This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for change.” Every year, the celebration of March 08 is an important milestone for the Local Elected Women’s Network of Africa (REFELA), UCLG Africa’s Standing Committee on gender equality, to highlight the actions and progress taken by these actors in local governance.
For International Women’s Day 2019, REFELA has seized the opportunity to provide an update on the deployment of its three main campaigns that are at the heart of its 2019-2021 Strategic Action Plan (SAP-REFELA). These are:
Ø The Campaign for African Cities without Street Children
Ø The Campaign for African Cities’ Zero Tolerance to Violence Against Women and Girls
Ø The Campaign for African Cities for Women’s Economic Empowerment
“African Cities’ Zero Tolerance to Violence Against Women and Girls.” Cities say, “STOP IT.”
The call for expressions of interest, launched on January 31, 2019, targeting territorial communities wishing to voluntarily take part in the, “Campaign of African Cities’ Zero Tolerance to Violence Against Women and Girls”, welcomed its first members. The cities and national associations of the following 9 countries have already made commitments: Rabat (Morocco), Saint-Louis (Senegal), Banjul (Gambia), Maradi (Niger), Paynesville (Liberia), Tunis (Tunisia), Bangui (Central African Republic), the National Association of Local Governments of Zambia, and the National Association of Local Authorities in Namibia. The local authorities for these communities expressed their determination to play their part in eradicating this scourge, which is increasingly plaguing the African continent.
REFELA’s analytical report shows some progress has been made across the continent, however it also highlights a resurgence of this phenomenon in Africa. According to WHO figures, more than 40% of women in West Africa are victims of violence, with this figure escalating to 65% in Central Africa, leading REFELA to adopt the slogan: “Cities and territories of Africa, it is up to you to act against violence against women and girls.”
In Niger, the Maradi region hosts the highest number of poor people (73.4%) and is also one of the regions with the highest rate of violence against women. “Of the surveyed Nigerian population as a whole, 53% report having experienced at least one act of violence in their lifetime. This proportion is 44% for men and 60% for women. The regions of Zinder and Maradi are the areas with the highest percentage of victims (93% and 83% respectively), (Extent and determinants of GBV in Niger – 2015),” says Ms. Habiba Saadou, the 3rd Vice-President of the Special Delegation from the Maradi region. This situation has motivated local governments to support the REFELA campaign. “Violence, in our area of responsibility, cannot leave anyone indifferent. This violence is so widespread and has such serious consequences that our municipality is committed to reducing it, or, if possible, to putting an end to it,” said Ms. Saadou. As part of this process, she has formulated two key expectations of the Campaign of African Cities’ Zero Tolerance Against Violence Against Women and Girls:
Ø Support for the organization of mass campaigns on gender-based violence. These campaigns will include local decision-makers, religious leaders, traditional leaders, etc. The latter are guarantors of traditional authority and have a great influence on community life.
Ø Support for the implementation of community programs aimed at collective decision-making, for a change in behavior that necessarily implies a change in social norms.
In Senegal, unlike the Maradi region, the city of Saint-Louis is the least affected by violence over the entire national territory, according to statistics in 2017, based on a study produced by the Gender and Society (Gestes) Laboratory at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis. The region of Diourbel is said to be the area where there would be the most cases of this violence, with a rate of 72%. The least affected region is that of Saint-Louis, whose figures are around 45%, and for the region of Dakar, the rate is estimated to be around 52.5%. Statistics, hovering around 50%, were also given for the other regions of Senegal.
Ms. Penda Diouf, the municipal councilor representing the city of Saint-Louis, highlighted the emergence of a new type of violence via mobile phones. Saint-Louis has begun to initiate actions to deal with this violence. “Following action-oriented research on gender-sensitive budgeting of the municipality of Saint-Louis, it has been shown that the problems of gender-based violence are not supported by the budgets of programs and municipal plans,” indicated Ms. Diouf. At present, the Gender and Development Observatory of Saint-Louis (OGDS) is making a plea for the municipal budget to take charge of, “issues of violence in budgets, programs and plans, within the area of the municipality: schools, public places, households and workplaces, etc., through training, information, awareness, and support. Actions will be agreed with elected officials, civil society and technicians.”
