Expanding to Sub-Saharan Africa
By: Laura Wilson
November 6th, 2019
Your support has always given us flexibility to explore new partnerships and innovative ways of addressing violence against women. This fall, we are thrilled that you helped us expand our work to Sub-Saharan Africa through visits to Ethiopia and Gabon.
In October, Global Rights for Women worked in Gabon at the invitation of the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation that supports initiatives for women and youth. GRW CEO Cheryl Thomas had met several of the Foundation’s staff at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada in May. Gabon currently has no specific laws to protect women from gender-based violence and hold perpetrators accountable, but the Sylvia Bongo Foundation is determined to change that.
During her visit, Cheryl visited one of Gabon’s few women’s shelters and spoke with a woman, who we will call “Grace,” about her experience fleeing domestic violence. Grace’s abusive husband, a police officer, would beat her and lock her in the home during the day. Because of his position of power and the lack of legal protections for women in Gabon, the shelter offered Grace’s only chance of escape.
Cheryl met with a steering committee that is leading the effort to review and amend the law to better protect women like Grace. The steering committee, comprised of a judge, a lawyer, a parlimentarian, and NGO representatives, were eager to learn more about international best practices in responding to violence against women. Cheryl also had a chance to consult with a law firm hired by the Foundation to review Gabon’s laws in comparison with human rights standards.
After leaving Gabon, Cheryl headed to Ethiopia for a conference on essential services for responding to violence against women, sponsored by the United Nations Office on Women. She was met in Ethiopia by Lori Flohaug, one of GRW’s expert judicial trainers, who currently practices criminal law and previously served as a prosecutor and tribal court judge. Over five days, Cheryl and Lori worked with members of Ethiopia’s National Coordinating Body (NCB) on best practices in coordinated, multi-sectoral responses to violence against women and girls. GRW was invited to facilitate this workshop in part because of our role in writing the UN’s essential services package module on Coordination.
During their workshop, Cheryl and Lori were impressed by the passion that NCB members brought to addressing the widespread and deeply entrenched problem of violence against women in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has no specific domestic violence law, martial rape is not a crime, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation remain common in some areas of the country. During the conference, Cheryl was asked to address another room of about 100 mostly male judges and prosecutors, who were having a heated debate over whether marital rape should be criminalized. Cheryl described the international human rights obligations that require protection of women’s sexual autonomy and safety. She gave a vital counterpoint to one man’s argument that the law should not interfere with private family life: women’s lives often take place in private, behind closed doors, where they are most likely to become victims of violence. She was later thanked by the few female members of the audience.
At the close of the conference, GRW was invited to submit a proposal to return to Ethiopia to work with women’s advocates on developing best practices for individual and systemic advocacy. We eagerly await this opportunity, and we are eternally grateful that your support has made it possible for us to forge new partnerships to work towards ending violence against women in Ethiopia and Gabon.