Human Trafficking and Violence Against Women in Africa
African women have experienced inequality in many aspects of life throughout history. Today, some of the largest risks African women face are human trafficking and gender-based violence. These risks are prevalent in underdeveloped areas where women are more likely to have lesser access to education and formal job opportunities. According to a 2005 article in the U.N.’s African Renewal, the majority of impoverished people in Africa are women. Thus, violence against women and modern-day slavery are two major consequences of poverty in Africa today.

Quick Facts About Human Trafficking in Africa

The largest group of human trafficking victims across the world are between the ages of 9 and 17. Most female trafficking victims fall within the 18-20 age group. According to the African Sisters Education Collaborative, 9.24 million people in Africa are currently victims of modern-day slavery. This is 23% of the world’s population of modern-day slaves. In addition, over half of all human trafficking victims in Africa are under the age of 18. The majority of African human trafficking victims are female. Moreover, sexual exploitation makes up over half of all human trafficking exploitation in Africa. The exploitation of victims frequently lasts for less than a year. However, some victims reported experiencing exploitation for up to 16 years.

History of Violence Against Women in Africa

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is a traditional practice that has occurred in at least 28 African cultures throughout history. Additionally, over 120 million women and girls are victims of genital mutilation across the world. Despite violating international human rights laws, FGM/C often goes unreported within African countries. This is due to its prevalence and importance in cultural traditions. According to the Translational Andrology and Urology article, a nonmedical practitioner often performs FGM/C. The aim of this practice is to fulfill religious or cultural rites and sometimes for economic benefits.

Domestic violence is another alarming issue that is prevalent across Africa. A third of all African women had experienced physical or sexual domestic violence. In addition, every eight hours a domestic partner kills a woman in South Africa. Around 51% of African women experience beatings from their husbands. This happens when women go out without permission, neglect the children, argue back, refuse to have sex or burn the food.

Modern-day Women’s Rights in Africa

Many African countries accord equal rights to women in their current constitutions, such as Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. The African Union (AU) recognizes the “critical role of women in promoting inclusive development” in Article 3 of the Protocol on Amendments of the Constitutive Act of the AU. Additionally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa lays a foundation for African governments to follow to promise equal rights to their female citizens. The document also protects women against gender-based violence and empowers women to fulfill their potentials within society.

Women received the right to vote in many African countries throughout the 20th century. Since then, many African governments have increased the number of women they allow in leadership roles and governmental positions. Some African countries, like Uganda, require by law that a certain number of government positions and organizations’ leadership roles be allocated specifically for women. This is similar to the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Countries like Rwanda criminalize violence against women in domestic violence laws. However, there is a low circumstance in enforcing and implementing these policies due to cultural traditions. In addition, the village or family institution is informally superior to law enforcement.

Strides Towards Women Empowerment in Africa

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Since then, the CEDAW has worked to encourage African countries to “commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms.” Ninety-nine countries around the world have ratified the CEDAW since 1980.

Eliminating the risk and existence of human trafficking is also a major part of female empowerment and keeping women safe in Africa. Educating women, showing them their potential for formal job prospects and warning them against the signs of engaging with human trafficking can prevent human trafficking.

The Devatop Centre for Africa Development is a leading global advocacy group that focuses on anti-human trafficking efforts in Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest human trafficking hubs. Devatop Executive Director Joseph Osuigwe told The Borgen Project in an interview that he created the Centre in 2014 after hearing stories from human-trafficking survivors. Since then, the Centre has implemented several training programs to raise awareness of human trafficking in Nigeria and to provide protection for victims. “Within 9 months, the trained advocates [from The Academy for Prevention of Human Trafficking and Other Related Matters] sensitized 6000 people in over 30 communities,” Osuigwe said. “They reported three cases of human trafficking, of which one of the victims was rescued.”

What Still Needs to be Done for Women in Africa?

Few sub-Saharan African countries have successfully addressed gender-based violence issues. Hence, bridging the gap between policy and practice across Africa will help end human trafficking and violence against women.

Government leaders, nonprofit organizations, international allies and citizens alike will need to unite to protect and empower all African women.

Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

domestic violence and covid-19

More than 50 female celebrities have pledged funds and support to actress Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to address additional cases of gender-based violence that could result from the lockdowns around the globe. When quarantine began, Charlize’s thoughts immediately turned to the people in her native South Africa. Theron had concerns regarding women and children experiencing domestic violence and how COVID-19 could potentially worsen conditions for these women and children.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

According to the United Nations Population Fund, “Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.” Although estimates, these numbers reveal the startling consequences that women could face.

There are two main ways the pandemic has led to increased domestic violence. The first is through the disruptions in services provided to prevent abuse and help those who have experienced it. The second is that the lockdowns are tying women down at home where their abusers are.

There have already been increases in abuse. In only the first two weeks of quarantine, calls to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence increased by a reported 25%. Ghadeer Mohammed Ibrahim Qara Bulad, the director of the Women’s Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association in Homs, Syria, has seen cases firsthand. While raising awareness for disease prevention, she witnessed husbands beating their wives, sometimes openly in front of their children.

Together for Her

Charlize’s organization, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP), partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) and CARE to address increased domestic violence during COVID-19. Both were very supportive of the cause and Together For Her. So far, the CTAOP has donated $1 million to fighting the coronavirus, with $500,000 going to the Together For Her Campaign.

Funds from the Together For Her campaign are being distributed to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention and advocacy work to address gender-based violence,” said Charlize in an interview with Vogue.

The campaign has united women across the fields of film, entertainment, sports and more. Some figures that have pledged their support include Octavia Spencer, Amy Schumer, Lauren Conrad, Reese Witherspoon and Viola Davis. Many are survivors of abuse themselves. Viola Davis stated “I am a child survivor of domestic violence. It is the last of the acceptable abuses. It thrives on silence and metastasizes into lifelong trauma that can’t be quantified. The abused have been physically, emotionally and financially incapacitated as a result. They stay…. They are continually abused and, in a lot of cases, killed. Providing funds to give them the means to get out and the emotional support to know they are worthy is everything. They are worthy of better, of real love.”

In the midst of a chaotic pandemic, issues like domestic violence are often overshadowed. Fortunately, Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign is working to ensure that victims of abuse can receive the help and protection they need.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

gender equality in el salvadorIn a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, El Salvador is cited as having one of the top rates of violence in the region, with a disproportionate amount of violence aimed at women and girls. Since many girls begin working at a young age, they are vulnerable to abuse and are often forced to leave school to provide for their families. However, in recent years, organizations such as the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women have established a presence in fighting for gender equality in El Salvador, particularly the freedom from violence and economic equality.

Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos

Established in 2008 in relation to the nonprofit organization Mary’s Pence, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos works within the Salvadoran community to fight for gender equality, support women in pursuing financial independence and teach about sexual and reproductive rights. Now with over 300 members and 576 loans given to women in the community to begin their own small businesses, the organization boasts many successful women-owned businesses in agriculture, food service and the clothing industry.

In 2016, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos held an assembly to share their growing knowledge of economic solidarity with other women. Along with members in El Salvador, women from Nicaragua and Honduras attended the event, creating a total of about 120 women. The event allowed attendees to discuss their business strategies with other women in similar business ventures and brainstorm ways to improve. By giving the women a space for discourse, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos further empowered El Salvadoran women to connect with each other.

However, the women in El Salvador are still struggling with violence and freedom. Gangs threatened women who owned businesses, demanding money in exchange for leaving the women and their businesses alone. Teen pregnancy continues to run high, something this organization hopes to combat through open discussions about sexual and reproductive health. Through economic independence and transparent education, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos is fighting for the rights of Salvadoran women.

Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women

This agency was created to uphold the measures in the Domestic Violence Act and National Plan to Prevent and Deal with Domestic Violence, passed by the Salvadoran Secretariat of Social Inclusion in response to the high levels of domestic violence in the country. By recognizing domestic violence as a government issue, women suffering from violence in El Salvador were more likely to speak up and fight for their rights.

Like the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos, the agency implements programs to encourage women’s education in business along with protecting those suffering from domestic violence. Although the government recognizes the gender disparity in business and economics, inherent sexism in communities challenges the progress of women in El Salvador. For example, the government can implement a program encouraging women into intellectual work, but the men working there have a preexisting bias of prioritizing and hiring men for such positions.

