looking at the challenges women go through while trying to get justice
Injustices within Justice: The Terror of Women in a World that does not Protect Them
The justice system, religion, family and the society play a critical role in bringing justice to all victims of gender-based violence (GBV). However, this is not always the case as victims are left to the GBV war alone. GBV has become prevalent within these systems that many women are left wondering why they should go to report or involve a third party. Many women have given disheartening tales of how they were shunned away by those that are supposed to protect them. For example, after 3 years of dating, Josina Michel was physically assaulted by her then boyfriend after a confrontation. She fought and is still fighting for justice through different levels of the system including the Mozambique hospitals, the local police, and the courts. The perpetrator was found guilty by the Maputo City Court but the war on getting justice did not end there. Michel once again found herself in court with her assailant at the Appeals Court whereby he was cleansed of his crimes.
In her opening remarks as part of the panelist in the End GBV Film by Anant Singh, Machel states, "He took away one of my eyes and the justice system took away the other." Michel experienced violence from her boyfriend leading to her losing one eye. The justice system however, took away the other eye by the court of appeal overturning the decision of the lower court on the conviction of the perpetrator. The court of appeal reasoned that, the incident happened only between the two of them and thus, not gender-based violence. There are many Josinas in our midst. Who tell or cannot tell their story of injustices within the justice system and our society.
Further, religion is believed to be a haven for the oppressed. However, many times that religion becomes complaisant or a perpetrator through creating an enabling environment for perpetrators to continue abusing their victims. In his book, "Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam," Ziba Mir-Hosseini asks, "If justice is an intrinsic value in Islam, why have women been treated as second-class citizens in Islamic legal tradition? Women in Islam are not allowed to enjoy many rights and are required to be submissive to the men. An example of oppression of women in Islam is when the Taliban took over from the Afghan government in May, 2022. Terror could be seen in many women and girls in the country as the world watched the violations with little to do to rescue them. It was evident that they would never enjoy their freedom again. Apart from restriction on their freedom, the women also experienced violence including beatings, forced prostitution, harassment and forced and early marriages (Amnesty International, 2022).
It is important to note that the question by Mir-Hosseini should be directed to all religions of the world. Many religions have harbored and supported violence against women through the pretext of submissiveness. Lynn Ngugi presents her YouTube audience with many tales in our society and one of the topics surrounds abuse of women by men. In one of the episodes, a story of Idah Alisha, she narrates how the church abandoned her as she was abused by her husband. Alisha points out that in some of the occasions, she went to their pastor to seek support, instead, she was told that the abuse is because of her not being submissive. In particular, the pastor told her, "Jesus said, 'turn your other cheek when you are slapped on the other.'"
Additionally, our society and families have failed to protect women from violence. I come from Abagusii community in Kenya, where domestic violence is tolerated. It is seen as a sign of power or authority that women are subjected to violence. I remember watching news on a story of a young woman that had gone back to her home because the husband was physically abusing her. Instead of her family or father protecting her, she was told to go back to her husband as that was her home. Weeks later, the parents received her back in a coffin.
My first experience with GBV was through abuse of my mother by my step-father. My mother was beaten by my stepfather on almost a daily basis. Reporting to the village elders and family members never helped and no one bothered to report to the police. My own experience of GBV is when I was almost raped by a close family member. I reported the incident to one of my aunties and she only told me, "I will talk to him." Case closed! Until today, I have never known whether she talked to him or not. Looking at this, it is clear that GBV is tolerated in all aspects of our life. That the family unit that we hope to be our shield and defender is porous and women cannot depend on it. When they run to religion, they are shown the middle finger and when they go to the legal system, they are told, "talk to my hand, I am busy." Then, begs the question, "where will they get justice?
It is a question that all of us need to answer. A question that we all need to look into our inner selves, practices, cultures and values and say "No More Slapping of a Woman." It is not that the systems do not have values, laws, or cultures that are against violence, it is the blindness that gives the perpetrators the opportunity to commit their crimes. There are laws, policies, treaties and regulations that should be used to protect women from violence. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been instrumental in the fight against GBV. It has been used to show that women's rights are human rights. CEDAW can be said to have contributed to movements such as #MeToomovement# and development of domestic policies to eliminate existing discrimination against women.
The Maputo Protocol has also been used in advancement of the human rights of women. For example, in 2020, the Government of Kenya was held accountable for its failure to investigate and prosecute sexual and gender-based violence cases during the 2007 post-election violence and it was to pay Kenya shillings four million to each survivor (Coalition on Violence Against Women & 11 others v Attorney General of the Republic of Kenya & 5 others; Kenya Human Rights Commission(Interested Party); Kenya National Commission on Human Rights &3 others(Amicus Curiae).
Further, in 2019, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice declared that the Sierra Leone's law prohibiting pregnant schoolgirls from going to school was discriminatory and a violation of the right to education of girls. As a result, the government had violated Article 2 and 12 of the Maputo Protocol that requires all State Parties to develop practices to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and ensure equal opportunities and access to education. The government of Kenya has been progressive in addressing the issues of GBV. In 2021, the government joined other stakeholders in the fight against GBV through a commitment to end GBV including sexual violence by 2026. Several countries not only in Africa but also globally, have made many commitments to end GBV. However, this has been more of a fallacy than a reality. Therefore, justice has remained elusive or distant dream to many women and girls all over the world.
Gender-based violence should be declared a pandemic in the world. Many women and girls live the nightmare of being abused physically, sexually or even psychologically without ever seeing the dawn of justice. In Kenya, over 40 percent of women are likely to experience physical and/or Sexual Gender-based Violence (SGBV) perpetrated by their physical and/or sexual partners. In South Africa, one in four men admit to raping a woman or a girl while a woman is murdered in every three hours (End GBV Film by Anant Singh). In the United States, one in three women have experienced some form of GBV by an intimate partner. We have seen the violence against women in countries such as India, Latin American nations, Asia and Middle East.
One of the most recent cases is that of Mahsa Amini who died in Iranian police custody which led to women protesting for accountability or justice for her death. The protest also resulted to women being subjected to violence. During wars or conflicts, women and children face the ruthlessness of the warring sides. High rates of GBV experiences are reported during such times and this can be seen through the wars in Ethiopia, Burma, Syria, and post-election violence in Kenya. Another example is the 2009 Guinea massacre whereby 150 people were killed and there was mass rape of women by the Guinea security. There are many stories of GBV that I am not able to write about in this article. However, the stories presented here are a representation of the GBV war that women experience and call upon everyone to take action.
The fight against gender-based violence towards women is not a fight against men but against the vices perpetrated by men and enabled as well as accessorized by the society. Let's not glorify violence for masculinity as everyone deserves to enjoy all the human rights as embodied in different legal instruments. I welcome the remarks of Janisa that, "we need to enable and create platforms for women to tell their stories to push our governments to listen and become accountable for the violence. The platforms should also be used for women to share and heal from their ordeals." She continues to express the need for educating and creating awareness in our homes, communities and all for us to prevent GBV.
More so, we also need to train our lawyers, law enforcement, judges and all justice system personnel to listen and be accountable. We need not be perpetrators, enablers and accessory to GBV by refusing or protecting the perpetrators. Further, I liked Janisa's remark on the role of Africa in ending GBV by stating, "as Africans, 'we have overcome colonialism, we have overcome apartheid' gender-based violence is such a war in our houses that all of us can stand up, 'we ensure, and demand, and we will every day ensure there is justice for all us.'" Do not keep quiet and let your voice be heard.
If you yet to watch Lynn Ngugi's YouTube stories, please do watch and learn more not only on gender-based violence but also other issues that affect our society. Educate yourself about GBV and let's us hold hands to end this pandemic. "Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression" Nelson Mandela.