“At the age of 3, I left my hometown to live with my aunt in Bundung. For twelve (12) years, I faced a lot of maltreatment living with my aunt. At the age of 10, I was sexually harassed and raped by my Islamic teacher who had told me, ‘If I don’t have sex with you, I will tell your aunt that you are not doing well in your studies and that you follow men around.’ As a result, I let the Islamic teacher do as he pleased.”
“At the age of 15, I was forced to get married to a 40-year-old man. My father had threatened to divorce my mother if I didn’t get married to the man. My aunt also threatened to throw me out of the house if I refused the marriage.”
“This thus affected my education, as I was not able to go back to school that year until the following year. While I was in school, my mother and other relatives forced me to go visit my husband and in-laws. I visited but was raped by my husband while I was asleep. I woke up the following day in pain, but there was no blood. I could not walk, but everyone was in a celebratory mood, clapping and dancing. Later, I got pregnant, but my husband denied responsibility, and I lost the pregnancy after three (3) months.”“My father died in 2013, and in 2016 I had a divorce.”
This is a story of a victim of violence from the “HANDBOOK ON SGBV IN THE GAMBIA”
Our ears and eyes have been fed with so much information and stories on gender inequality, violence against women and children and human rights, nevertheless in my beloved continent Africa, there are little to no changes to the people’s perceptions on issues of sort. The feeling of superiority and/or inferiority to some people, embedded in believes and culture of an African society has had a positive effect on the emergence, persistence and prevalence of GENDER BASED VIOLENECE (GBV) in our society.
GBV is an act of violence or violent action directed to a person on the basis of the gender of such a fellow due to social believes and norms about the duties or expectations of such a gender. In essence gender-based violence is violence directed towards a boy, because he is a boy, he probably has not done what he is expected to do in accordance with the believes of society, leading to violence against him. I know it might be shocking that I have used a boy in the process of trying to disintegrate the definition of GBV. The reason is more often, GBV is usually associated with women and girls and this is not a wrong ideology as women are actually the most vulnerable to being subject to GBV. The world we live in, women are still not given due respect as they deserve, this is because of GBV against women. Nevertheless GBV is not limited to women and girls because men and boys are subjected to GBV, so also are children, older people, the disabled and Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning Intersex, Asexual ( LGBTQIA).
Forms of GBV
GBV may ensue in different forms as rape and/or sexual violence, sexual harassment, stalking a person, mental and economic abuse, physical abuse and child abuse , inflicted in the public or in private. Threats of violence and coercion, child marriage, female genital mutilation, honor crimes are also termed GBV. Marriage or being a relationship with someone does not give one the right to abuse a spouse; however intimate partner violence is alive as a result.
Sexual violence: In 2002 WHO defined sexual violence as any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act, coercion, act to traffic a person or acts directed against a person sexually, regardless of the relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work. It includes but is not limited to rape, sexual assaults, sexual harassment, coercion etc. it involves consciously or subconsciously making a person involve in a sexual act by force, conviction or coercion. A “NO” is a “NO”, there is no need making the person understand, just take the NO as it is, else coercion or convincing the person with your psychological influence is termed sexual violence. Sexual harassment is associated with sexual violence in the sense that a person harassed sexual can be coerced subconsciously into a sexual act. For example, exposure of nudes to an opposite gender without his or her consent is sexual harassment; however, he or she might subconsciously want to be involved in a sexual act with the other, because the sexual harassment has had a psychological impact that prompted him or her to take such a decision. Sexual harassment involves but is not limited to touching, grabbing or making other physical contact without consent, sexual comments, and exposure of sexual parts to a person without consent.
Coercion: simply is attaining a sexual act from a person involuntary or without free will due to threats, blackmails, torture, extortion etc. If you are withholding that job because he or she has said “NO”, you are coercing such person and is a sexual violent act, which is termed a GBV.
Physical abuse: This involves inflicting physical injuries or an attempt to inflict injuries to a person. Mostly women as wives and children are affected by physical abuse in a family setting. However physical abuse is not limited to this domestic violence. It can between a stranger and a victim, who uses physical violence to abuse the victim probably because of superiority complex or to coerce a person into doing something without his or her free will. Sexual violence can ensue with physical violence preceding it.
Economic abuse: basically is restricting person’s access to his or her own financial sources, making them to depend on the perpetrator financially. It mostly is seen in relationships or marriages and also involves destruction of a person’s property or not complying with economic responsibilities such as in alimony.
Child abuse: involves physical violence against children, forceful marriages in childhood, sexual violence against children below the age of consent; rape etc. one major child abuse is in female genital mutilation. A decision made by the community and parents for the female child that leads to future complications in her later life. Child abuse usually involves abuse to children to parents or guardians. In an effort to bring up a child that is disciplined many parents deviate and abuse their children. Some like to inflict their will on their children forcing them to do what they do not like or will regret later in life. Guardians or parents use their authority over children to cause child abuse. In the Gambia it ahs been found that 75% of women in reproductive age have undergone female genital mutilation and 30% of women aged 20 to 24 years were first married or In union before age 18.
In studies done in the Gambia it has been discovered that the prevalence rate of GBV is high. 1 out if 4 women aged 15 to 59years will become a victim of sexual violence and GBV. 26% of ever married have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by husbands or intimate partners. 24% of unmarried women have Injuries due to intimate partner violence. In some communities in the Gambia, it has been found that 40% of women even believe that it is acceptable for their partners to hit them. This tells us the burden of GBV in the Gambia. The vision to clear or eradicate GBV in Africa or the world by 2030 will be just a vision, nothing more if actions are not taken, awareness not made and misconceptions not cleared up.
Why men, boys and LGBTQIA people
Men and boys are affected by GBV especially in wars and economic instability of nations. Take for example a man that can’t provide for his family is rained with abuses from wife and people around him just because as a man the society believes it is his duty to provide for his family. In times of wars, boys are mainly recruited into rebellion against a standing government. So mostly, every boy seen in a country facing war is termed an enemy and is killed even though they are innocent. It won’t either surprise you to know boys and sexually abused, sometimes by guardians, strangers and in war times. With the world moving more and more into homosexuality, the GBV against boys will only increase. Sadly, enough this comes at a time in the Gambia when an 11-year-old boy was allegedly raped by a male perpetrator and found with anal injuries. Therefore, the assumption that men and boys are not susceptible to abuse and violence is a wrong one.
In the times we live in, the numbers of LGBTQIA people are increasing. Now, I for one I stand against the idea of having people to choose their sex or gender of sexual partners (homosexuality) as I believe this has already been put in place, and it is not dependent on what or what we don’t want. Many people out there may also have similar notion on the issue of LGBTQIA; this creates a tendency to direct violent to LGBTQIA people.
Factors that cause GBV
The root causes of GBV are gender inequality, abuse of power and disrespect for human rights. In addition to these root causes, other factors contribute to the development of GBV and these are:
· Wars: the disorder seen in wars creates an unlawful chaotic environment that gives people the freedom to do whatever they want. Women and girls are raped and abused, boys and men are sexually abused and forced to become soldiers and are the major victims of death. Refugees
· Slavery: women and men sold to slavery have their rights removed from their hands and are subject to whatever their slave master has in store for them. This usually involves abuses. At least we live in an era where slavery is almost eradicated.
· Harmful gender norms: men are supposed to exercise coercive control, men have the right to discipline women for incorrect behavior, sexual harassment is normal, women experience violence because they dress provocatively, divorced women have less value, girls are valued as wives not as individuals, all women should and must become mothers. These and more cause women to be exposed to gender-based violence.
Consequences of GBV
The consequences of GBV on individuals are a lot, however not only victims of GBV are affected, the consequences reach out to immediate family members, community and nation as a whole. The longest-term effect of GBV is its ability to negatively affect the generations yet unborn.
The immediate effect of GBV on individuals or victims can be
· Physical injuries that can lead to deformities on the face and other parts of the body, scars, bleeding that can lead to death.
· Mental illnesses like post traumatic stress disorder, fear of people; taking all to be harmful, anxiety, depression, rage etc. These can lead to substance abuse like alcohol abuse, cocaine abuse, heroine abuse, all in an effort to relieve the mental stress that has been induced by inflicted violence. In intimate partner violence, abuse is a major cause of the
Battered woman syndrome
· Financial restrictions, in a situation of economic abuse in a partner violence setting, the woman may be inability to gain access to funds; this may lead to inability to treat herself the way she pleases. Some in times of withholding a job from a qualified person just to sexually abuse such a fellow, leads to financial restrictions in a such a fellow’s life.