However, progress is being made. The Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women recently provided over 100 hygiene kits of feminine products and clothes to women who were struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of the agency is to support women in exercising their rights as citizens and bring the country closer to true gender equality; giving women the tools to be hygienic and safe is a start.

Seven in ten women in El Salvador are affected by some form of violence throughout their lives. The Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women are taking a stand against domestic violence, arguing Salvadoran women have a right to live a violence-free life. Although slow, these organizations are seeing progress through their programs and fight tirelessly for gender equality in El Salvador.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Wikimedia

Women and Girls in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso is a landlocked, Sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Of the 20 million people residing there, 50.3 percent are female. Women and girls in Burkina Faso are likely to suffer from sexual or violent assault, experience forced marriage, be sold as property, die from unsafe pregnancy or abortion and/or undergo genitalia mutilation.

More than 85 percent of the population in the area supports the idea that these practices should discontinue. The government reformation of the constitution in 2016 claiming to strengthen women’s and children’s rights reflects this support. Unfortunately, women living in West Africa are still in immediate need of medical aid in order to live safe and healthy lives.

The organization Lighting the Path launched a new Women’s Aid Fund (WAF) to accomplish just that by helping women and girls in the fight for life. To gain further insight into how WAF is changing the lives of those living in Burkina Faso, The Borgen Project interviewed Dawn Malcolm, founder of Lighting the Path.

Life for Females in Burkina Faso

While the country’s government has put a policy into motion that promotes gender equality, the women and girls in Burkina Faso still face many unfair and cruel practices.

According to a Country Gender Profile by Japan International Cooperation Agency, when it comes to education, it is “socially ingrained that girls should be doing household chores rather than going to school.” In 2018, Burkina Faso saw a mere 32 percent of the female population enroll in schools.

Additionally, it is likely that women and girls in Burkina Faso will experience sexual assault from other students or teachers. In 1998, a Medical Research Council Survey found that 37.7 percent of girls in South Africa said that a school teacher or principal had raped them.

Additionally, there is an issue of forced marriage, including underaged young women. Families force more than half of all girls under the legal age of 17 into unregistered marriage.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is also extremely prevalent in Burkina Faso. Specifically, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice for the nation. Despite the fact that Burkina Faso banned this practice in 1996 and the majority of the population is aware of the harmful effects, 76 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone mutilation.

Finally, women’s economic status in the country is far below that of men’s status. This occurs for three main reasons. Firstly, many in the country do not value women’s right to own property. Secondly, the right of succession does not apply to women. Thirdly, women cannot seem to buy or inherit the land. All of these economic issues make women reliable for men for a sustainable way of life, continuing the suppressive cycle.

Behind Lighting the Path

Dawn Malcolm founded Lighting the Path with the main goal of ending extreme poverty. The organization works with outreach programs and finds people in poverty who suffer from a lack of food, health care or education. The organization offers support through teaching business and entrepreneurship skills, which Malcolm believes is the best way to help. “Women and the people in poverty have to be empowered to help with the process of writing them out of poverty,” she says. “It can’t just be hand-outs all the time.” One example of this enterprise production model was teaching the women and girls in Burkina Faso to make soap out of the shea butter readily available to them in the village.

LTP is currently working on five fundraising projects: The Girls for Girls Project, The School for Girls Project, The Giving Hope Project, Empowerment Work in Burkina Faso and Microfinancing projects. For sustainable development, building the school for girls is the main focus of LTP’s future, as of now.

The Women’s Aid Fund

The Women’s Aid Fund is a new project that Lighting the Path has had success with. It formed while Malcolm was in Burkina Faso teaching women to make the shea butter soap. While working there, she recognized that women and girls had untreated medical issues. “Women there are husbands’ property, so they’re not always taken care of. Plus, if there’s any money, [the women] would take care of their children before they would get themselves cared for,” Malcolm told The Borgen Project. She typically saw injuries that occurred from FGM or injuries that occurred from fistulas that had not received treatment. Fistulas develop when the body is not ready for birth; in this case, the underaged girls who entered marriage unwillingly commonly developed fistulas.

Most of the things Malcolm witnessed were widespread, occurring on a daily basis and would likely require more than one group’s intervention for eradication. During her time, Malcolm encountered one woman with an injury she knew she could help with if she had the right amount of resources.

