Breaking the Silence & Challenging the Myths of Violence Against Women & Children in Ghana

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In 1998, the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, in collaboration with eight implementing partners: Action Aid Ghana, Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU), Maata “N” Tudu, Amasachina, Associates in Development (ASSID),  Centre for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) and Bawku East Women’s Development Association, (BEWDA) undertook a nationwide research on violence against women and children (VAWAC).In 1998, the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, in collaboration with eight implementing partners: Action Aid Ghana, Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU), Maata “N” Tudu, Amasachina, Associates in Development (ASSID), Centre for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) and Bawku East Women’s Development Association, (BEWDA) undertook a nationwide research on violence against women and children (VAWAC). The aim of the research was to gather as complete and comprehensive information about violence against women (VAW) as possible. The research tools were developed to obtain the following categories of information:

a) prevalence of violence
b) information about violence types
c) the context in which violence is enacted
d) women’s and society’s responses
e) barriers to responding
f) recommendations for combating violence

It was intended that the first 3 categories of information (a, b and c) would identify the nature and diversity of the problem, the next 2 (d and e) would help to identify how violence is experienced and understood and the broader social responses whilst the final category (f) would assist in identifying ways and means to combat the problem.

In order to collect the information, a range of different research techniques and tools were utilised. Data was collected from all 10 regions in Ghana using 3 different methods. A review of official police, court, health and social welfare records spanning five years (1993 – 1997) was one method. The others were 205 focus group discussions and the administration of a 349 question survey to 2069 women and adolescent girls. These girls and women belonged to a range of ethnic groupings, came from different regions as well as socio-economic backgrounds in a mix of rural and urban areas. The 3 different points of data collection were chosen to ensure greater accuracy and a balanced representation of multiple perspectives.

Findings:
The findings revealed that violence against women and children was not seen as a crime but was viewed as a private matter that should be taken care of within the family. As a private matter, interventions were seen as an intrusion into a private affair. This societal view consequently inhibited women in talking about their experiences of violence. When women chose to talk about their experiences of violence, the study indicated that they preferred to report informally to family, friends or members of the community, leading to low reporting rates. When women reported, state agencies were the least likely venue for them to report. The attitude of state agency personnel, with the same biases as the society in which they operate, tended to reflect in how they responded to cases of violence.

Conclusions and Recommendations from the research
Three main recommendations came out of the research findings:

1.The need for a comprehensive programme of response that targets both the immediate and long term needs of women and children experiencing violence
2. In order to break the cycle of violence and social acceptance of its use, a key factor is the need to shift the responsibility for men’s violence against women and children away from women and children to society as a whole
3. While the immediate needs of women must be a priority, campaigns must not target women in isolation but should include men

Following from these recommendations, the Nkyinkyim Project was conceptualised by the Gender Centre in collaboration with partners and communities to address the recommendations and some of the key findings.

THE RURAL RESPONSE SYSTEM
The Rural Response System (RRS) known as the COMBAT intervention, was developed as a strategy to deal with the 4 major problem areas prioritized from the research findings. These are:

1. Poor state/institutional response to VAW, with frequent patterns of victim blaming, referring reported cases back to family and state agency personnel and society in general trivializing the issue
2. High degree of tolerance of VAW in Ghanaian society, perpetuated by strong perceptions that domestic violence, that is violence that occurs in the home in intimate relationships, is a private/family matter and not a serious crime
3. General confusion about what constitutes violence and ignorance about the causes, consequences and mechanisms that perpetuate VAW; and
4. Isolation of rural women and women’s expressed dissatisfaction at the assistance and support they received when they reported

Objectives of Rural Response System:
With these problems in mind, the objectives of the RRS were as follows:

  • To increase the visibility of violence against women as a social issue in the target communities and surrounding areas
  • To establish community-based options for response, support and protection of women experiencing violence, using existing structures, and the establishment of Community Based Anti-Violence Teams (COMBATs)
  • To increase public knowledge and understanding of the role of the COMBATs in relation to violence against women in the community and to ensure that the communities understand their role in helping to make the COMBATs effective
  • To develop a referral system between the community based response system and state agencies to encourage a consistent and coordinated response
  • To work with key state agency response personnel to ensure that re-victimization of women does not occur due to bad practices and attitudes of such personnel and other practitioners
  • To strengthen appropriate existing traditional systems of resolution of violence against women
  • To develop a graded sanctioning system that holds perpetrators accountable for violent and abusive behaviour and that condemns violence
  • To develop linkages between community based programmes and national and international campaigns and work