Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 4

Sub-Saharan Africa

Today’s post will focus on the situation for women in sub-Saharan Africa. Reliable statistics regarding violence against women around the world are hard to come by, but especially in the so-called Third World, and impossible in war-torn places like Sudan, Ethiopia, or Congo. However, I’ll share what I have been able to find.

Femicide vs. Homicide

Men don’t have it easy in this world, either. They are over four times as likely to be murdered as women.

According to a 2019 UN report about femicide worldwide, “Although men are the main victims of homicide globally (81% of men killed compared to 19% of women), it is women who are most murdered by their intimate partner or a member of their family (64% women, compared to 36% men). Many victims of femicide are killed by their current and past partners, but also by their fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters and other family members because of their role and status as women.”

In other words, although men are murdered so much more often than women, they are usually killed by strangers. Women are usually killed by male partners, or by relatives of either sex. For intimate partner homicide alone, 82% of the victims are women.

South Africa

In 1990, shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I went to the Oakland Coliseum to hear his speech. We were all full of hope, then. But the agreement to end apartheid left the accumulated wealth of the white minority in place, with the result that South Africa has the highest level of income inequality in the world.

South Africa also has the highest rate of violence against women. The Citizen, a Johannesburg daily, reported in 2019 that at least three South African women are killed by their partners every day, for a femicide rate five times that of the global average. “More than one in five women experienced physical violence, worsening to one in three in low-income areas….The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation also found that South Africa had the world’s highest rate of rape, estimated at 138 rapes per 100,000 women in 2017.”

Is there a general connection between income inequality and violence against women? I’ll discuss that question further at the end of this post.

South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006—nine years before the United States did so. However, corrective rape, meaning raping a lesbian or gay man to “cure” that person, is endemic in South Africa, and is often encouraged or perpetrated by family members and ministers. When charges are brought, the authorities usually lose the paperwork.

Although the term “corrective rape” originated in South Africa, the concept and practice have also been reported in Ecuador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

On a positive note, a 1996 law legalized abortion in South Africa, with some restrictions. While it remains hard to access in some provinces, the rate of maternal mortality due to illegal abortions dropped more than 90% after passage of the law.

Ghana

I have not been able to find statistics for femicide in Ghana. However, according to a survey done in 2022, 41.6% of women “aged 15 to 49 years who have ever had an intimate partner have experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence.”

Abortion is legal in Ghana in cases of rape, incest, or “defilement of a female idiot,” or when the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother. Otherwise the woman and anyone who helps her obtain an abortion can be imprisoned for five years. The law does not distinguish between abortion and miscarriage.

Legal abortion must be done in a hospital or clinic approved by the Ministry of Health. The procedure is expensive. Also, per a survey done in 2007, very few women knew that they might have a legal right to abortion. As a result, “approximately 45% of abortions in Ghana are unsafe,” presumably because they are performed illegally and not in a legitimate hospital or clinic. “11% of Ghanaian maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, and maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death among Ghanaian women.”

Uganda

Nearly 60% of Ugandan women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, and 46% of women have experienced marital rape. Almost a quarter of women reported that their first sexual intercourse was a rape.

Other African Nations

At this point I was getting discouraged. I looked at other African nations, hoping to find some bright spots, but I found none. Per a CIA report, of the 50 countries with the highest maternal mortality rates, 41 are in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to a UN report cited by The British Medical Journal, in 2021 “the rate of intimate partner/family-related homicide in Africa was more than double the global rate, reaching 2.5 deaths per 100,000 female population compared to the global rate of 1.1 deaths per 100,000 female population.”

Causes

A convergence of factors may explain why the situation for women in the region is so dire. These factors might include the poverty resulting from centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and patriarchal practices such as bride price, polygamy, and female genital mutilation.

I asked earlier in this post if economic inequality could be a factor contributing to violence against women.

The Nordic paradox seems to contradict that theory. Four Nordic countries—Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark—have the highest rate of income equality.  Yet, according to a 2014 report cited by Young Feminist Europe, women in these countries suffer a high rate of intimate partner violence. The average for the EU was 22%. Denmark’s was 32%, Finland 30%, Sweden 29%, and Norway 27%.

The article also notes that, in these countries as everywhere, complaining to the police rarely helps. Of the Danish women who experienced rape or attempted rape in 2017 (reported as 5,100 to 24,000 by various sources), “only 890 rapes were reported to the police. From the cases reported, 535 were prosecuted and only 94 convicted.”

A relevant personal note: around 1981 or 1982 I was living with my then-lover in graduate student housing in Albany, California. One of our neighbors called the police to report a stranger, possibly a burglar, in the neighborhood. The police officer who arrived proceeded to rape our neighbor, and then took a shower in her apartment. What was she to do? Take the guy’s gun and shoot him while he was in the shower? Call another cop?

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In future posts we’ll look at Asia and the Middle East, and then we’ll move on to consider future strategies.

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