Prioritise protection of girls in current economic crisis – AWLA Ghana tells stakeholders

The African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) has placed an urgent call for the protection of girls at a time when Ghana is facing an economic crisis, thereby making adolescents more vulnerable to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

According to the Executive Director of AWLA, Edna Kuma, the current cost of living is a serious red flag that calls for increased measures towards the protection of girls.

The non-governmental organization’s call came on the heels of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which ran from November 25 through December 10 2022.

“The current economic challenges that manifest in rising inflation and high cost of living has increased the vulnerability of young girls and women to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Ghana. As a women right’s organization in Ghana, AWLA is cautioning that the current economic downturn which is further increasing inequality and poverty may lead to an unprecedented rise in SGBV unless all stakeholders take action to avert this undesirable situation, the women’s rights group emphasised.

“In view of the above, we entreat parents and community stakeholders to increase their efforts and actions against SGBV as many poor girls and young women are likely to become victims of the crisis.”

While making reference to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, including sexual violence against girls and teenage pregnancy, AWLA believes that if proper strategies are not designed to protect girls, the current price hikes Ghana is facing are a potential threat to their development. Ms Kuma added that this is because they’re easily influenced by financial inducement.

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“We are guided by the COVID-19 pandemic which took the world by surprise and contributed to unprecedented cases of SGBV globally, including Ghana. In particular, the school lockdowns induced by the pandemic partly accounted for high teenage pregnancy and child marriage, and school-dropout cases across Ghana. But for the school lockdowns, teachers could have contributed to better protection of these girls.

“As a result, parents, religious groups, teachers and other relevant local actors must increase their vigilance, particularly over young girls who may become more susceptible to sexual violence in these difficult times. They are likely to fall prey to abusers due to monetary inducements, and may not be able to report the abuses they suffer due to economic and other factors.”

Meanwhile, the AWLA in a statement signed by its executive director, Edna Kuma has appealed to the government to, as a matter of urgency, ensure that the ‘Domestic Violence Support Fund (DV Fund) is fully operationalised by releasing funds to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection in order to offer the needed help to victims.

“This will ensure that survivors of domestic violence receive medical care, and are able to secure signed medical reports, which form the basis for seeking justice for the abuses they suffer.”

“We should not be oblivious to the fact that justice for survivors will serve as a deterrent for abusers and reduce violence against women in line with Ghana’s quest for gender equality, and sustainable development.,” the statement added.

In a related development, the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) has expressed gratitude to Oxfam, Ghana and its EU partners’ Enough project that has invested in the fight against SGBV.

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According to them, the funding support received from the Enough! project has empowered AWLA as it successfully “mobilized and sensitised thousands of parents, community stakeholders and basic school pupils who are participating in actions against SGBV in Techiman South and Kintampo North Municipalities in Bono East District of Ghana.”

As part of activities under the Enough! project, school clubs have been established and “trained on various mechanisms meant to better counter the SGBV menace. Peer educators have also been formed and empowered in 40 basic schools.”

Through this initiative, about 500 adolescent girls, including SGBV survivors were identified and supported in various ways, including the provision of sanitary pads to them.

“School-based girl child facilitators (female teachers) have similarly been supported to develop and adopt SGBV action plans, leading to constant SGBV sensitization and monitoring in over 40 basic schools and communities in Techiman South and Kintampo North.”

However, AWLA says there should be more investment to effectively deal with SGBV, “, particularly in the face of the deteriorating economic situation the country faces currently.”

By Sefakor Fekpe