Tackling gender-based violence in Gabon, Former Minister Honorine Nzet shares insights

There is a nexus between inequality and violence. The widely agreed form of inequality is the scale of income differences between the rich and poor and it has been proven that the higher the inequality in the society the higher the tendency of increased violence; sadly, women pay the greater price of this unwelcomed tango.

Both sexes experience gender-based violence, however, the majority of the victims are women and girls. Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence directed at a person because of their gender. 21 centuries after, and there are still about 80 million women and girls who are still victims of gender-based violence.

Sadly, should the trend continue, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime, data from the United Nations suggests. The report shows that 28 percent of the female folk worldwide have at a point experienced physical abuse, 7 percent sexual abuse and 25.3 percent are victims of female genital mutilation.

The disheartening data shows that one in two women have experienced sexual harassment, one in 20 has been raped, but most of all, women are still on the long road to attain economic parity and social equality.

GBV is like a tree with long roots spread across different areas. According to the President of the Observatory of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (ODEFPA), Honorine Félicité Nzet Biteghe, the first root cause of gender-based violence is culture and socio-cultural stereotypes which are a barrier to the development of women and girls. Women’s ignorance of their rights is another most important cause of the prevalence of GBV in society.

Violence based on gender is not location bound as it is perpetrated in every part of the world. It is not unique to Africa, however, it is brutal on the continent than elsewhere in the world. In Africa, GBV exists under the guise of traditions, it is fed and nourished by culture and fattened by the culture of silence and fear of stigmatisation.

“As a member of the Panel of the Wise of the African Union representing Central Africa, I have observed that the geographical variables that are the source of violence against women come from the basic education received by communities, which is rooted in the customs and traditions passed on from generation to generation. Customs are practically legally binding and strongly oppose the advancement of women as development actors and full citizens. This explains why we need to drive a shift in mentalities,” the Agathe Okumba d’Okwatseghe prize winner told TheNerve Africa.

Honorine Nzet who during her service as Gabon’s Minister for the Family Social Affairs and the Advancement of Women, initiated a bill amending the second part of Gabon’s Civil Code–in which article 692 provides that a widow shall be deprived of her right of usufruct if she remarries, without compelling grounds, into a family other than that of her deceased spouse– revealed to TheNerve Africa that till date, Gabonese customs and traditions sometimes deny married women the right to land. Nzet, noted that Gabonese law does not recognise this inequality however, it still exists.

GBV undermines the health, security, dignity and the psychology of its victims. Many live with the trauma all their lives and are afraid to speak up for fear stigmatisation. Aside from that, many women who have spoken up are hardly believed, giving rise to perpetrator impunity.

In Gabon, the Penal Code states that anyone who commits assault against another individual is punishable by correctional penalties that can be converted into criminal penalties depending on their severity. However, many of the assaults go unreported.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Some of the forms of GBV include gendercide, dowry death, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive coercion, prenatal sex selection, obstetric violence, female genital mutilation among others.

In many African countries, the search for male children precedes the love for female children and though abortion is largely illegal, gendercide and coerced abortion occurs frequently. Globally, the legality of abortion is still under debate, with many saying it is a form of gender-based violence. However, Professor Laura A. McCloskey discovered that although no single form of gender-based abuse predicted abortion, the cumulative effect of multiple forms of abuse did increase the odds of having an abortion.

Currently, abortion is illegal in Gabon and Honorine Nzet sharing her thoughts with TheNerve Africa on the relationship between violence against women and abortion, stated that “Gabon’s logo is a mother breastfeeding her child. Family is at the heart of our country’s values and there has been some progress to protect children and women’s rights in that context. As such, Act 1/2000 instituted family planning services and repealed the need for a prescription to legally access certain types of contraception. Access to birth control has empowered Gabonese women to take control of their family lives, hopefully limiting cases of violence linked to abortion.”

The cost of GBV is great to the individuals and families of survivors as well as the economy. The World Bank stated these violence against women is estimated to cost some countries up to 3.7 percent of their GDP, more than double what most governments spend on education. Seychelles alone, loses over $65 million yearly to violence against women, that is equivalent to 1.2 percent of local GDP in direct costs and 4.6 percent of GDP in overall economic cost, according to the Commonwealth.

Globally, as many as 38 percent of women are murdered by their intimate partner. When it comes to Gabon, Nzet noted that “it is difficult to assess the economic cost of gender-based violence but a variety of actors suffer the consequence of gender-based violence (GBV) nonetheless.”

“For the State, economic cost can be calculated through the medical coverage provided by the health insurance fund (CNAMGS). For NGOs, the cost can be determined in terms of first care emergency packages, legal assistance as well as psychological support provided by structures like ODEFPA and Cri de Femme, a member of ODEFPA,” she added.

Globally, the fight against GBV has already begun but to succeed in the fight, sensitisation has to start early from childhood and women need to be adequately empowered. To do that, Nzet believes that “women’s empowerment entails that women must know, understand and exercise their rights and be responsible for their own well-being. The society in which they live must also understand that they are not sub-citizens and that they should occupy their rightful place at all levels and in all spheres of society, in accordance with their skills.”

In all, education and awareness programmes can help reduce and eventually eliminate violence against girls on the African continent and hopefully, the world at large.