Addressing violence against women and children through the SDGs

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Violence against women is usually executed by close relations mostly men; in some instances, we see women attacking their fellow women. This constitutes one of the biggest violations of human rights, a dent on dignity and the foremost impediment to achieving the Global Goals. Surprisingly, there are instances where women have committed violence against their women, in most cases against the vulnerable.

It is estimated that one in three women have experienced violence at some point in life, considering the fact that women are almost 2 times the number of men. Over 100 million women have been missing including those who committed abortion, infanticide, child neglect and maltreatment.

Interestingly, the impact of these prevalent violence affects more than just the people involved. They damage families, economies, communities as well as the peace and prosperity of nations. More women have lived in poverty all their lives especially during childbearing years. But living in poverty increases the risk of attacks and violence against women.

Many women and girls have been denied the opportunity of acquiring education and have rather been forced into unsafe working and living conditions.  They are subjected to inhumane and undignifying treatments. Unequal power has entrenched the already existence of gender based violence. This has impoverished families and societies and renders women more vulnerable to food security. It has forced many young girls of school going age into child marriage.

Violence against women and girls impacts the children who may witness the abuse and suffer long-term trauma that affect their physical, emotional and social development and their relationship with other people.

Many women especially widows and single mothers and their children have been denied their rights and inheritance in the form of land acquisition and property amongst others.

The level of discrimination at the work please leaves much to be desired. Young girls seeking decent work opportunities have been subjected to sexual exploitation against their will. The workplace has therefore become as dangerous for women as the home due to these indecent sexual advances.

Madam Akua Denteh, a 90-year-old woman was beaten to death at Kafaba near Salaga in the Savannah Region for allegedly being a witch. In a video which has gone viral on social media, we see women subjecting this old woman to trial by ordeal on the suspicion of being a witch.

In a bizarre manner, we see scores of people including men watching and cheering on as this helpless old woman was being lynched while she begged for her life. Such act exposes the lack of social protection for the aged. This kind of mob action is despicable and horrendous to the dignity of any person who suffers from this immorality unethical conduct.

Ghana has about six (6) witches’ camps which has in many occasions subjected people, mostly women to these ordeals. These camps host about 100 thousand women who are suspected to be witches. The issue of witches and witch camps has been with us dating back into centuries. The United Kingdom passed a law to decriminalize witchcraft in 1735. In recent history, South Africa, Cameroun and Zimbabwe have also legislated against witchcraft.

However, Ghana and other parts of Sub-Sahara Africa has a strong attachment to witchcraft, this is because of our emotional believe in tradition and cultural values. There is also the religious inclination of the negative effect of witchcraft especially in our part of the world. There is societal acceptance of witchcraft and its superstitious believe of what it does to people.

There are still communities in Ghana where people who are suspected of being witches are put in public and are subjected to all kinds of maltreatments including drinking human excreta. They are subsequently asked not to associate with people in their communities. This needless torture has forced many into accepting that they are witches just to get their freedom.

Ritual servitude, a practice in Ghana and other West African countries where traditional religious shrines (popularly called fetish shrines in Ghana) take human beings, usually young virgin girls, in payment for services, or in religious atonement for alleged misdeeds of a family member. All these and many others are very barbaric traditions practices that must not be entertained in modern society, clearly they must be outlawed.

This was outlawed in the 90’s but regardless of that, there are pockets of such practices still ongoing in Ghana. Female genital mutilation is an old practice which is still prevalent in certain communities. This is practiced in about 30 countries the world over with an estimation of one in three girls aged 15 to 19 suffering from this practice.

Nevertheless, old age has a way of affecting people especially women, we hardly see old men going through such punishments or the accusation of witchcraft. We need to immediately legislate against the inhumane treatment as a results of these outmoded practices.

Shamefully, there are many young girls of school going age who are not able to attend school during certain days of the month. This is because they do not have sanitary pads during their menstrual periods. Such inequalities must be addressed now as they end up dropping out of schools eventually.

With this stark reality violence against women and girls is preventable if we address the risk factors and underlying harmful social norms that perpetuate these acts. The culprits of these atrocious violence must be held accountable and dealt with according to the law.

Violence against women is a huge impediment to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.  Ghana has signed to many treaties that sought to protect the rights of women at all times. However, little has been done in this regard. There has been the creation of Ministries and state agencies with the responsibilities of addressing violence against women and children.

Civil Society Organizations, NGOs, Religious Institutions and other corporate bodies have all contributed to the eradication of bad practices against women, children and the vulnerable in society.

It is still ongoing because we do not see the swift application of the law, this has emboldened the culture to still attack women. In recent past, we witnessed irresponsible comments that subtly encourages rape culture and fuels sexual violence, sexist pronouncements and serious acts of misogyny were made against women at no provocation.

There is the urgent need for a global call to action on all fronts, especially SDG member countries. UN agencies, governments, CSOs, NGOs, women’s rights groups, traditional authorities, community and religious leaders must be empowered to ensure the eradication of these acts against women.

A lot of collaboration, stakeholder engagements, education must be offered to community folks to create the needed awareness on the impact of such violence. There is the need to offer support to the vulnerable as good members of society, again people must to be encouraged to report such acts to the law enforcement agencies.

The relevant state institutions must enact laws to combat sexual and gender-based violence. This will be meaningful when access to justice delivery for survivors is improved. This will again end the impunity for perpetrators.  These laws must ban all witches’ camps and criminalize their activities in all forms.

More so, it will provide survivors with the support system and care they require in integrating them into society again, where they can live a meaningful and well deserving lives again. Many people have suffered post violence abuse and neglect in all forms which has caused many to relocate from their communities. Others have also died as a results of the abuse and humiliation they continue to suffer.

Intriguingly, about 144 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 154 have laws on sexual harassment. We need to promote the strict application of these laws and ensure they are in compliance with international standards.

However, about 49 countries do not have laws that protects women and children against domestic violence, they must be encouraged and supported to immediately pass legislations in this regard.

Let’s promote and support the relevant SDGs that seeks to ensure the wellbeing of women, children and the vulnerable in society, this will create a meaning environment for our human existence.

Peaceful, just and inclusive societies are priority goals, they are needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030 as the deadline for the attainment of all the 17 goals with its 169 targets. People everywhere must feel free as they go about with their normal lives. They should feel safe from all forms of violence, discrimination and attacks, no matter their ethnicity, race, culture, gender, political affiliations, religious beliefs etc. Lack of access to justice means that conflicts remain unresolved and people cannot obtain protection as required.

By Bright Ampadu Okyere (An SDG Advocate) and Lead Partner SDG Alliance-Ghana | Email: sdgallianceghana@gmail.com Twitter: @ghanasdg Facebook: SDG Alliance-Ghana Tel. # 0244204664

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