In a panel sponsored by Crossroads International and Women in Law and Development in Africa, a series of women representatives from Togo, Swaziland, and Ghana gathered together to discuss “Decreasing Violence against Women through Access to Justice” in their different contexts. Agreeing that all women’s organizations have a unifying goal of violence prevention and obtainment of equal rights, the women on this panel aimed at opening women’s access to justice in their countries, specifically by the passing of empowering legislation and the insurance of its implementation on the ground. And, in order to do so, these women shared how their organizations strive to strike a balance of working with both government and civil society through gendered perspectives in order to promote women’s empowerment from the grassroots level up.
In order to set the stage, panelists from Togo, Swaziland, and Ghana explained the social and legal climate surrounding women’s issues in their country. In Togo, 42% of married women are subjected to physical and/or psychological violence, and these victims are left unsupported without the backing of the law. While a ‘family code’ exists within the current legal framework of the nation, this code is against discriminatory treatment in general – but not specific to women and girls. Without this specificity, perpetrators abusing women and girls remain unpunished and unaccountable for their actions and their actions’ consequences. This lack of justice and accountability is exacerbated by a disorganized national police force that does not have precedents or protocols established for properly handling cases of violence against women, leaving many abusive situations inadequately addressed.
In Swaziland, legislation against gender-based violence does in fact exist, however its writing is archaic, dating back between the years 1880 – 1920 and has not evolved to address the threats and dangers that women face in modern day. For instance, violation of a women through anal penetration or penetration with an object is not mentioned under the law, and is regularly considered a simple assault through the eyes of the court. Magnifying this problem is Swaziland’s monarchical system of government that allows the nation’s King to veto any bill that he does not see fit, such as he did with recent legislation designed to protect women in both public and domestic spheres in modern day.
Prior to the passing of any legislation in Ghana, one out of every three women in the country was physically abused and one out of every five women in the country was psychologically abused. Now however, Ghana can serve as a slightly more positive example, boasting quite progressive anti-violence laws for their region, the most recent passed in 2007. Nevertheless, Ghanaians are not immune to the aforementioned obstacles of their region, as demonstrated by the seven-year long struggle it took for such legislation to be passed. Additionally, it is important to note that the act of passing legislation does not automatically translate to the adoption of such practices on the ground, as many Ghanaians continue to struggle unaware of the law or unsure of how to properly use it.
Therefore, while these women interestingly represented three different organizations hailing from experiences in three different nations, the synchrony of their underlying fights and aspirations was striking. The whole panel agreed that the struggle to protect women against instances of violence and to open their access to the justice system is an ongoing, uphill battle against the region’s inflexible customs of patriarchy that are so deeply embedded in their legal and social systems. The panel also believed that “advocacy, advocacy, advocacy” was the solution to overcoming these barriers. Firstly, the panel wants to use advocacy to target the way that people think, challenging their mentality that domestic violence should be kept in the secrecy of the domestic sphere, and hope to raise awareness that such abuse is not a family issue to be dealt with privately, but a societal issue that should be fought against publically and without stigma. From this, the hope is that all those in the region will begin to take issues of domestic violence seriously, both personally as well as legally, with the ultimate goal that all forms of domestic violence should and will be criminalized and persecuted in the future.