25th November was the international day for the elimination of violence against women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence (GBV) that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.1
Recently, we spoke with our Ethiopian colleague, Bemnet Woldemariam, regarding her experience working on gender equality and GBV. Bemnet recently joined the Tearfund Ireland team as our Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning Specialist (MEAL), based out of our Ethiopia office. She shares more about her experience in GBV advocacy, how it is evolving, and where she sees hope for the future.
What has been your experience in working to prevent gender-based violence?
I have had a strong passion to seek justice and equality for women since I was in elementary and high school. After my university education, my first job was at a women-focused organisation which was an opportunity to increase my knowledge and understanding about gender equality and GBV. Through follow-up engagement work in women organisations throughout Ethiopia, I was able to design GBV response projects, implement, and advocate for them. For more than fifteen years in this area, I clearly realised the need to work aggressively towards GBV prevention, as it is very much embedded in societal norms and requires working together to prevent it.
What is the prevalence of GBV in Ethiopia?
Studies confirmed that more than one-third (37%) of women in Ethiopia experience different forms of GBV. Intimate partner violence, domestic violence, female genital mutilation (cutting), sexual assault, rape, marriage by abduction, and child marriage are the prevalent forms of GBV in Ethiopia. Though the current extent of GBV in Ethiopia is unknown, according to a recent report by UN Women, the number of people in need of GBV services in 2022 increased to 5.8 million from 3.5 million in 2021.
Does GBV occur at every economic level or status? Who does it primarily affect?
Yes, GBV occurs at every economic level and status. However, many studies have confirmed that economically disempowered women and females are more vulnerable to different forms of violence, especially intimate partner violence, in Ethiopia.
How does GBV impact a woman?
Impacts can range from physical harm to long-term emotional distress to fatalities. Rape and sexual assaults can result in unwanted pregnancy, complications during pregnancy and birth, and STIs, including HIV. In addition, GBV also imposes negative direct and indirect psychological impacts like anxiety, fear, mistrust of others, inability to concentrate, loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide,
Outside of the immediate impact on the individual, how does GBV affect women in society?
GBV also has an adverse economic and social impact. Economic impacts can see victims face rejection and social stigma at the community level; reduced ability to participate in social and economic activities; acute fear of future violence, which extends beyond the individual survivors to other members of the community; and damage to women’s confidence, resulting in a fear of venturing into public spaces. This can often curtail women’s education, which then possibly limits their income-generating opportunities, jeopardising their families economic and emotional development. In general, GBV constricts the ability of women to respond to rapid economic, social, and political changes.
Have you seen an evolutionary change in how women speak out against GBV and how justice is served to those who commit such violence?
As a result of the multitude of awareness-raising actions of mainly civil society organisations working in the country over the last decades, gender-based violence has been recognised and discussed in public, including on social media. Awareness-raising and advocacy work have greatly contributed to correcting the narrative and legal framework in the country. However, few women in urban areas and very few women in rural areas are speaking up against GBV. As much progress as there has been, there is a great need to reach out to the larger rural and urban marginalised women to speak about GBV.
Ethiopia’s modern and progressive constitution explicitly stipulates the rights of women to be protected from violence. Yet, the constitution and laws are commonly undermined by prevailing patriarchal social norms. There are also a number of practical obstacles that impede a victim's ability to access justice. These include difficulties faced by victims in filing complaints; a general lack of willingness to prosecute perpetrators; difficulties in gathering evidence, including obtaining medical reports; lack of protection for victims and witnesses; social and cultural barriers; and re-traumatization and secondary victimisation resulting from proceedings. Lack of resources is also a significant challenge for both victims and the judicial system. Furthermore, even where victims have been awarded compensation or reparation measures, in many cases these are not enforced, with limited recourse or services available for victims. Though there is positive change towards serving justice for GBV victims, much work is still needed towards access to justice and the proper execution of laws.
Where do you see hope (God moving) in working to end GBV?
For a long period of time, few civil society organisations and committed advocates have worked much to raise voices and awareness about GBV. Very slowly, a few faith-based and religious institutions are joining the work against GBV. I personally believe that it is God's desire for faith-based and religious organisations to act on the human rights violation, which is GBV. Human rights and social justice were the main goals of the gospel, which were also explicitly demonstrated by Jesus Christ on earth. As a multitude of such organisations and churches respond to this call of God and uphold the work of gender equality, GBV prevention, and responses, I find hope that there can be positive change.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about GBV?
Women’s rights are human rights. Fighting GBV should not be the issue of a few women or civil society organisations. GBV requires the attention and commitment of all!