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Why Does Sexual Assault Cases Within Family Remain Under-Reported?

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As people are gaining the courage to report incidences of sexual assault in workplaces, churches, schools, and streets, those that are committed within family units tend to stay hidden.

Rape is a global crisis. Women, men, and children of all ages, religions, economic classes and races can be victims of rape. As per the statistics, one in three girls and one in six boys will be raped by the age of 18. Sexual offenses happen every five minutes.

These numbers are staggering, and the question then is, why are so many cases of rape within family units not being reported?

Well, there’s a huge degree of silencing around incestuous or family rape. Shame is a significant factor in keeping the victims silent. Fear of reaping the family apart also takes center stage in ensuring the cases remain unheard.

The Rape Culture

Many survivors who come forward report close relations like; a grandfather, uncle, mother’s boyfriend husband, or stepfather was behind the attack. These are people who the victims trust and even depend upon.

Patriarchy has been the cornerstone feature in African societies for centuries. The systemic domination by men in homes serves to control, and sometimes devalue women,” Ngozi Marima, a Counseling Coordinator at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust said. “Women lack patriarchal gender norms and economic empowerment. So, if the rapist takes care of all bills, then the child may as well be sacrificed to ensure continued support regarding basic needs. Reporting such cases might mean going without food.”

Victim blaming

“What were you wearing? Did you talk suggestively? Did you lead him on?” are the questions that victims get asked all the times, concerning the attack. Victim blaming insinuates that the victim is somewhat responsible. In reality is, the victim isn’t to blame. The abuser is; because they make a conscious choice to carry on with the act.

The Victim blaming attitude pushes the victim to the side, making it harder for them to report the offense, since they won’t feel comfortable or safe, coming forward to talk. Other family members, who may suffer a similar fate, might be forced to endure in solitude for fear of judgment.

Besides, such attitudes only allow the perpetrators to carry on with their sexual assaults and relationship abuse because they are not accountable for their actions.

“Sexual offense is motivated by power, control, and hostility, not sexual desire. Humans, unlike animals, can control how they choose to behave or express sexual desires. The most unfortunate bit is that perpetrators are people who the victims know, and sometimes trust,” Marima concluded.

Rape is a crime, regardless of who commits the act; whether it’s an acquaintance, grandfather, friend, dad, uncle, husband, aunty or cousin.

Conjugal bed

Can no mean no even after I do? The Spousal sexual assault is amongst the least understood, but most intimate violation form; men treating women as though they are their possessions, not partners. Many cases involve a man physically abusing the wife before sexually assaulting them. And the pleas to stop him always fall on deaf ears.

Sadly, most women can’t bring themselves to leave, let alone report the man they once loved. In fact, they may become hyper-vigilant in the attempt to please their husbands. The equation becomes complex when kids are in the picture. The thought of single parenthood can be intimidating, especially if one isn’t financially empowered.

Furthermore, there’s a stigma for all survivors and victims of rape, and it’s worse for those who are married; after all, they dated and married the perpetrator, lived in the same house and maybe even share children or mortgage. This is what renders most of them silent.

“It should be known that anytime a person is forced into having sex, they’ve been sexually abused, notwithstanding if they said “no” or fought back. Victims might not fight the assailant due to threats, shock, fear or their strength and size,” added Marima.

What to do after a rape

Although you may be in shock after abuse, there are practical steps you can take to ensure your safety and also bring the perpetrator to justice. Remember, failure to come out gives the assailant power to repeat the act.

  • Get to a safe place
  • Talk to someone
  • Do not wash your clothes or bath to preserve evidence
  • Report the rape
  • Get medical attention to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies
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Opinion

The Challenges Facing Internally Displaced People in Africa

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Today, there are five times as many internally displaced persons as they are refugees. This makes them the largest groups of people affected by forced displacement.

IDPs are people who are forced to flee. Like refugees, they have to leave their homes because of fear of persecution or conflict. But there’s a single fundamental difference between the two: to find safety, IDPs move from one area or region to another but still stay within their country, while refugees leave the country that they live in and cross the border for safety.

Also Read: The Plight of African Women Migrating to Europe

Why don’t IDPs leave the country like refugees?

Some IDPs may want to stay close to their homes with hopes that things would get better soon, so they can return. Others lack the physical strength or the means to go through the uncertain and sometimes, dangerous journey to a safer country. Often, the internally displaced persons are stuck in conflict areas where threats like violence restrict them from reaching the border.

The troubles that IDPs go through

When refugees move to another country, they are protected by the international law. However, the IDPs depend on their government for protection from persecution and violence. In most cases, the government may not be able or may be unwilling to offer such protection. For this reason, internally displaced are among the most vulnerable displaced persons across the globe.

But like refugees, they also face challenges like loss of jobs, properties, and even livelihoods. Some get injured, some lose loved ones.

