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The Cameroonian women tackling Gender-Based Violence

March 14, 2024
topic:Women's rights
tags:#Cameroon, #women's rights, #gender-based violence
by:Regobert Manigha
About 48,800 women and girls were killed worldwide by their intimate partners or other family members in 2022. Here is how they tackle this crisis in Cameroon.

Editor's notes: This article contains references to sexual violence that may be triggering for some readers.

Gender-based violence, a long-standing issue in Cameroon, has been exacerbated by the ongoing crisis in the country's two English-speaking regions over the past eight years. But in the face of sluggish governmental action, aid organisations and legal advocates are stepping up efforts to reverse this trend.

A bird's eye-view of the crisis

Cameroon is one of 186 countries out of 193 that have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The Central African nation is among the 162 countries that have enacted laws against domestic violence globally. However, according to the UN Women's Facts and Figures on Ending Violence Against Women report, in 2022, roughly 48,800 women and girls across the world (including in Cameroon) were killed by their intimate partners or other family members.

Women at the crossroads of ongoing war

Article 12 of the preamble of Cameroon's 1972  Constitution, which was revised in 2008, "affirms to all citizens including women, a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances." Under no circumstances, the constitution states, "shall any person be subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment." Unfortunately, this does not reflect the reality on the ground.

In 2018, Arthur Mbida, a uniformed officer in the Cameroonian military, was reprimanded by the Bamenda Military Tribunal for raping a 17-year-old lactating mother whom he detained at a checkpoint for not having an identification document. 

Meanwhile, four to six members of the military are currently serving 10-year sentences for fatally shooting two women and two children in Zelevet, a locality in Far North Cameroon, in 2015.

On 29 September, 2019, an amateur video went viral on Cameroonian social media depicting a gang of at least nine men torturing and subsequently murdering a woman.

The late Comfort Tumasang, aged 35, met a similar tragic fate when she was brutally murdered in Muyuka, South West Cameroon, in August 2020. Sources indicated to FairPlanet that separatist fighters accused her of collaborating with members of the regular army.

These incidents corroborate a 12 July, 2022 publication by the Nkafu Policy Institute, a Cameroon-based NGO that focuses on policy development, which states that "there has been a dramatic increase in sexual violence and assault cases towards women in the North and the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon."

It further notes that "the main perpetrators of the attacks are armed separatists, military personnel and civilians." 

Since 2016, children and women have been the primary victims of sexual violence amid the conflict in Cameroon, leading to widespread displacement and harm. The the Nkafu Policy Institute highlights, however, highlights that GBV existed in Cameroon prior to the eruption of this current crisis and occurs even in areas where "guns are silent."

Who tackls GBV? 

A legal aid clinic, operating as a humanitarian branch of the International Federation for Female Lawyers (FIDA), is providing relief to some of the affected victims.

"We had long identified violence as the cradle of the developmental problems women and girls face, and that violence is deeply rooted in patriarchal norms and unbalanced power relations," Barrister Gladys Fri Mbuya, Cameroon Country Vice National President of FIDA, told FairPlanet.

The women's rights defender added, "Our offices in Bamenda and Mutengene in the Northwest and Southwest regions are open to all victims.

At the legal aid clinic, Mbuya said, FIDA educates victims about their rights, ensuring they understand that no one, including a husband, has the right to violate them. They proceed by filing a complaint against the perpetrator, lodging it either at the state counsel’s chambers or with the Judicial Police. They then follow up on the complaint and represent the survivor in court.

The clinic also conducts media and community awareness campaigns on women's rights, emphasising the repercussions of violence and the critical need to end violence against women and girls.

Mbuya emphasised that despite the limitations present in Cameroon's legal texts, they urge prosecutors to leverage the numerous human rights laws ratified by the state of Cameroon when addressing cases of human rights abuse.

But navigating the law can be complex, she explained, due to discrepancies like the different legal marriage ages for girls and boys, the absence of a comprehensive legal framework for protecting victims of violence, the lack of a specific law on gender-based violence (GBV) and discriminatory clauses in the legislation. For instance, a husband is permitted to stop his wife from working if deemed in the family's interest, but the wife does not have a reciprocal right regarding her husband's employment.

The DataGirl Initiative, based in Buea, Southwest Cameroon, is another entity supporting GBV victims in the country by equipping them with vital digital skills. 

"We started up in 2020 with the aim to reach out to at least 3,000 girls a year, but have struggled to [do so]," said Selma Ndi Ekfvei, CEO of DataGirl.

They operate a scholarship scheme, she added, shaped by the grants they receive from their partners, which allows them to sponsor girls and offer subsidised training during periods of limited funding. They operate an application portal and utilise their social media channels to organise events, network with partners and invite Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and university girls to our Tech cohorts every six weeks, where they equip them with IT skills.

Ekfvei argued that the tech world "leads the girls to financial and economic independence and consequently keeps them safe from warlords and crime mongers in the crisis." 

Another notable local initiative confronting the crisis is the Buea-based Women’s Guild for Empowerment and Development.

Beatrice Titang, the founder and CEO of the NGO, told FairPlant: "We have been fighting for women since 2019 with a special attention on human trafficking and slavery, which has been accentuated by the crisis since 2017. We witnessed the return of the Cameroonian girls trafficked to Kuwait."

Since 2019, the NGO has been working to empowering returnees, IDPs and victims of GBV in their community by providing them with funds to launch small businesses for improved livelihoods, Titang said.

She further stated that they have supported over 200 women and girls, some of whom returned to school during the crisis, obtaining their FSLC and acquiring literacy skills. This effort reached its apex between 2018 and 2021, a period further intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titang shared that her initiative operates on a community-led basis, functioning similarly to community caregivers, with onsite humanitarian training provided to volunteers.

What stands in the way of women's rights activism? 

Titang from the Women's Guild for Empowerment and Development shared that they face significant challenges in conducting case follow-ups with victims, as many individuals affected by rape, trafficking and slavery are hesitant to come forward because of stigma.

She added their efforts are further challenged by limited funding, which at the moment mostly depends on voluntary donations. But despite these obstacles, Titang said, she and her team remain committed to their cause and have no plans to stop their efforts.

Meanwhile, Mbuya from FIDA shared: "We are always ready to assist survivors to the logical end of prosecution, but, unfortunately [...] somewhere mid-stream family members will convince the survivor to withdraw the case, describing it as a family matter. We overcome these challenges by being very clear about our objectives and using best examples to convince communities about the importance of eradicating repugnant customs and ending violence." 

Ekfvei from DataGirl also points to meager means and widespread stigma as some of the major obstacles to success. "Our vision is to train at least 3,000 girls in tech fields before the close of every year, [but] we can only manage to impact 500 due to poverty and gender-bias in the job world," she lamented. 

But like her peers in the filed, Ekfvei is determined to push on with their advocacy work. 

"Our big Women in Tech Seminar ran from 26-28 February in Yaounde, and we gathered 5,000 young girls to raise awareness of their potential in this field. We will continue this fight."

Image by Kreative Krame.

Article written by:
Manigha Regobert Yuh. Reporter.
Regobert Manigha
Selma Ndi, CEO at DataGirl.
© Regobert Manigha
Selma Ndi, CEO at DataGirl.
Gladys Fri Mbuya, Cameroon Country Vice National President of FIDA.
Gladys Fri Mbuya, Cameroon Country Vice National President of FIDA.