Violence against women in Africa

Worldwide, 35% of women (one in three) are subject to violence over the course of their lives.

As in other regions, violence against women and girls is widespread in Africa. Its many forms range from domestic and intimate partner violence, to sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and, trafficking.

The statistics are shocking. A global study by the World Health Organization found Sub-Saharan Africa rates for intimate partner violence to be above the world average of 6.4%. The highest prevalence is in the Central African sub-region (65.6%) and in the West African sub-region (41.8%). Rates of non-partner sexual violence are also much higher than the global average of 7%, with the highest prevalence recorded in the central African sub-region (21.1%) and in the southern African sub-region (17.4%).

Behind these numbers, are millions of African women, trapped in violent situations; deprived of property rights; denied access to education and training, and consequently to economic opportunities. In countries affected by conflict, violence against women and girls hits epidemic proportionscompounded by weak, inexistent or ineffective security and judicial systems, and the resulting climate of impunity.

Moved by the plight of abused women and girls around the world, Marina Galvani, the World Bank Art Curator, organized the exhibition “1 in 3” as a visual companion to the hard data on gender-based violence presented by the World Bank and other development partners. “Art is giving voice to the silent. Art is bringing to light the unspeakable,” she said.

Changing Social Norms

One by one, the artists explained how their work transcends language and culture and ease communication on this painful topic. Sakale John, a painter from Papua New Guinea said he conveys his messages about women’s rights through art in a country of seven million people who speak 800 different languages.

Half-way around the world, in Afghanistan, Hanifa Alizada uses photography to question gender roles in her society. “It is easier said than done,” commented Maria Correia, the World Bank’s sector manager for social development in South Asia, who co-chaired the discussion panel. Correia pioneered a number of initiatives against gender-based violence and believes it is imperative to scale up this kind of work. 

A few World Bank projects are beginning to address the problem, notably a new project in Eastern DR Congo which will presented to the Board of Directors in late June. The Great Lakes Emergency Sexual and Gender Based Violence & Women’s Health Project will be the first of a series of programs funded by the Great Lake Initiative launched by WBG President Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during their historic joint visit to Africa in 2013.

At the Opening Ceremony of “1 in 3” the night before, Damasus shared the stage with the other artists and World Bank senior managers in a moving recital of monologues. Titled “Wounded to Death”, the monologues are of women victims of gender-based violence written by Italian playwright Serena Dandini. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim hailed artists as “critical agents of change.”

Stella Damasus expressed interest in supporting the World Bank’s efforts to give a voice to women and girls and fight gender-based violence. “I hope that ‘1 in 3’ is just the beginning. So much more can be done through art and education. We must all get involved and we should not spare any effort,” she said.