IDPs in Number

African countries have more IDPS than refugees – Precisely, there are nearly five times as many internally displaced persons. Towards the end of 2010, there were about 2 million refugees and 11 million IDPs in sub-Saharan Africa.

For the longest time, Africa has been leading region with the most IDPs in the world. From approximately 26.4 million IDPs globally in 2011, 9.7 million were from sub-Saharan Africa.

The irony

One would imagine that because the IDPs are in their country, they would receive a special type of care. Unfortunately, this is never the case. Most African countries still do not have a comprehensive and coherent policy or legal framework to address the internal displacement issues. And while they may have a range of laws that they can use to take care of the problem, it’s highly likely that none directly focuses on protection and provision of help to the internally displaced and affected communities.

Following the Post-election Violence incident in Kenya, for instance, the government initiated Operation Rudi Nyumbani (go back home) campaign and provided goodwill payments to the IDPs. While this intervention sufficed the immediate need, it did not take care of the long-term need as envisaged by the Kampala Convention or the UN Guiding Principles.

Problems facing the internally displaced persons in Africa

Some documented challenges that the internally displaced persons in the African countries encounter are:

  • Finding employment
  • Finding housing’
  • Discrimination
  • Impact of disrupted education
  • Financial difficulties
  • Ongoing mental issues because of trauma
  • Community attitudes
  • Changes in status and roles of family members
  • Separation from family members

Impact on children

UNHCR

Children face specific challenges because of their experiences and age. It is difficult for them to forget what happened, so they stay with the scars of violence and displacement. And while children are often resilient, some will:

  • Experience psychological effects of trauma
  • Have identity and belonging issues
  • Go through changing family responsibilities
  • Loose out in education

Impact on women

During wars or violence, women and children experience all kinds of abuses, including sexual and physical violence. They even end up losing their husbands or fathers, who often, are the providers. And when they flee, they have to figure out a way to fend for the children. It’s difficult because they have to start from the scratch.

Also Read: If Not You, Who Will End Violence against Women in the Sub-Saharan Countries?

Diseases

Since the IDPs are moving to a new place, and are doing that suddenly (without preparation), they are forced to stay in temporary structures like tents. This means they will experience frigid nights, lack of clean water, bites from insects, and even attacks from people and animals.

In conclusion

There are three ways to handle the IDP situation: resettlement in a third location, voluntary repatriation, and local integration. Repatriation is perhaps the easiest solution to displacement because most displacement crises are temporary. However, it can be a poor option due to limited prospects of a safe return.

In cases when the displaced people can neither continue to live in the temporary shelter or dire camp nor go back to their homes, then they can be resettled in a new and safe area within the country.

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Opinion

The Plight of African Women Migrating to Europe

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“From what I hear, there are plenty of job opportunities in Europe. I believe when I get there, my life will be better,” a Congo migrant.

Thousands of African women risk their lives as they go on a boat journey to Europe in search of what they imagine would be a better and easier living. Many begin the journey with much hope, but sadly end up in despair.

In an interview with one woman migrant who left the Congo with hopes of getting to Europe, one of our crewmembers asked about the trip. Here’s what she had to say:

“That trip was hard and easy at the same time. We started our journey from Congo, and we went through to Cameron, where we stayed for two days. Then we left for Nigeria and spent only a single night there. We proceeded to Niger and then to Libya. I had to work in Libya to get the money to go on with the trip.”

Also read: Workplace Challenges Women Face in the Developing World

We asked, “How did you find your way to the boat and the smugglers?

“There was a black guy in Tripoli who asked people whether they had the money. When I asked him how much I needed to pay for the journey, he told me $1,000. I worked for a few days and managed to raise three-quarters of that amount, which he accepted. We were hidden somewhere in a bush without food– only some biscuits and a little water. We weren’t allowed to speak. In total, we stayed there for five days. On the fifth night, at around 9 PM, the guys came and told us we were leaving. The journey to the seaside took about two hours on foot.” She says.

We asked, “How did you feel when the boat took off?

“I have never been happier in my life,” she says smiling.

We asked, “Are all of you traveling for the same thing, and if so, what is it?”

“Yeah, most of us, if not all, are traveling to get a better life. We believe that the developed countries like America and Europe flow of honey and milk. Even when you lack shelter, once you are there, life is just good.”

We asked, “And do you believe that?”

“Of course I do believe that. Once I’m in Italy, my quality of life is going to improve,” she concludes.

The shocking reality

Migrant women are on the move for various reasons – to escape conflict, poverty, and devastation within their community or country, to join their loved ones, to further their education, and even to get better opportunities and livelihoods.

Unfortunately, most women migrants go through hell. In our interview with over 100 women, nearly 50% said they had been victims of abuse or rape during their journey. They say they were treated like chickens; they were beaten and denied food and water.

It is true that these women make a conscious decision to trust the smugglers with their lives – because they pay to be able to get across a country that they are not allowed to get across legally. However, they do not sign up for abuse and torture.

Women migrants rely on the smugglers to get overseas, often under a “pay first system” which leaves them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation, and violence including rape and prostitution.

Also read: If Not You, Who Will End Violence against Women in the Sub-Saharan Countries?

People traffickers demand hundreds to thousands of dollars from migrants to take them across the desert before packing them onto inappropriate boats for the journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

How can we stop women trafficking?

Trafficking is a complex issue that needs a multifaceted approach. What makes it so tricky is the aspect of willing buyer, willing seller. Even so, there is still much that can be done. For instance, both NGOs and government programs can identify the women who are at risk and offer them adequate tools that they require to find work overseas without exposing themselves at risk.

Government and NGO programs should also take short and long-term measures to address trafficking. Short-term approaches include raising awareness and education, while long-term actions include improving the socioeconomic position of vulnerable women and lobbying efforts for reforms on the national laws.

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Opinion

How Lack of Sanitary Pads Affects the African Girl-Child

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In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 65% of girls and women lack access to sanitary towels. Most of them resort to shocking alternatives like using goatskin, chicken feathers, soil, leaves, cups, pieces of cloth, and even ashes to hold the periods.

The onset of menstrual periods should be a joyous moment for any girl because it is a transition into womanhood. However, for some African girls, the process is dreaded, because many of them cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. For them, the menstrual cycle comes with frustrations, embarrassments, fear of stigma, anxiety, and stress.

“In Africa, many families survive with a dollar or less every day. It is impossible for a family to spare $0.50 for a sanitary pad when they don’t even have enough for one meal,” says Wakasa, a Human Rights Activist in Nigeria.

ALSO Read: The Struggles of Pregnant Women in the Marginalized Communities of Africa

The alternatives

Since these girls and women lack the money to buy sanitary pads, they resort to using other methods to prevent leaking, and staining their clothes; they use:

  • Chicken feathers
  • Goatskin
  • Tissue paper
  • Exercise books
  • Cotton wool
  • Maize cobs
  • Cow dung
  • Cups
  • Soil
  • Ash
  • Leaves
  • Old clothes
  • Old mattresses

While these ad hoc alternatives come in handy, they present a range of health and psychological effects.

Health effects

According to Dr. Lagat, a Gynecologist at the Nairobi Women Hospital, unhygienic practices are the leading cause of severe reproductive tract infections and even cervical cancer among these women.

She says, “When a woman uses goatskin or old clothes to stem the bleeding, she exposes her uterus or urinary tract to bacteria from outside, which makes them prone to infection. But when they use sanitary pads, the risk is reduced.”

Psychological effects

In another context, the fear of leaks, cultural stigma, lack of menstrual materials, and lack of knowledge can put too much pressure on the girls. Some African communities believe that periods only come after a girl loses her virginity.

Lack of sanitary materials also paralyzes the day-to-day activities, because women are forced to stay at home.

“I use scraps of fabric and cotton because sanitary towels are too expensive,” says Nafula, a 19-year-old Kawangware resident. “They sting, they burn, and they irritate my skin. But what’s worse is they leak and soil my clothes. During my periods, I cannot walk around, or carry on with my daily duties because I fear that people will see the blood stain on my clothes, so I seat at home.”

ALSO READ:Workplace Challenges Women Face in the Developing World

Impacts on education

Studies show that many girls in Africa miss about three to five days of school every month during their menstruation periods due to lack of sanitary pads. Often, they feel unclean, uncomfortable, and even embarrassed to stay in school. The discomfort and the fear of leakage also cause some to lose concentration in class.

For others, the problem is as basic as lack of access to toilets. In most parts of Africa, there’s only one toilet for every 300+ students.

The monthly absenteeism makes it difficult for the girls to keep up with the syllabus, let alone compete with their male classmates, so they remain a step behind throughout their education. Some will even choose to drop out of school to avoid the pressures altogether.

“I got my first period while I was in class. Unfortunately, a boy who was sitting behind me shouted that I had blood on my dress. It was terrifying because no one had told me that at some point, I’m going to have periods,” narrates Maya, a 14-year-old girl. “Everyone started calling me ‘the immoral girl’, and after months of struggling with self-esteem issues, I chose to drop out of school.”

What needs to be done?

Having monthly periods shouldn’t be shameful or a cause for health problems. It also shouldn’t hinder the women from empowerment or education. It’s therefore vital for policymakers to ensure that all school-going girls have access to sanitary ware.

Furthermore, school curriculum should include information about the biological processes to demystify all issues around the sexual and reproductive health to benefit students.

If male and female contraceptives are accessible free of charge in all public hospitals, the same should be for sanitary pads. After all, contraceptive use is optional; sanitary ware isn’t.

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