A woman named Elizabeth had lost her arm in a domestic dispute with her husband. “Life is very, very difficult [there]. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very hard there already, so when a woman has an injury, or an illness or wound that compromises her further, it just compounds the difficulty of life,” she said. Malcolm saw that by simply purchasing a prosthetic arm, she and Lighting the Path could change Elizabeth’s life for the better.

The WAF formulated with the goal of buying Elizabeth the prosthetic arm. The arm cost about $1,700 but Lighting the Path decided that was not enough. Not stopping at the prosthetic, WAF is continuing to help other women and girls in Burkina Faso who have disabilities or need medical attention. Malcolm says that even small things—a cut on the finger, for example—can sometimes become septic and lead to death if it does not receive treatment. There will always be ways we can help the women and girls in Burkina Faso. Malcolm said, “There’s always going to be women in need of some support to get some treatment or some care that they can’t otherwise afford.”

 Sadly, things like sexual assault, FGM, illegal marriage and unsafe abortion still happen to women and girls in Burkina Faso. Change may come in the future, but it is likely that everyday women and girls in the country are experiencing harm while waiting for that change to arrive. Thankfully, organizations like Lighting the Path and funds like the WAF are improving the way these women heal.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Femicide in South Africa
In September 2019, after days of protests, the South African government declared femicide in South Africa a national crisis. Femicide, simply put, is the intentional murder of a woman. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) elaborates on the definition and adds that the murder of a woman is intentional because she is a woman. It is different from male homicide because in many cases of femicide, the crime is “committed by partners or ex-partners and involves ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.”

The Facts

The Republic of South Africa is at the southern tip of Africa, and Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho borders it. Femicide in South Africa is nothing new, dating back as early as colonialism in the 17th century. Female violence has continued since then, possibly due to the lack of severe consequences for the perpetrators. However, studies for femicide in South Africa did not begin until 1999.

According to South Africa’s Department of Police, someone murders a woman every three hours, which equates to about seven per day. In contrast, someone murders a man every 30 minutes, about 50 per day. Despite the lower murder rates for women, most female homicides are much more violent in nature than the male. Many of the female victims suffer assault, rape and burning before their perpetrators dump them. In comparison to other countries, this rate of femicide is almost five times higher than the world’s average. South Africa ranks fourth in the world for the highest rate of violence against women. Additionally, people reported 39,633 rapes and 6,253 sexual assaults in 2017 alone.

Activism Enabling Change

Femicide has gained a lot of media attention in recent years. Anene Booysen suffered brutal rape and murder in 2013. In 2017, an ex-boyfriend murdered Karabo Mokoena. Protests against femicide in South Africa broke out in September 2019 after the rape and murder of the University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana. The protests requested action from the South African government, including the death penalty for all perpetrators of femicide.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country was in a national crisis of violence against women after three days of protests. He detailed a plan of action to combat femicide and gender-based violence, including making the register of offenders public, reviewing cold cases and providing harsher penalties for perpetrators. President Ramaphosa also promised to implement policies in schools, workplaces and communities that would curb violence against females.

The Cavalry Steps In

Femicide in South Africa is also gaining attention internationally. The stories of Anene Booysen and Karabo Mokoena have made international headlines. Award-winning and South African-born actress Charlize Theron has used her platform to speak out against the violence against women in the country, and she has been doing so since 1999. She urged the leaders of South Africa to do more for women and told men not to be bystanders.

In an era of the internet and movements such as #MeToo, the ongoing femicide in South Africa is impossible to ignore. Thankfully, the South African government has taken the right steps. Not only did the President of South Africa publically acknowledge it as a national crisis but also vows to take action against it. It remains for one to see if the South African government keeps its promises, but it is clear that the women and media of South Africa will hold it accountable until they get the justice they deserve.

Emily Young
Photo: Pixabay

 

Vietnamese Mail-order Brides
The term mail-order bride is an uncomfortable term for many. The idea of ordering one’s spouse through the internet certainly goes against the established romantic norm that many people adhere to. However, the mail-order bride market is an international industry that one cannot ignore. Men and women, mainly in South East Asia, East Asia and Eastern Europe, employ the services of numerous matchmaking agencies and marriage brokers to search for their special someone. In South Korea, for example, some bachelors utilize these services because they are unable to find romantic relationships and partners in their country. Women from Vietnam, the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine constitute the majority of the brides in these services. These women often come to these international matchmaking agencies because they are trying to escape the poor economic realities of their home countries, such as being in danger of sexual and economic exploitation. This article will highlight the reality of Vietnamese mail-order brides in particular.

Is it legal?

Perhaps this is the first question that comes to mind when one hears the term mail-order brides. The answer is that it is legal so long as all parties involved are going through the proper channels. This is part of the reason why many international matchmaking agencies shun the term mail-order brides. Despite what the term might suggest, no one is ordering another human being for shipment to their doorsteps. Instead, many clients of these matchmaking agencies have to work with international marriage brokers (IMBs) to connect and meet their potential spouses.

Accusations Against the Industry

There are certainly many accusations that people make against the mail-order bride industry. Critics accuse the industry of being another form of human trafficking for three main reasons. First, many women who become mail-order brides come from countries with limited economic access for women. Second, some marriage brokers and agencies in the business are more concerned with profit than they are about the well-being of the women they claim to help find love and new life. Lastly, people do not hold IMBs responsible for the safety of the mail-order brides they introduce their clients to, leaving many mail-order brides in danger of violence and exploitation from their spouses.

When looking at the language that IMBs use to describe their brides, the critics’ concerns toward IMBs are understandable. In The Atlantic’s report on Vietnamese mail-order brides, there is a picture of a poster in Ho Chi Minh City which advertises a marriage broker’s service. The poster reads, “She is a virgin, she will be yours in only three months, fixed price, if she escapes in the first year, guaranteed to be replaced.” This kind of attitude toward women, which treats them as commodities, is also prevalent in online mail-order bride services. Bestasianbrides.com, one of the biggest online IMBs, highlights the submissiveness of the Vietnamese mail-order brides. Under “Reason 2: Submissiveness,” the website writes, “There are literally millions of Vietnamese singles, and almost each of them will easily remind you what a real woman is. A womanly woman, you know, feminine.”

About the Women

The majority of the women who sign up with matchmaking agencies do so voluntarily. For these women, marrying a foreign man is one of the sure-fire ways to escape poverty in their country. This, however, does not eliminate the possibility of these women receiving false information about their future husbands. This could lead to further exploitation and violence once these Vietnamese brides arrive in their husbands’ home country. In 2010, for example, a South Korean man murdered his Vietnamese bride after eight days of marriage. The husband did not disclose his schizophrenia when he met his bride through a matchmaking agency. In the BBC’s 2019 report, it reported on a South Korean man who physically abused his Vietnamese wife. Many Vietnamese wives in South Korea sometimes find themselves at the mercy of their husbands because their immigration status depends on them.

Improving the Brides’ Safety

South Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam are taking measures to improve the safety of these brides. South Korea requires all IMBs to register with the state and provide background checks and criminal history of their clients. If the IMBs do not comply, it revokes their licenses. In the U.S., the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) regulates international marriage services. This protects foreign women marrying American men by requiring the husband to disclose their prior marital, financial and criminal history in order to obtain consent for marriage from their spouses. Meanwhile, Vietnam has entirely outlawed IMBs.

The mail-order brides industry certainly paints a very ambiguous picture. On one hand, there are men and women who are desperately looking for their special someone. These men and women, driven by their desire to start a family, climbing the socio-economic ladder or simply finding love, turn to many international matchmaking agencies to find their special someone. There are certainly some heartwarming love stories that came out of these mail-order bride marriages. This still does not change the fact that there are people who treat Vietnamese women like tradable commodities. This attitude puts many Vietnamese women in danger of violence, exploitation and abuse. Countries such as South Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam are making efforts in improving the conditions of these Vietnamese mail-order brides.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Femicide in Mexico“Mexico is a deadly place to be a woman.” That is the line Isabel Cholbi used in her piece in Berkeley Political Review on femicide in Mexico. The definition of femicide is the intentional murder of women simply because they are women. However, some broader definitions say it is all murder of women and girls. Intimate femicide—the killing of women by a current or former boyfriend or husband—is one of the most common forms. More than 35 percent of all women’s murders are, in fact, a result of intimate femicide. In contrast, only 5 percent of all men’s deaths are by an intimate partner. Understanding the hate crime of femicide is incredibly relevant. This piece will cover femicide in Mexico as well as current efforts to stop it.

Femicide in Numbers

There are more than 63 million women and girls in Mexico, which equals approximately 60 percent of the population. However, there is an escalating wave of violence happening against them, occurring more frequently and becoming more brutal. It began in the 90s in Ciudad Juarez but now has spread throughout the entire country. In fact, between 2015 and 2019, more than 3,000 women reported acts of violence Every day and estimate 10 women are murdered in Mexico. Per 100,000 people, 0.66 percent of women were murdered in 2015. This number has nearly doubled from then to 2019, rising to 1.19 percent.

Taking Action

Prompted by these cases, the Mexican government took action. In 2007, the government launched the Program Against Gender-Specific Violence (AVGM). This program envisions prevention and emergency measures that have been established in 18 out of 32 states. Some of these measures involve increased patrolling, more light in public spaces, higher supervision to public transport and follow-up to protection orders in cases of family violence.
The European Union has provided foreign aid mainly from its “Spotlight” initiative to combat gender violence.  Mexico has joined this initiative. The first phase involves investing 500 million euros in the top five most conflictive areas to be a woman or girl. This program is set to last four years before expanding into a second phase. Short objectives are to better the current public politics, strengthen the institutions, change the “macho” culture and strengthen the job of civil society organizations. “These initiatives are like a mouthful of air,” said Irinea Buendía, mother of Mariana Lima, who was a victim of femicide in Mexico.

Looking Forward

Femicide is increasingly relevant in the world, especially in Mexico. In Mexico, the government with AVGM, and the international community with Spotlight, are a beacon of hope for decreasing violence against women and femicide in Mexico.

Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Burundi
Located in Africa’s southeastern region, Burundi, a heart-shaped nation bordering Lake Tanganyika and Rwanda, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a poverty rate of nearly 75 percent, the nation is largely underdeveloped. In terms of women’s rights, life in Burundi could be better, as many of the country’s citizens cling to discriminatory perspectives that hold their women back. Despite this, the country has made great strides toward cultivating a more equal nation, such as in 2005 when it included gender equality in its reformed Constitution.

Pregnancy and Sexual Health

In Burundi, discussing sex is generally viewed as a taboo subject. Without the occurrence of these necessary conversations, sexual education is often replaced by false information, and many of the country’s citizens fail to understand their own bodies; an issue most dangerous when it comes to young women and girls. Without knowing the way their bodies work, many Burundian women experience unplanned extramarital pregnancies, and because of Burundi’s negative prejudice toward non-marital pregnancy, many of these girls are often ostracized from their communities, kicked out of their homes and forced out of their schools.

Pamella Mubeza, a native to Burundi, fell victim to this system at a young age. Though, after seeing the prevalence of her issue among other Burundian women, she began an organization known as l’Association des mamans célibataires (the Organisation for Single Mums). Through the organization, Mubeza travels to some of the most impoverished places in the city of Bujumbura, such as Kinyankonge and Kinama, and works with young single mothers to not only re-enroll them in school but to rebuild the self esteem their homeland formerly shamed out of them. By 2019, Mubeza’s organization was able to re-enroll 40 young women in schooling and instilled 250 with a newfound desire to learn.

CARE Burundi, a non-profit organization that works to improve the impoverished realities of women and young girls, is also working to help solve the issue. In 2016, the organization launched an initiative known as the Joint Programme, a 4-year-long project that provides Burundian girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive education through a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum called “The World Starts with Me” (WSWM). The program educates young women about their rights and their bodies, and after its first year of implementation, it was taught in 76 Burundian schools and educated 6,007 young women.

Access to female hygiene products is another one of Burundi’s sexual health problems. With sanitary napkins costing up to 2,000 Burundian francs and the country regarding menstrual periods as shameful, many of the nation’s women turn to unhygienic sources, such as grass and plastic bags, during their menstrual cycles. However, the Organisation for Single Mums is working to combat the problem, as they hand out 1,500 free sanitary napkins to Burundian women each month.

Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence against women is a growing problem in Burundi. With nearly 23 percent of Burundian women experiencing sexual abuse, and 50 percent of these victims being under the age of 13, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Burundi is undeniable.

Due to the nation’s connection between shame and sexuality, many sexual abuse cases often go unreported, so the number of women experiencing them is likely much higher.

However, through the help of UNICEF and NGO partner Caritas Burundi, Burundian sexual violence is being challenged. Through an initiative known as the Giriteka project, UNICEF and Caritas Burundi are bringing together the nation’s doctors, psychologists, nurses, community leaders, local authorities and religious leaders and teaching them how to best care for their nation’s sexually abused women. From training psychologists on how to prevent gender-based violence to working with religious leaders on how to direct victims toward help, thanks to these organizations, women’s rights in Burundi are not only being protected but defended.

Economic Opportunity

When it comes to the workforce, Burundian women make up 90 percent of the country’s food and export jobs and  with 55.2 percent of the nation’s workforce being female, Burundian women are making substantial contributions toward the advancement of their national economy.

However, this same level of equality cannot be seen in the country’s distribution of land.

Access to property ownership is the largest barrier Burundian women face when seeking economic equality. While 80.2 percent of the country’s people own land, women make up only 17.7 percent of them since the country lacks proper legislation that prohibits male succession traditions from overriding women’s rights.

Public opinion may be partly responsible for these discriminatory practices since 57 percent of the nation’s people believe women and men should not have equal land rights when it comes to inheritance.

Despite this prejudicial reality, U.N. Women is making women’s pathway to land ownership easier by providing them with monetary loans.

Also, the Zionist Organization of America has created an initiative meant to advocate for female land rights in Burundi by urging the nation’s women who do own land to register it.

By working at the community level, these organizations are advocating for the economic endeavors of Burundian women, and actively challenging the misogynistic gender norms that have been placed upon these their lives.

While women’s rights in Burundi are far from equal, the good news is that great work is being done to better them. Thanks to organizations like U.N. Women and initiatives such as the Giriteka project, women in Burundi are not only being cared for but heard. By advocating for women’s rights, these organizations are not only providing Burundi’s women with the freedom to hope for a better life but also to live one.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Lobbying for a Global Treaty to End Violence Against Women
With the #MeToo movement sweeping the United States, Portland-native Lisa Shannon is pushing for an end to violence against women around the world. Shannon is CEO and Co-Founder of the Every Woman Treaty, a campaign to establish a global treaty to end violence against women. At a recent discussion panel hosted by Global Washington, Shannon spoke out about the consistent violations of women’s rights pervading every corner of the globe and explained how Americans can make a lasting impact.

Defining Violence Against Women

Violence against women, whether psychological, physical or emotional, is “the most pervasive human rights violation on earth.” Sex trafficking, forced marriage and domestic violence are three of its most common forms, and all are prevalent globally. While the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979, suggests establishing protective legislation for women, the agreement has not sufficiently fueled action to prevent violence. There is a need for a more direct global treaty to end violence against women.

Sources of Violence

Human trafficking causes significant violence against women due to how it damages each person involved and the expanse of the industry. Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman from the International Rescue Committee shared at the Global Washington event that “40 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking.” A recent U.N. report adds that 79 percent of trafficking consists of the sexual exploitation of women and girls, which means that there is a total of around 30 million women being sex-trafficked today. That is greater than the population of Australia. In addition, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

Forced marriages represent another preventable source of violence against women. They eliminate a woman’s freedom of choice and frequently result in violent partnerships. According to UNICEF, although international law and many national legislations prohibit it, forced marriage is still a widespread practice. One in five women enters marriage without offering full, free and informed consent. This is mostly due to lack of government crackdown on forced marriage cases.

Even when a relationship is consensual, domestic violence is frustratingly frequent. The World Health Organization estimates that about 35 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes. It does not help that an estimated one billion women lack legal protection from domestic violence, according to a World Bank Study. Domestic sexual violence is only a crime in one in every three countries.

What Needs To Change

The establishment and enforcement of legislation related to protecting women have been lax. A lack of accountability leads to millions of women suffering. UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa lamented that “while the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction.”

People are not holding governments accountable for protecting women within their borders. However, many professionals agree that lasting change will stem from the political realm. Data easily shows the benefits of legislation. Shannon pointed out countries that, in the past, experienced a reduction in female mortality by 32 percent with a ban on domestic violence. There is a need for a global treaty to end violence against women to improve the accountability of governments that create and enforce laws protecting women. That is exactly what Every Woman Treaty is striving to accomplish.

