Violence at home is “greatest danger” for West Africa women says IRC

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Domestic violence is an acute problem in countries that are recovering from conflict. Approximately 1 in 3 women will experience violence during her lifetime, often at the hands of an intimate partner, says the IRC - International Rescue Committee. In addition to monitoring, listening and releasing a recent report on the continuing crisis for women suffering under domestic violence, the IRC is bringing women solutions which include training women to operate their own small businesses. Image: IRC/Peter Biro

(WNN) WEST AFRCIA: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is bringing the issue of violence against women at home to a world audience of advocates, non-governmental organizations and government watch groups in their recently released report, Let Me Not Die Before My Time – Domestic Violence in West Africa.”

Outlining the scale and crisis for women who live in the Ivory Coast, as well as Liberia and Sierra Leone, the IRC has been documenting conditions for women inside the region for “over a decade.” The new report findings have revealed that in spite of violence in the region on the way to peace, women have faced even more daily danger from their husbands inside the home. Husbands have been cited as the major source of danger for women today in West Africa.

“The international community has begun to wake up to the threats women and girls face in wartime and after. While this awareness has opened a window for critically important programs, efforts to keep women and girls safe have overwhelmingly focused on the public side of violence—risks faced outside the home,” says the IRC.

The issue of domestic violence is one that reaches the very foundation of human rights for women, says many international advocates on the issue. Returning soldiers bring violence home following an ‘easing-up’ of conflict, resulting in “more wife beating,” says IRC photographer Ann Jones who has worked inside the region for years. One of Jones programs gave the women of Cote d’Ivoire, as well as other regions, their own cameras so they could begin to document their own experiences and insights during and after the outbreak of war and conflict in the region.

“Every one of us should be allowed to feel safe in our own home—which is why the irc deems addressing domestic violence a core humanitarian responsibility,” says IRC President George Rupp.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem that is often minimized by women and the public worldwide. In regions, including Liberia and neighboring countries, six out of every ten women who have contacted the IRC to report violence have suffered at the hands of a partner or spouse.

Physical as well as psychological abuse can be prevalent in domestic violence in forms that show a desire by the abuser for ‘power-over’ the family. In addition to a physical attack, women have reported being denied access to food. They have also outlined sexual abuse, physical assault and rape.

“Violence isn’t an act; it’s a pattern. therefore, ‘before’ versus ‘after’ is less relevant to prevention than looking at the range and types of violence that can occur over time and the role of service delivery in reducing the repetition of violence,” added the IRC.

Others who have contacted the IRC to make a domestic violence report have shared that they have been denied any access to money or the freedom to handle money. This includes money to pay for critical medicines when needed, or for the tuition of a child’s schooling. Denial of tech tools is also a problem as numerous women are denied any access to their husband’s cellphone during a long list of ‘denials.’

“Needless to say, sexual and emotional abuses also feature prominently in in-home violence against women,” stated the IRC in their recent report.

In a cycle of fear and intimidation, numerous women suffer under dangerous conditions at home while they often ‘go silent’ in public ‘under-reporting’ any incident of violence against them.

“Services for survivors then are a key and necessary tool for preventing an escalating level of violence,” says the IRC. “Unfortunately, current humanitarian approaches do not emphasize services for survivors as a prevention measure. most guidelines and models for addressing violence against women in humanitarian settings make clear distinctions between “prevention” and “response,” with prevention understood as stopping a specific occurrence of violence before it happens.”

Outlining a critical need for follow-ups on every report on violence against women at home, the IRC brings attention in their recent report to a newer, and sometimes failing, trend today used by advocacy organizations to bring forward campaigns that only seek to ‘prevent’ not ‘repair’ domestic violence when it happens.

Currently no laws protecting women from domestic violence exist in Liberia or the Ivory Coast. Sierra Leone does have the ‘Domestic Violence Act’ which was approved and put in place in 2007. The legislation aims to protect women by criminalizing the act of domestic violence as well as encourage swift action by police when domestic violence is suspected. But the ability for laws to protect women can fall short.

“If women are to see justice as an option, they must have confidence that their cases will be taken seriously and that they will receive the assistance necessary to pursue legal action. even law enforcement officials sensitive to the issue often fail, or are unable, to provide adequate options for helping survivors,” adds the IRC report.

Asking for international aid to help protect women now is a top priority with the IRC. Helping women who are suffering under the constant dangers of domestic violence must be given precedence above long-range funding efforts that are focused on country development in the region, outlines the IRC.

“In conflict and postconflict contexts in particular, domestic violence has been treated as a second-tier concern, a known problem but one that is largely “cultural” and best addressed in development settings. in many international guidelines and U.n. and donor strategies, domestic violence is often not framed as a protection issue at all,” the IRC report outlines. “But women cannot wait years for peace and development to arrive before action is taken to address the violence they face in their homes,” it adds.


For more information on this report to to: Let Me Not Die Before My Time – Domestic Violence in West Africa


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