Ethiopia: Gender-Based Violence - a National Challenge Unaddressed

Addis Abeba — According to a report published by the UNDP on gender based violence (GBV), violence against women increases during every type of emergency be it conflict or war, economic crises and disease outbreaks. Data from neighboring Kenya show that 45% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence while 14% have experienced sexual violence. In South Africa, GBV campaigners reported that the hotline received 2,300 calls in the first days of lockdown, almost three times the rate prior to lockdown.

Ethiopia is no different, social trends have been suggesting that the country's witnessed an increase in reported cases. The trend forced the hand of Almaz Aberha, Former Addis Ababa Women, Children and Youth bureau head to state on record that in a period of two months 101 children were victimized and complaints in their names were registered. GBV as a challenge is given little to no attention in the Ethiopian political and public discourse. This lack of discussion and open dialogue could be credited to multiple factors: "the country's conservative culture, social and economic stress and the relative absence of a clear policy initiative to address and manage the issue," according to Ruth Yitbarek, an active member of the Yellow Movement, an initiative taken by students of School of Law of the Addis Ababa University and their lecturer on 2011 to engage in issues relating to the improvement of women and children rights in the country.

One of the biggest challenges researchers, activists and journalists face when it comes to GBV is the absence of official data Ruth Yitbarek, agrees and adds, "The only data that is available and it's being used by everyone is the data released by Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey program in 2016 or EDHS. This data relatively is the best available. However, data around the issue is still limited and there is a huge gap when it comes to data." This issue is highlighted by the lack of comprehensive data from the responsible institution that oversees the research and the implementation of pre-existing laws relating to the issue. Abebew Bogale, a researcher at the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth (MOWCA) told Addis Standard, "We have been conducting research and the collection of a comprehensive data that cover the type of offense and age of the victim among other needed categories is underway. We have almost finished gathering data from all regional states." But stressed that, "Until the data gathering process is finished we are not authorized to release the data."

The issue of data surrounding GBV has become the center for conversation in the public discourse. Social trends that were showing an increase of incidents of criminal activities categorized under GBV since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, led the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) to conduct a webinar on the matter. Panelists presented findings that suggested Addis Ababa, Amhara Regional State and Tigray Regional State has seen a rise in instances of sexual violence and other forms of violence categorized under GBV especially Child Marriage. The panelists also discussed the government's shortcoming of providing needed information and statistics, it outlined how the information that were released were retracted which led to spread of misleading information. They also discussed PM Abiy Ahmed's stating in parliament that GBV cases had seen a decrease, a statement that was opposing global and local social trends.

According to Tsion Molla, a Project Manager at Setaweet Movement, "It is hard to say that the number of callers increased due to COVID-19, because we only increased our efforts to promote the" Alegnta" Hotline service after the outbreak." Tsion added, "Instances of GBV is expected to rise during the pandemic, research and global trends indicate that there are multiple factors that can contribute to that rise."

Other challenges include: lack of awareness about issues that relate to women and children rights and discriminatory practices in the legal system. MoWCA is charged with designing strategies that follow up and evaluate the preparation of policies, legislations, development programs and projects by federal government organs to ensure that they give due considerations to women issues as well as undertaking studies that identify discriminatory practices, and following up their elimination. However, when the legal advisor of MoWCA's Women Affairs cluster, Dereje Tegyibelu was asked about efforts being done by the ministry to eliminate such practices he told Addis Standard, "The ministry's role is limited to an advisory role," a statement opposed to the proclamation that outlines the legal powers and duties of the ministry. The webinar conducted by SIHA suggested that the Ethiopian government has still not taken steps to strengthen the enforcement and implementation of laws against addressing the issue. An indication of how much of a priority is given to the issue. The webinar also discussed how discriminatory practices by law enforcement agencies and legal system that demand eye witness accounts for the complaint to be taken seriously is problematic, since it is a request difficult to secure in most GBV cases.

"One cannot discuss GBV without being introduced to child abuse" according to Ruth Yitbarek. "Child abuse is a vast issue. It could be physical, psychological or sexual. With that in consideration if the child is victimized with the motive being his/her gender it can be considered GBV." said Ruth while adding, "Patriarchy doesn't discriminate. It affects little boys too. This dismissive attitude comes from a place of deep rooted sexism. Imagine how finding data on GBV when it come to child abuse, it is no different. Now imagine that when it comes to violence against boys."

Lemlem Berhanu, a researcher at MoWCA and a member of the Women Advocacy Team at the ministry told Addis Standard, "Most cases of GBV can be categorized as child abuse in our country since they are registered in the form of child marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM)." When asked about efforts done by the ministry to address the issue she said, "We have child protection centers that are running 24 hours. We are also conducting research on the best way to address the issue." Data around child abuse is limited, inaccessible and unavailable at times, but a 2012 report published by the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences showed that in Addis Abeba alone 38.5% of children were abused, 29% by family members and 68% by people they knew. Since then the data available around the issue showed no clear sign of the issue slowing down, culminating in the recent prevalence of reports coming out suggesting that cases are on the rise that includes the retracted statement by the former Addis Ababa Women, Children and Youth bureau head.

Addis Standard succeeded after several attempts to get access to official data on registered complaints of instances of GBV from the Attorney General Office. The data show that numbers of registered cases saw a decline from 815 cases registered in 2011 Ethiopian Calendar (E.C) to 712 in the just concluded 2012 year of the Ethiopian Calendar (E.C). The data also show that 43 defendants were acquitted in 2011 E.C while the number dropped to 18 in 2012 E.C; 312 convictions were registered in 2011 E.C and 236 in 2012 E.C; 113 cases were closed due to absence of witnesses in 2011 E.C and 102 in 2012 E.C. The data concluded by showing that 347 cases from the concluded Ethiopian year, 2012, has been transferred to the 2013 E.C agenda.

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