Delegates from around Africa Wednesday began a three-day colloquium, seeking to break a pervasive wall of silence on endless acts of violence committed every day against women and children in their countries.
Violence against women and children, particularly girls, occurs in multiple forms and would require strategies aiming at multiple levels and multiple stakeholders to bring it to an end, according to studies by UN agencies.
“We need to put more emphasis on institutionalization of mechanisms to prevent violence against women and children at the same time as we provide the much-needed support to the victims,” UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, Bjorn Ljungqvist, told the meeting whose participants include senior government officials, NGOs and leaders of civil society organizations.
Pointing out that Africa seemed to top the world statistics on violence against women, girls and children, Ljungqvist suggested that the best way forward should be through open and inclusive dialogue on how traditional values and systems could help strengthen legal systems and structures.
The opening ceremony featured was accompanied by the launch of a UN publication ‘From Invisible to Indivisible’, as a follow-up to the UN Study on Violence against Children, 2007.
Violence against children, whether physical, psychological or sexual, is a gross violation of fundamental human rights, the study underlines, noting the pervasiveness of such violence as a global phenomenon that too often occurs in a range of settings that should be protecting children.
The first colloquium, held in November 2006 in South Africa, focused on legal provisions and reinforcement mechanisms.
At this year’s conference, attention and discussions are on Africa’s traditional justice systems, which, despite their usefulness in supporting the principals of human dignity as well as family and social values, were undermined by colonialism and racism.
“African countries were victimized by a wrong paradigm to law and development, a paradigm which believed that Africa would develop only if it imported laws from the Western countries,” said Ethiopia’s Justice Minister Assefa Kesito.
“The adoption of codes based on Western values, however, did not bring about development as desired. It weakened our values, which we could have nourished. “This process of modernisation by transplantation disrupted the development of indigenous customary law and traditional governance systems,” he said.
A fundamental aspect of gender-based violence against women, the UN study observes, “is that the violence is used in cultures around the world as a way to both p reserve and maintain women’s subordinate status vis-à-vis men”.
According to Kesito, the issue is to accept that traditional justice systems prevail in parallel to formal legal systems and that such systems should be studied in light of enriching the formal justice systems.
“What we can do is to try to look into traditional justice systems and mechanisms with a clear frame of mind that would lead us to focus on positive aspects … and get committed to learning from the informal system and understanding folkways and traditional mechanisms,” he added.