The Global Treaty To End Violence Against Women

The Every Woman Treaty requests a partnership between every country in the global community to bring accountability to protecting women. Countries that sign the treaty would ensure they have sufficient legislation to prevent the most common abuses of women, provide services for victims, promote prevention education and contribute towards a global implementation fund with a goal towards ending violence against women. As the movement gains traction, the Every Woman Treaty is asking individuals to sign onto its platform to show governments that it has the support of the public.

Several of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals released by the U.N. focus on protecting women from violence. Voices across the global community scream for change on this issue. Despite this, governments are still not providing the legislative changes necessary to end the violence once and for all. A global treaty to end violence against women, like the one the Every Woman Treaty proposes, could be the answer—the final push to make this issue a priority. Lisa Shannon made clear at the event that violence against women is horrible, but an “absolutely solvable problem. We just have to decide we’re ready to (solve it).”

To sign onto the Every Woman Treaty’s cause, visit https://everywoman.org.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Violence against indigenous women
Recently, activist groups in the U.S. have brought attention to a staggering problem: the increasing number of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. Violence against indigenous women and girls does not only occur in the U.S. Native women all around the world also find themselves trapped in the margins of justice, vulnerable to various forms of violence. This article will consider three common threads that perpetuate these patterns and the initiatives taken to stop them.

Economic Exploitation

Due to centuries of displacement and disenfranchisement that nation-state expansion caused, many indigenous communities around the world have limited access to economic opportunity. As a result, indigenous women must often work in highly exploitative labor, which can take the form of slavery and/or human trafficking.

In Nepal, girls of Tharu origin or Kamlaris frequently find themselves in a coordinated system of bondage. While the Nepal government prohibited this system in 2000, the economic scarcity that some Tharu families face allows for this exploitation to survive, according to the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network.

Violence against indigenous women takes the form of debt bondage in several other Asian countries. Cases have popped up in China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and other countries in the region. In Latin America, economic exploitation is a detriment to the well-being of indigenous women and girls, with life-threatening child labor forced upon many native communities.

Encroachment onto Indigenous Land

Land-grabbing for economic or political reasons threatens many indigenous communities around the world. In many cases, this weakens the solidarity instrumental in ensuring the well-being of community members, leaving women and girls more vulnerable. Seventy-six percent of people living on tribal land and 96 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against indigenous women in the U.S., for example, are of non-native identity.

In Asia-Pacific countries, the appropriation of land for private or public use met with resistance and has led to the increased terrorization of indigenous communities, according to the U.N. The military forces of the Philippines, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have all used rape and murder of women and girls as a war tactic.

Governmental Negligence

Combating the multifaceted forms of violence against indigenous women and girls is a tall task; political negligence of the problem makes it even harder.

Consider one particularly harmful U.S. policy which states that tribes do not have legal jurisdiction over criminal acts that nonmembers commit. In 2013, this law changed to allow prosecution in cases of domestic violence, but sexual assault and trafficking crimes still lie outside tribes’ legal power. Of course, the federal level could try these crimes, but law enforcement often fails to respond in an adequate or timely manner. Even in urban settings, nearly a third of perpetrators of violence against indigenous women do not receive justice in the U.S., according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.

There is a similar dynamic playing out in New Zealand, where Maori women often face discrimination. If they bring a complaint to the government, it may not be fruitful, as “[t]he government has a poor record of recognizing and protecting Maori rights and interests generally,” says indigenous legal scholar Kerensa Johnston.

Confronting the Challenge

To address violence against indigenous women and girls, two different types of solutions are necessary. First, governments must implement immediate-relief policies: the U.N. notes that many countries have invested in support services for women and girls affected by violence and in awareness campaigns to prevent violence from even occurring. Policies can also work to improve data collection to ensure that fewer cases go unaddressed; Washington state just passed a bill with this aim.

As the U.N. warns, however, solving this problem will require more than tinkering around the edges. Histories of inequities make justice elusive, putting native women and girls at a higher risk for gender-based violence. The U.N. report suggests that communities and countries will find a path forward only once they recognize this history.

– James Delegal
Photo: Flickr