According to the UN, violence against women is a global pandemic as seven out of 10 women suffer from abuse or violence in their life time, usually inflicted by intimate partners including husbands, fathers and brothers among others.
Even more worrying is when it highlighted that domestic violence, in most cases, is a secret kept for a lifetime within families in various homes across a wide scale of societies as a result of the shame and embarrassment they will suffer, thereby, leaving the victims to suffer in silence.
According to statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, a total of 17,655 domestic violence cases, 1,296 cases of defilement, and 335 rape cases were reported in 2014.
Some of these Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) have led to deaths or permanent physical deformities on the bodies of survivors, the report suggests.
A survey conducted by the Gender Centre on Violence Against Women and Children in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of Ghana in 2014 revealed very high levels of SGBV.
Eight per cent of women reported having been raped, 21 per cent reported having been forced by their husbands to have sex, and 83 per cent were physically beaten or abused.
About one in five of the women had been prevented from seeing family and friends by their partners and about 95 per cent did not report the incidences.
Defilement is also high according to the survey as six per cent reported having been defiled out of which 78 per cent were defiled by a close relative, acquaintance or a person of authority.
Stigmatization, low confidence in the police and justice system and lack of appreciation of abuses as crimes and human rights violations as well as ignorance of the availability of social justice services are part of the reasons for the under reporting of SGBV cases in Ghana according to the Get Up and Speak Out (GUSO) Programme in Ghana.
The cases captured in the statistics gives an indication of the tip of the iceberg of unreported cases.
The Legal Regime
The Beijing Platform of Action (BPfA) dubbed the “Beijing Conference”, has resulted in the institution of laws to deal with discrimination and domestic violence against women and girls, while projecting the ability of women and girls to do better than what men and boys can do.
This subsequently led to several legislations and Acts developed to implement these international Conventions and Protocols and prominent among these are the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732), the Persons with Disability Act, 2006 (Act 715), the Interstate Succession Law, 1985 (PNDC Law 111), the Criminal Code Amendment Act, 1998 (Act 554), and the New Education Act (Act 87) as well as the Affirmative Action Bill, which had been drafted and currently waiting to be passed by Parliament.
The EROP Project
Therefore, to help address the challenge, Madam Bernice Naah, the Executive Director of the African Centre for Human Rights and Sustainable Development (AfCHuRSD), launched a project dubbed: “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Girls Project (EROP).
The project is being funded by the Dutch Embassy in Ghana with implementation partnership by GH Alliance, AfCHuRSD and WOMEN IN NEED (WIN).
According to her, the project, which is being implemented across 10 communities in the Nadowli-Kaleo District and Jirapa Municipality, was proposed as a result of the numerous human rights challenges women and girls in particular continue to face.
These challenges, Madam Naah hinted, prohibited women and girls from realising their rights and also taking opportunities for the advancement of their ambitions in order for them to live fulfilled lives.
The Executive Director of AfCHuRSD said the project goal is to ensure that women and girls in Ghana realised their human rights and utilized opportunities to better their lot.
To achieve this goal, she noted, it was necessary to educate women and girls on their human rights and those of others and opportunities available to them in order for them to be empowered to hold duty bearers accountable.
Again, it is necessary to train women and girls on entrepreneurial skills and opportunities for economic empowerment.
Social Justice Institutions
Since the launch of the project, capacities of social justice institutions had been strengthened and community support teams trained and had been working closely for the prevention of violence and intervention when violence is perpetrated.
Affirmative Action Bill
It has also been advocating for the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill, which had been pending in Parliament for more than two decades.
Again, it is equally seeing to an increased support for women and girls in communities and in schools on their human rights so that issues of violations are addressed and respect for everyone’s rights sustained.
Breaking the Silence
Madam Lydia Ninberewe, the Jirapa Municipal Gender Desk Officer, noted that before the introduction of the EROP project, domestic violence was an issue, but most perpetrators either did not know it was a crime or where to report if even they knew.
“Men thought domestic violence was a way of correcting women when they are wrong –for example, at Ullo community, a man beat the wife three days before we went there to carry out the education and after he participated in the session, he apologized to the woman in the presence of us all, and explained that he didn’t know it was something bad but rather a way of correcting her,” she said.
“Another man similarly apologized to the wife at Wulin Community after the sensitization– I think that people are getting to know the right thing now and I can only say EROP project is an eye opener to many of these communities,” the Gender Desk Officer noted.
She said after the training both women and men were now awaken to a new consciousness of human rights and were willing to report when cases occur in their families and communities.
Madam Rita Nyorka, the Nadowli-Kaleo District Planning Officer, noted that women in the District were becoming conscious of their participation in decision making and they owe that to the EROP project.
“The women have been empowered on the issue of leadership and they are beginning to ask questions about how they can be supported to also contest these local level elections”.
She said domestic violence awareness had been created among men and women and the existing structures in place that they could make complaints to when cases happen, adding that the people were aware of the police which they were not even comfortable going to report cases.
Madam Nyorka noted that with the awareness about the Commission on Human Rights and administrative Justice and the Department of Social Welfare also playing a role in resolving some of the issues were well appreciated by the people as a more comfortable place to report cases.
“I was interacting with one of the Assembly members in one of the EROP project communities and he indicated to me that if a woman steps out to contest in the next Assembly elections in his Electoral Area, he will step down to campaign for the woman to win and represent them at the local Assembly,” she said.
Madam Ophelia Zulabuo, one of the women from Tizza Community in the Jirapa Municipality, noted that hitherto, women of the community were not able to openly talk about issues of domestic violence in the presence of men.
“With the capacity building we received through the EROP project, we now have the confidence to talk about these issues in the presence of the men without any fear of being victimized later,” she said.
She attributed this to the inclusion of the men in the training programme, adding that the men also now understand that domestic violence is a human rights abuse and had consequences on perpetrators if reported.
Madam Zulabuo noted that through the training, they had also come to understand that it was important for women to also take part in decision making at all levels, hence she in particular, was lacing her boots to contest the Unit Committee elections in the next District Level Elections.
She is of the conviction that women understand issues affecting them better than men and if they were part of decision making, they would be able to take decisions that would inure to their collective benefit.
It is clear that vigorous public sensitization especially among rural communities is key to eliminating SGBV in society.
AfCHuRSD is currently implementing the EROP project in just 10 communities in the two beneficiary districts in the Region, but the impact so far is overwhelming.
This, if scaled up to cover the entire districts in the Region, the decades of suffering and enduring in silence among women may just be broken, giving way for respect for the rights of women and girls, availability of opportunities for all and women becoming economically empowered for a fair, equitable and just society.