Let’s UNiTE our voices against gender-based violence

16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence: Statement of Voix EssentiELLES

As Voix EssentiELLES organizations from Senegal, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, meeting in Abidjan from November 30, to December 1st of 2022, and as part of the the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, we urgently call on African governments and leaders to undertake firm actions to tackle socio-cultural stereotypes that fuel violence against women and girls.

While most governments acknowledge gender equality and women’s empowerment as key factors in the development of their countries, the social status and roles of women and girls in our societies remain very traditional. As women, we continue to assume a disproportionate share of domestic and rural work and child upbringing, and even when we are included in decision-making circles, our voices are not valued because of our gender, which unfortunately becomes an obstacle to fully expressing our leadership.

As organizations committed to achieve women’s rights, we work everyday to break down religious, economic and socio-cultural barriers to enable women and girls to achieve their full potential.

Within our communities, our commitment as feminists is still misperceived. We are seen as « promiscuous women », disconnected from our culture and under the influence of Western culture. Yet, our dedication to a fairer society remains indispensable to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Feminicide, rape, harassment, cyber harassment, physical, verbal, and sexual aggression, early marriage, social exclusion, menstrual precariousness… These forms of violence occur on a daily basis in our communities.

In West Africa, over 40% of women are victims of physical and/or sexual violence[1]. These act of abuse are so common that they tend to be normalized by women themselves. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, 34% of women believe that a husband has the right to beat his wife[2]. The proportion is 30% in Burkina Faso and 31% in Senegal. In terms of forced marriage, it is estimated that one girl under the age of 18 is married by force every two seconds in the world[3].

In addition to these forms of violence, menstrual precariousness is also a problem. We note that around 30% of women under 35 years of age are affected by menstrual precariousness, meaning lack of access to sanitary protection for economic reasons. The cultural taboo surrounding menstruation and the lack of information accentuate this precariousness among women and girls.

In our countries, women’s abilities to make decisions over their bodies, sexuality and reproductive health remains extremely low. As a result, contraceptive prevalence remains very low. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, only 21% of women have access to contraceptive tools.

Lack of information, fear of side effects, the power of men to make decisions, religious prohibitions and socio-cultural contradictions prevent women from having access to these tools, which are vital for their health. The exclusion and under-representation are even more pronounced for certain groups of women, especially those living with a disability.

In this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence global campaign, we, the Voix EssentiELLES, reiterate that protecting women’s and girls’ rights is fundamental to sustainable development, economic growth, peace and security. We therefore call on African governments and leaders to respect their commitments to protect their citizens by eliminating all forms of inequality and discrimination against women.

Knowing that gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment are crucial for sustainable development, we call on African governments and leaders to ensure a safe socio-legal and institutional environment for women and girls to live free from female genital mutilation, early marriage, rape or any other form of sexual, physical or verbal violence.

We encourage them to maintain and strengthen their efforts to promote quality education, including sexual education, to build self-esteem and empower women and girls to defend their rights and take control of their health.

Recalling the need to invest in women’s leadership and empowerment, we call for the development and financial support of women’s and girls’ organizations that work to amplify women’s voices. These organizations are essential to creating the prosperous societies we want.

To capitalize on their potential and optimize their actions, we urge these women’s and girls’ organizations wherever they are, as well as all civil society organizations committed to protecting women’s rights, to work together, to unite their voices and their strengths for a fairer world to which we all aspire.

Abidjan, December 10th, 2022

[1] Report on gender-based violence  in Africa

[2] World Bank data

[3] Early and forced marriage: what is it? Plan International