Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rape : African Governments must Progressively and Aggressively Confront Pandemonium

The euphoria surrounding rape in Africa continues to be one of the most contentious issues facing governments around the continent. With the transformation of the continent along political, economical and social lines, the raping of women and girls brought to light the troubling reality for governments of both conflict and non-conflict-ridden societies. Rape has become so prevalent that a concerted global call for action has taken a forefront of international and African affairs.
International Human Rights Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations, in collaboration with the United Nations, and grass-roots civil society organizations in Africa, took a leading role in urging governments to take punitive actions against the menaces of rape across the continent. However, until now, numerous African governments continue to struggle with the rape pandemic that is ravaging the livelihood of women and girls across the continent.

Nonetheless, with the concerted International efforts, several international legal instruments were introduced and adopted by governments around the world- African governments included. The world has since then seen the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 (Women, Peace and Security), 1820 (Sexual Violence in Conflicts) and most recently 1889 (Women, Peace and Security). These resolutions were founded on the fundamental premises of protecting women and girls, thus calling for their adoption, and punitive action against perpetrators.
Several governments responded positively through the adoption of prescriptive measures as codified under the doctrines of international legal mechanisms targeting rape and sexual violence. For example, countries such as Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Rwanda and Burundi adopted National Action Plans empowering and combating rape and sexual violence against women. Several other countries adopted legislations progressively and aggressively dealing with rape, sexual violence, and the empowerment of women. Today, almost all African countries have constitutional provisions targeting the onslaught. How that translates to protecting women remains to be the very good old question.

Even though constitutional provisions are the hallmark of Africa’s effort in combating rape and sexual violence against women, sporadic cases in thriving democracies makes the situation an abject matter of concern for pundits, scholars, and policy analysts. Implementation mechanisms of adopted international legislations are what many African nations are grappling with. It is therefore imperative that African governments introduce national awareness programs through education, and review policing procedures for appropriate response mechanisms at grass roots level. The experiences of Liberia, Sierra –Leone and Rwanda in combating widespread sexual violence could be very pivotal in crafting a continental plan to deal with the conundrum.

In a most recent development, growing sexual abuse against girls in Senegal prompted legal reforms. Although cultural and traditional barriers is expressed to be a major concern in dealing with rape in a predominantly Muslim country, Senegal is reported to be taking progressive and aggressive measures in combating the menaces of rape. According to the BBC,

The ministry wants to allow state approved associations to bring suits as civil plaintiffs. This will enable associations campaigning for the protection of the rights of women and children to press on with the process, even if the fathers and mothers of children who have been raped do not file a suit," says Judge Kandji. According to the judge, Justice Minister Moustapha Sourang also wants tougher rape sentences. He has proposed a minimum of 15 years jail time for perpetrators.

In view of the societal stigma attached to Rape, African governments must embark on legislative reforms for a progressive and aggressive confrontation of the rape pandemonium. Although an African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women calls on the elimination of all kinds of Sexual violence against women, it is imperative that an additional protocol calling for legal reforms for governments to adopt tougher punitive actions such as long term jail sentences, national awareness programs, and provisions allowing suits as civil plaintiffs, be introduced by the African Union for adoption by all member states of the African Union.
There is no doubt that once such an additional protocol is introduced and adopted, progressively and aggressively enforced, the menaces of rape across the continent may likely be effectively contained. What else could one say?


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Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.