FEATURE: The Shadow Pandemic-Combating Gender-Based Violence

Story By: Rebekah Awuah |rebekahawuah@gmail.com

A PROBLEM ROOTED IN HARMFUL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL NORMS
It is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power, harmful norms, a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue. Known as Gender-Based Violence, one in three women is said to experience it in their lifetime. During displacement and times of crisis, research indicates, the threat of Gender-Based Violence significantly increases for women and girls.

Gender-based violence can include sexual, physical, mental and economic harm inflicted in public or in private. It also includes threats of violence, coercion and manipulation. It can also take the form of an intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honor crimes’.
West Africa has a long history of gender-based violence, perpetuating a culture of impunity and the underrepresentation of women in positions of influence and power. The crisis is exacerbated during a pandemic, which has resulted in a surge in cases of domestic and sexual violence as the victims are isolated with their aggressors. Women in the region today are facing “two pandemics,” while at the same time carrying the burden of caring for their families.


The consequences of gender-based violence are devastating and can have life-long repercussions for survivors. It can even lead to death.
Civil society and advocacy groups across the region have mobilized to call for change and public officials have made commitments to strengthen the role of women in society. However, the converging crises of the pandemic and gender-based violence highlight the ineffectiveness of one-off, short-term solutions in combating a problem rooted in harmful social and cultural norms.

It is high time gender-based violence for all persons are reduced to the barest minimum. Ensure all survivors have adequate and timely access to quality services that meet their needs and continuously strengthen coordination and programming to protect women and girls from Gender-Based Violence. There is also the need for adequate resources to increase the implementation of quality specialized programs for women and girls.
Ending gender-based violence and discrimination also requires deeper and broader cultural, societal, and political buy-in. The underrepresentation of women in public spaces, combined with their continued objectification in the media undermines any effort to address the deeply entrenched and damaging culture of discrimination. The media must step up critical and essential role in righting this long-term wrong.

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