Effects of violence against women in Ghana

Rosey Ellum | Mar 18, 2013

Edited version of a longer article by Patricia Isabella Essel, Communications and Advocacy Manager at Womankind’s partner WiLDAF Ghana.

Though many efforts have been made by both state and non-state agencies to eliminate violence against women, it still remains the dark side of society’s life. Global statistics indicate that six out of 10 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Violence against women and girls is assuming alarming proportions across the world. It is occurring during times of conflict and during periods of peace. Violence continues to manifest itself in harmful cultural practices, abuse during pregnancy, spousal murder, psychological violence and physical violence among others. Violence is perpetrated by and against people of all social backgrounds.

Situation in Ghana

The situation in Ghana is not different. Research done in 1998 by Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre showed 1 in 3 women suffered physical violence, 27 per cent of women had been sexually abused and five per cent of women had been circumcised.

More than a decade after the research, the situation has not changed. Statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) indicate there were 986 defilement cases in 2010. This figure jumped to 1,176 in 2011. In 2012, the country recorded 10 spousal murders, the majority being husbands killing wives.

Domestic Violence Act

Let us pause to reflect on why, despite the state’s efforts to address gender-based violence, the problem remains. Not enough attention is paid to discussing the status of implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, which is one of the key ways to deal with domestic violence. Presently DOVVSU has 100 offices and desks nationwide with a Crisis Response Centre project that is yet to be commissioned – yet the department is facing logistical and capacity challenges. The Domestic Violence Courts require judges who understand the gendered nature of abuse, to be able to pass sentences that will deter others from perpetrating violence.

Reporting of abuse has significantly increased but does not correlate with prosecutions and convictions. According to DOVVSU’s Annual Report (2011) out of 12,706 cases received in 2010, 954 cases were sent to court, out of which 118 convictions were obtained. Convictions are not the only means by which to address gender-based violence but they do serve as deterrents.

Effects on women

The effects of gender-based violence are enormous. An adult woman who is physically bruised finds it difficult to mingle with relatives, friends and the public at large for fear they will know about her predicament. This isolation has its own devastating effects such as depression, stress, fear, low self-esteem and even emotional/psychological problems.

It also hinders her from participating in public life. Domestic violence has an impact on women’s earnings and their ability to remain in employment. Their contributions towards building the economy of the nation are cut off. Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem and poor school performance among other problems.

Effects on the nation

Violence against women and girls adversely affects a country’s human, social and economic development:

  • It has enormous direct and indirect costs for survivors, employers and the public sector in terms of health, police, legal and related expenditures as well as lost wages and productivity.
  • School-related violence limits the educational opportunities and achievements of girls. Girls who are abused will be absent from school. Teenage pregnancy and under-performance at school means reaching ‘Education for All’ targets will be difficult.
  • Violence limits women’s ability to protect themselves from HIV. Women are already two to four times more likely than men to become infected with HIV during intercourse, with forced sex or rape increasing this risk by limited condom use and causing physical injuries. Women living with HIV or AIDS are often the targets of abuse and stigma.
  • Violence severely restricts women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights, with grave consequences for sexual and reproductive health. As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy. This increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion, as well as premature labour and low birth weight.

Women and girls are half of the human capital available to reduce poverty and achieve development. Yet gender-based violence undermines human rights, social stability and security, public health, women’s educational and employment opportunities and the well-being and development prospects of children and communities.

A holistic approach

In addressing gender-based violence, development partners and states have put in place regulatory frameworks and justice institutions. In this regard, the legislative framework in Ghana is commendable. What has not received adequate attention, has been tackling the root causes of violence. International attention is now shifting to a holistic approach that emphasises addressing the underlying power inequalities between men and women.

Patriarchy, social inequalities and gender stereotyping, are some of the root causes of violence against women. Social norms condone acceptability of violence against women, such as wife-beating. A husband may use force on his wife due to the tradition that prescribes that husbands should be in control.

What needs to happen

Eliminating violence against women and girls requires: improving their social, economic and political empowerment; increasing awareness of rights; improving education; having sufficient women in decision-making positions; economic autonomy; and transforming social norms.

In addition there should be: continuous sensitisation and awareness creation; psycho-social support; financial support; alternative dispute resolution efforts; establishment of community response systems; and community participation to increase awareness and sustainability of efforts to reduce violence.

WiLDAF’s role

Several non-governmental organisations have been working with communities, traditional leaders, students, children and policy-makers towards elimination of violence. WiLDAF Ghana has used two models to address violence against women and girls.

It trains community members as legal literacy volunteers who educate communities on domestic violence and other family-related laws, accompany survivors to state agencies and train other community groups. We also have community reconciliation committees which use mediation to resolve family cases in a way to continue family cohesion.

Help us continue to support WiLDAF’s work ending violence against women in Ghana by making a donation here.

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