· Impaired reproductive health. Many women harassed may have damage to their sexual parts during a rape. Some may have been infected by a sexually transmitted disease.
· Self isolation, fear makes them live in isolation, hoping that a world so torturous to them never existed.
· Tendency to fall into prostitution. Many women who have been sexually abused have a tendency to entire the line of prostitution for survival.
On the family, the scar of gender-based violence especially when perpetrated by another member of the family to another member, like husband to wife leaves a scar in the family’s name, causing stigmatization from people around and depreciation of family economic resources. Often the most affected in the family are the children, even though they may not be the victims, they suffer a secondary effect of GBV. These kids become depressed, they have low self esteem, decreased performance in school, some turn out to replicate what they see by being bullies, they have anxiety issue and some develop androphobia / gynophobia. The lasting effect is some of these kids replicate these acts of violence when they build a family or become victims later in life. This causes an increase in incidence of GBV in future generations as the cycle will continue.
There is an increase in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases due to gender-based violence in nations and tends to drain public budgets and decrease income of working-class victims.
Silence and fear are a major contributing factor to the prevalence of gender based violence as a lot of victims are usually scared to speak out against perpetrators especially when they are family members, knowing that mostly, in a close relationship setting, the perpetrator is usually a guardian or someone looked up to, so it’s his or her word over the victims. The silence on such issues makes abuse and violence prevail without the knowledge of the family, community and nation. it therefore keeps the cycle of violence going.
Misconceptions of GBV
Misconception on the issue of gender-based violence has arisen and given people a mindset whein they feel the act of GBV is justifiable. I tell you, it is not. Some of these misconceptions are:
· “Threatening to cause harm to a lady is not an act of violence”.
· “People that rape are mentally ill”. This is a wrong ideology.
· “Boys and men cannot be abused sexually”. This happens every now and then, but people focus on the girl violence.
· “It’s not a man’s fault because he can’t control his anger.”
· “It’s not my business because domestic violence is family issue”.
· “Sexist jokes are just jokes”. These jokes create an ideology that develops into full blown action of GBV.
· “Once it starts it does not end”. The cycle can be broken, it’s not unbreakable.
· “A man buys his wife; she’s his property and can do whatever he wants with her”.
· “Rape is only when a non family member is forced to sex.” Have it in mind that a wife, daughter, sister, husband, son, brother can all be raped.
What can you do to stop GBV?
· First off, this material may not give all you need to know about gender-based violence, to eradicate we need to have vast knowledge on the topic of gender bases violence. The importance of having this knowledge is that you can educate others too on the subject matter.
· Education of family, friends and society about issue on GBV. This involves the refining of misconceptions and introduction of new information on gender-based violence to those ignorant or less sensitive to the subject. Let’s practice this when we go to our villages too on visits, as they are mostly ignorant of this issue.
· If you are parent, sit you children down and have a heart-to-heart talk with them, know of their relationships, the places they go to and do not trash any allegations of sexual or physical abuse they make. Treat the allegation with weight. Also avoid exposing your children to forced labour, things may be hard, the economy may be in a mess, but still educate your child without conditions attached. Remember we live in a country where tution fees are almost at a zero cost. Parents should also learn to teach their children moral core values, that violence and abuse against a person is a no-go area.
· If you are a victim, the best you can do is to break the silence and expose such perpetrator, as they mostly never stop the wicked act. You must have already gone through hell; you won’t want your children, who are part of the future generation to go through the trauma too.
The major contributing factor to the prevalence of GBV in the Gambia is social norms and values, distrust of victims and silence of victims. Until these areas are fixed, GBV will prevail. Be aware that gender-based violence is a violation of human right, any culprit or perpetrator is a criminal and is punishable by the law and that boys too can be victims. As I sit to type this document all I can do is imagine the pain that victims of abuse go through, and even in such imagination I realize that it’s zero of the pains they actually go through, it might be like going through hell on earth.
A brighter future is not a jungle where the strongest and bravest survives, a brighter future is a one of a structured world where man lives in an organized and peaceful setting. GBV is a stumbling block to the attainment of a brighter future, if we don’t stop GBV, then our future is one of a bigger jungle where perpetrators are the rulers and victims and the innocent will be their subjects.
Let’s put our hands together to end GENDER BASED VIOELNCE.