A recent report released by the government of The Gambia has revealed that over sixty percent of Gambian women who endure abuse do not help in stopping it, a rather disappointing disclosure following decades of activism by government and civil society organisations in the country.
The 2013 Gambia Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS), released on September 29 in Banjul by the Gambia Bureau of Statistics, and launched by The Gambia’s health minister, Omar Sey, on behalf of the finance minister, Abdou Colley, stated that forty percent of abused women neither tell anyone nor seek help.
“It is not common for women in The Gambia to seek assistance from any source for violence they have experienced. Only 38 percent of abused women help to stop the violence. Overall, only 38 percent of women sought help from any source to stop the violence. Forty percent never sought help and never told anyone, while 13 percent never sought help but told someone that they were victims of violence,” the report revealed.
“Domestic violence continues to be a problem in The Gambia despite the ongoing efforts undertaken by the government of The Gambia and civil society organisations. Challenges include a culture where survivors suffer in silence, constrained factors such as fear of reprisal, unequal power relations, stigma, discrimination, and undue pressure from family and friends, especially if the perpetrator is a family member. As a result, most cases of violence against women, especially those occurring at home (wife beating, incest) go unreported.
“Forty-one percent of women age 15- 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15, and 10 percent experienced physical violence within the 12 months prior to the survey. Five percent of women age 15-49 report having experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Overall, about one in four ever-married women (26 percent) report having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence from their spouse, and 12 percent report having experienced one or more of these forms of violence in the past 12 months. Among ever-married women who had experienced spousal violence (physical or sexual) in the past 12 months, 24 percent reported experiencing physical injuries.”
The Standard newspaper conducted a vox-populi randomly with thirty married women in different settlements in the West Coast region and the Kanifing Municipality on whether a man has any justified ground to beat his wife and 17 said “no” while the remaining 13 said “yes”.
Hawa Manneh, 35, a residence of Kunkujang Keitaya, said “it is not correct to beat your wife- it can lead to certain injuries to the body which may affect her health status” but she, however, said she was “once beaten by my husband”.
Similar views were shared by Isatou Cham, 52, from Busumbala who said wife battering is unlawful “even in Islam”, and Bintou Fatty, 27, also from Busumbala, and 14 other female interviewees.
Fatty said “any man who loves his wife will not beat her” but though acknowledged that she was “once beaten by my husband- we had a misunderstanding over some financial issues”.
However, the remaining 13 said men could beat their wives on justifications such as going out without the permission from your husband and disobeying your husband.
Mariama Manneh, 28, Kunkujang Keitaya, holds the view that “husbands can beat their wives if they fail to adhere to what they (husbands) tell them”.
This view was shared by other interviewees such as, Fatoumata Bojang, 22, from Brikama Wellingara, Ida Manneh, 34, Farato, Fatoumata Sanyang, 49,Latrikunda and others.
Mariama Janneh, 20, from Brikama Wellingara, also said: “At times wife battering is normally the fault of the wife not the husband. If you disrespect your husband or refused anything he orders you to do, he will beat you.
Meanwhile, The Gambia government officials have, During the Sixty-first session of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, held by the UN body from 6-24 July this year, submitted numerous recorded cases of gender base violence.
The government’s replies in relation to the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the country revealed that the Department of Social Welfare have recorded 15 Sexual Violence cases, 6 Physical Violence cases and 8 Emotional/Psychological (forced marriage, 1 early marriage, 2 domestic Violence cases).
Their statistics also revealed that Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital recorded 30 cases including physical and sexual violence; Ministry of Justice recorded 20 cases of Sexual Violence (rape and defilement); Female Lawyers Association Gambia recorded 6 cases including physical and emotional, 1 successfully Prosecuted, 5 withdrawn; Serrekunda Hospital recorded 9 Sexual Violence, 9 Physical Violence (1 against a man); Police Gender & Child Welfare Unit recorded 13 rape cases, 2 attempted rape cases, 1 indecent assault case, 5 defilement of girls under 16 years of age: 19 of the cases are children under 18 years; 9 are below 11 years; 10 are between 11 & 16 years; 2 are adults — 18 and 19 years.
The Government has though argued that the over one thousand figure that the department of social welfare has recorded in relations to gender based violence from 2010 suggested that the culture of silence with regards to the menace has been broken.
“The Department of Social Welfare through the focal person for GBV (Gender based violence) reported that 1,195 cases of GBV have been recorded from 2010 to date which is higher than before,” the government replies stated.
“These data are a good indication of the awareness on GBV and the positive responds of the general public to eradicate it, which is a break of the culture of silence.”