Ms. Diouf is counting on the REFELA campaign to exchange, share, learn and experience projects from other African cities. Her commitment to the cause is unwavering. “I have the duty, the honor and the great pleasure to participate in the eradication of this scourge, which spoils the lives of women and young girls.”
Operation zero rape, zero murder, zero violence against women and girls: Liberia
In Liberia, the mayor of Paynssville, Pam Belcher-Taylor, has made the fight to end violence against women and girls her main issue. Indeed, in a recent case, she was reminded of the tragic fate suffered by women who experience violence, in the case of a young lady from her own city. “A little over two months ago I received a phone call on my way to work. The caller on the other end informed me of a corpse near my residence. I changed course and drove to the scene. Upon my arrival the stench of death permeated the air,” she recalled with horror. “With anticipation I walked towards an abandoned building where I saw from a distance, a figure lying on the ground partially clothed. I focused on the body trying to pretend that the odor was not nauseating and realized it was a woman, probably in her mid-forties, with furrowed lines on her face, eyes closed and facing the heavens. A week later, the investigation to identify this ‘lonely lady’ discovered she had been raped by five people. Since then, I have promised to fight relentlessly, to have ZERO Rape, ZERO Murder, ZERO Violence against WOMEN and GIRLS in PAYNESVILLE!!!!! (Sic).”
In the field, the municipality launched an awareness campaign entitled, “Say NO to violence against our women and girls.” The City Hall team has a door-to-door campaign to share this message with the public. “We are teaching our young girls what signs to look out for to protect themselves from predators and molesters. We don’t want our mothers, daughters and sisters to be another ‘lonely lady’ in an abandoned building,” she said.
In terms of her expectations for this continental campaign, Pam Belcher-Taylor emphasizes the importance of “eradicating this disease.” “Yes, violence against women and our girls is a disease!!!! We, as women leaders, must be courageous and steadfast in our fight. I expect to start the first registry through the Ministry of Gender and Sex Offenders in Paynesville City. I think that, thanks to this campaign, we will be able to give as many women and girls the strength to be heard and to speak out against violence.”
For Ms Belcher-Taylor, REFELA is a platform where dynamic women converge under the values of sisterhood and unity. “I have been a member of many organizations. REFELA has a diverse culture and is a torch for women and girls in Africa. I believe that with determination and instruments for change, REFELA can achieve our goals by 2030.”
Situation in CAR
The city of Bangui, (Central African Republic), headed by Mayor Emile-Gros-Raymond Nakombo, is also engaged in the fight to end violence against women and girls. This phenomenon has been accentuated during the multiple crises that the country has experienced. “Most women, who are victims of violence in Central Africa, are those who are economically dependent on their husbands and those who are abandoned by their husbands who are unable to provide for themselves. 79% of the cases of violence against women are due to marital breakdown,” said the Bangui Listening Center which, in January 2012, welcomed 96 women who were victims of violence, 79% of whom left home, 10.4% who experienced physical violence (marital abuse, assault and battery, deprivation of material and financial resources), 4% who experienced ‘moral violence’ in the form of insults and social discrimination, and 3% who experienced sexual violence (including rape of minors, sexual slavery and forced marriages).”
In response to this situation, the municipality of Bangui has set up Safety Committees in its 8 districts, in order to carry out local action in the fight against all recorded violence. The celebration of weddings has provided a platform for the President of the Special Delegation of the City of Bangui and the other civil status officers, to raise awareness.
The African Cities Zero Tolerance Campaign on Violence Against Women and Girls will focus on 3 main actions for the eradication of this scourge by 2030. This will be high on the agenda in the development of policies and strategies of cities and local authorities in Africa to: (i) Raise awareness and develop effective means to combat the trivialization of acts of violence suffered by women and girls in their relationships, in the family, on the streets, in the workplace and in the community and institutions, in the name of stereotypical, socio-cultural practices; (ii) to make the fight against violence against women and girls a priority action in programing, delivery of services and the organization of cities and local communities for the facilitated mobility of women and girls, safe practices in the public space and for urgent, coordinated responses to violence by the various parties concerned; (iii) establish a system for assessing the tolerance levels of local cities and territories to violence against women and to note them, classify them and direct them towards concrete action, to create a climate of change and zero tolerance to this scourge.
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Reports on the 3 campaigns are available here: