Abuse in Sub-Saharan Africa


The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) describe a set of standards it hopes to reach globally by 2020. Goal 5 is combating Gender Inequality, which includes ending all forms of discrimination, violence and subjugation for women and girls everywhere. 

Currently, the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriages are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, alongside also having the highest adolescent birth rate. FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is the cutting of a female’s genitals. In 2017, the UN reported that FGM affected every 1 in 5 young girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Ethiopia and Eritrea having a high number. A 2018 UK Home Office Report stated that sexual violence is prevalent in the regional areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is highest in the southern and eastern provinces where conflict is taking place. In Ethiopia’s first-ever national data on violence against women released in 2016, 35% of 5,000 women aged 15-49 said they faced physical, sexual or emotional violence from an intimate partner.

In Ethiopia, approximately 27 million people are living in poverty, women making up a large majority of this, and 75% of women were illiterate in 2003. Even though Ethiopia has ratified CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) in 1981, they have failed to ratify more recent protocols for protecting women with the UN, and there are still prevalent discriminatory practices, lack of access to resources and violence against women. In the Republic of Congo, they have also ratified CEDAW in 1981  but have similarly failed to ratify recent protocol upholding this. Even though their criminal code and laws outlaw violence and discrimination against women, they haven’t been effective in implementing this in society and many traditional stereotypes and ill treatment of women still continue.

Gender-based violence in Sub-Saharan Africa is about more than sexual violence and circumcision, which as Egyptian feminist writer and physician Nawal El-Saadawi suggests, could be said merely to perpetuate a further colonial view of the African and Arab world and isolating it from Europe, despite FGM, sexual violence and violence against women existing and affecting other women too. However, we must also look at the socio-economic oppression that women face as a non-physical form of violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, and address it.

As El-Saadawi states:

‘I disagree with those women in America and Europe who concentrate on issues such as female circumcision and depict them as proof of the unusual and barbaric oppression to which women are exposed only in African and Arab countries. I oppose all attempts to deal with such problems in isolation.’

There has been some progress with education for females, with there being 89 females for 100 boys enrolled in primary school in 2014. However, they don’t necessarily complete their education. For example in rural Ethiopia, children are 60 times more likely to drop out than urban children. This disproportionately affects females, where traditional stereotypes and expectations repress their rights to access education, condemning them to household and marriage labour instead.

There are still major problems for women in Sub-Saharan Africa, and despite some progress via the SDGs and social enterprise to empower women through business, literacy and sexual autonomy, there is still a long way to go. Not much aid globally is used to tackle this issue and many people rely on the volunteer work of local NGOs, philanthropists and UN projects.

If you would like to support the UN Women: Africa Project, or learn more, visit the UN Women: Africa website at ‘africa.unwomen.org’


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