Workers”

Female sex workers constitute a vulnerable group of women who experience significant physical, sexual, emotional and psychological gender based violence (GBV); stigma that is associated with sex work; discrimination based on gender, race, HIV status, drug use or other factors; and other human rights violations.

Most of the violence against sex workers is a manifestation of gender inequality and discrimination directed at women.  As a result, law enforcement officers and sex workers share an antagonistic relationship in which sex workers have, on occasion, suffered violence at the hands of law enforcement officers which has led to many sex workers losing trust in law enforcement mechanisms. Consequently, this has led to a climate of impunity for violence against sex workers, for example, they are arbitrarily stopped and subjected to invasive body searches or detained by law enforcement; arbitrarily detained or incarcerated in police stations and other detention centres without due process; refused or denied health-care services; and often have money extorted from them. Additionally, the stigmatization of sex work has led to some perpetrators to specifically target sex workers to “punish” them in the name of upholding social morals, or to scapegoat them for societal problems such as the HIV pandemic. Further, the stigmatisation and sociocultural norms that dictate the subservient role for women have sometimes led to sex workers’ intimate partners or family members to think that it acceptable to use violence to “punish” them for having sex with other men. Thus, violence against sex workers’ inhibits their access to justice and police protection; and sends a message that violence against sex workers is not only acceptable but socially desirable. From a health perspective, violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use which has led to an increased risk of STI and HIV infection among sex workers.

It is, therefore, important that women, law enforcement officers and other members of society are made aware that the safety and rights of sex workers are worth defending.

“Intimate Partner Violence”

Intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours. One of the most common forms of violence against women is that which is performed by a husband or an intimate partner. Additionally, sociocultural norms tend to encourage people to treat IPV as a “private family matter” or a normal part of life rather than a criminal act. Consequently, this continues to type of violence persists behind closed doors.

IPV has serious short and long term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems for survivors and for their children, and lead to high social and economic costs yet most women survivors do not report IPV because they internalise and endorse problematic attitudes towards the role of gender in sexual practices and IPV such as that men should decide when to have sex; that men need more sex than women; that men need other women; that women who carry condoms are “loose”; and that women should tolerate violence in order to keep their family together.

In Malawi, both reporting of violence and subsequent access to and utilization of services are poor. Three potential strategies for improving and strengthening the utilization of legal, health, and social response services for IPV by women survivors in Malawi include: first, educating women that any type of violence is a problem and that reporting and receiving services are important; second, overcoming the social pressures that inhibit women who experience IPV from reporting what has happened to them, and third, ensuring that when women survivors seek services, those services are available and provided with sensitivity and a high quality of care.

Relevant Malawian laws that govern IPV include: the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act; Penal Code and the Constitution of Malawi.

“Women in Conflict with the Law”

Most women in Malawi are not aware of their rights let alone the legal repercussions of their actions. As a result, many women find themselves under unjustly prolonged periods of pretrial detention in cramped and dirty quarters with insufficient food allocations, inadequate hygiene and little to no clothing or other amenities. These women, therefore, face violations of their human rights in this regard.

Research has shown that a significant number of women are incarcerated many kilometers away from their homes, sometimes for months or years without any progress with their cases, thus many have lost their homes; and relationships and their children in the process. Once released from prison many of these women have no place to return to, in particular if their husbands have remarried, and as many of them had undertaken the role of caretaker of their families (housewife), they are usually unable to source any employment. These women are, therefore, left in a very precarious situation with a high potential of them ending up right back in the prison they left, often as persons without a previous conviction since they were initially held in pre-trial detention.

“Domestic Workers”

Domestic work is one of the few options available to many Malawian women and girls which enable them to provide for themselves and their families. In Malawi, domestic work constitutes informal labour therefore labour law does not extend key labour protections such as retirement benefits to domestic workers. This situation has created a conducive environment for abuse to be committed against domestic workers by their employers and labour agents. The abuse suffered by domestic workers entails physical, psychological, sexual; and economic abuse including forced confinement in the workplace; non-payment of wages; and excessively long working hours with no rest days. In the worst situations, women and girls are trapped in situations of forced labor or have been trafficked into forced domestic work in conditions akin to slavery.

“Violence against Women living with HIV”

Data on beliefs around sexual practices in Malawi indicate that the most common gender biases held by both females and males are that women who carry condoms are “loose”; men should decide when to have sex; men need more sex than women therefore men need several sexual partners; and women should tolerate violence in order to keep their family together. Further, despite most females and males knowing where to go for an HIV test, more than half of 13 to 17 year olds who have ever had sexual intercourse have not been tested for HIV and that rate drops even further among 18-24 year olds to a third or less.

According to UNAIDS, HIV disproportionately women in Africa with women who have experienced violence being up to three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who have not. Gender-based violence (GBV) has, therefore, been identified as a significant driver of HIV/AIDS infections in women in Africa:

Violence increases the risk of HIV infection in women as a result of physiological and psychological reasons. Physiologically, women are biologically more vulnerable to infection, therefore, forced sex increases the risk of HIV transmission to women due to tears and lacerations, especially in adolescent girls. Psychologically, women fearing violence are less able to protect themselves from infection, thus, they do not have the power to negotiate for safe sex or to refuse unwanted sex, they do not get tested for HIV, and they fail to seek treatment after infection. Further, women have reported fearing discrimination, physical violence, and rejection by their family if they disclose their HIV-positive status.

In response, international organizations such as the UN are increasingly focusing on the elimination of violence against women as key in the battle against the spread of the epidemic. Tell us about what you or your community is doing to curb the spread of the HIV endemic?

“Violence against Women in Uniform”

Women in uniform include, but are not limited to, police women, female soldiers and female prison wardens. Like in other spheres of society, gender norms and other sociocultural norms inform the manner in which women in uniform are treated as compared to their male counterparts. In this regard, women in uniform face discriminatory attitudes and regulations that have resulted in them suffering psychological, emotional or economic violence in one way or the other.

For instance, the practice that female officers who get married to a man who is not a member of the armed or police forces must vacate the barracks while male officers are allowed to reside within the barracks regardless of whom they marry.

This practice may constitute gender based violence in the form of psychological violence and gendered discrimination because the marital status’ of women in uniform are treated differently from their male counterparts in a way that reinforces the view that women in uniform are considered to be ‘less than’ their male counterparts.

They suffer economic violence as a result of the practice that pregnant officers are resigned from their position because they are deemed as being unfit to carry out the duties of, for example, a police officer. If a police woman would like to resume her duties after the birth of her child, she is required to reapply for appointment into her position and must further provide written proof from her parents that her baby will be looked after by them if she is reappointed.

This practice deprives female officers from earning a salary during the period of her pregnancy. Additionally, being declared unfit to carry out their duties constitutes a form of psychological violence as it reinforces within her and her peers that women in uniform are not as capable as their male counterparts.


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