British High Commissioner to Ghana Jon Benjamin delivered a speech at the launch of the Domestic Violence research report in Ghana.
Honourable Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur And – to save time – that wonderfully flexible phrase - All Protocols Observed
Good morning. I am pleased to be here today to support the launch of the Government of Ghana’s National Survey on Domestic Violence.
The UK has had a long-standing and productive relationship with the Government of Ghana to advance its gender equality agenda, and we salute the close working relationship we enjoy with the Honourable Minister and her Ministry colleagues in working to that end.
The UK is committed to addressing the root causes of gender inequality as a way of empowering girls and women now and for the future, enabling them to have voice, choice and control in their lives. Specifically, we are guided by four key pillars: firstly, that all girls complete primary and secondary education; secondly, universal sexual and reproductive health and rights for girls and women; thirdly, women and girls becoming economically empowered; and fourthly – and what brings us all here today – the notion that all girls and women should live free from violence.
Our current programmes in Ghana, led by our Department for International Development (DFID), strongly resonate with these pillars. Our vision is to positively change society’s negative perception of girls and women, thereby helping to unlock their potential. We hope that, through our collective efforts, this vision will be realised over time.
The underlying message here is simple: no society can ever fully develop, if half of that society suffers some degree of marginalisation and exclusion. And women are half of society, in fact a little more, and have the most basic of human rights to equal treatment with men in every aspect of life.
Within this overall approach towards gender equality, and particularly within the context of ending violence, tackling domestic violence has been one key area of our cooperation – and it should be: this is an appalling social problem, one too rarely publicly spoken about and too often, conversely, just swept under the carpet.
We are proud to have partnered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to commission this study, which provides data and analysis on the incidence, levels of acceptance, determinants and consequences of domestic violence in Ghana. The report also examines the effectiveness of the institutional support available to victims.
I understand that this report has truly been the culmination of several years of work involving a range of stakeholders. The UK Government is proud to have been part of this important journey. But the journey is not over, just because a report has been published, indeed it has barely started and continues after today with each one of us needing to be actively involved.
A key objective of the study is for the evidence generated to be used to advance legal, policy and programmatic interventions to reduce the levels of domestic violence. I hope we can collectively make this a reality. It may appear fanciful, in Ghana, in the UK, indeed anywhere, to think that we can reduce domestic violence to zero, or even very close to zero. But we should set that as our aim regardless. Right now, we can and should reduce domestic violence dramatically from where it is now, and as much as is realistically possible.
As you know, domestic violence is a prevalent form of violence against women and girls. There are, sadly, plenty of other areas of violence against women and girls to decry: we know for example that, despite the impressive commitment of the current Minister of Gender and others, the incidence of child marriage generally in Ghana and, in a few places within Ghana, of female genital mutilation remains too high.
We know of other reprehensible practices, too, that cry out for putting a stop to as well: for example, the taboos attached to widows and the mistreatment of them and some other women who are mentally ill and need care, but who instead are cast out of society as so-called ‘witches’ and even placed in so-called ‘witches camps’. I say so-called because, personally, I believe that here in the 21st Century it’s time to say that there is no such thing as a ‘witch’ and to decry the practice of misusing such a term to dehumanize and mistreat already very vulnerable women.
And returning to domestic violence – a term which refers to social, sexual, psychological violence as well as the physical violence commonly associated with the term – this study shows that it is still prevalent. This authoritative publication says that 30% of women and 20% of men experienced some form of domestic violence in the 12 months preceding the study. And the figures for the number of women experiencing physical or sexual violence are of great concern. And we must acknowledge that previous studies, albeit with different methodologies and demographics, have sometimes put those figures even higher.
Perhaps social taboos or the acceptance of some forms of violence, even wife-beating, as a social normal, or as an allegedly justified defence mechanism or as a legitimate way to resolve disputes mean that some people simply are too afraid to report, even anonymously, these forms of behaviour. We hope this discussion will encourage more victims of violence to do so.
Now, Ghana was of course only the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to put in place a Domestic Violence Act and that is eminently laudable.
One reason why so many countries struggle to have this sort of legislation passed is that too many parliaments are too full of men. We salute the female MPs of Ghana who, by their own admission, sometimes have to put up with real unpleasantness to compete in the macho world of politics. And we note the concerns that some female MPs in both the major parties have expressed to us that the percentage of women in Ghana’s parliament might even drop to below 10% in the elections at the end of this year.
But, once passed, laws have to be implemented – or they are just pieces of paper. So, this report is right to highlight the need for more effective implementation of the law, including firm sanctions against perpetrators, while encouraging an active role for influential men, such as traditional and religious leaders: they, too, also need to play a key part in combating these scourges, starting by stating loudly and publicly that these forms of violence are just plain wrong.
Women and girls are, as stated, not the only victims of domestic violence, but females of all ages are at much higher risk because of harmful gender norms that drive the abuse. The report being launched today confirms this, along with the finding that the health impacts of domestic violence on women and girls is more severe.
Along with this, violence more generally robs women and girls of their voice, choice and control over the decisions that impact their lives. This, in turn, undermines women and girls’ potential. It is therefore critical to understand the incidence of domestic violence, the attitudes driving the practice, and its consequences in order to be able to effectively prevent and respond to what should be called for what it is – namely, a grave human rights violation.
For the UK, tackling violence against women and girls is a high priority because it presents a major obstacle to ending gender inequality. It is clear that such violence impoverishes women, girls and their families, and can often marginalise them.
We simply cannot achieve sustainable and inclusive development while further marginalising people based on their gender. It is well established by now that the active and meaningful inclusion of all women and girls in all spheres of life – political, social and economic – remains critical to the development of a nation. The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals, to be achieved by 2030, clearly recognise that.
Violence against women and girls drains public resources, undermines human capital, and lowers economic productivity. Preventing it is so important in achieving better lives for not only individual women and girls, but for their families and societies as well.
The British Government has driven forward its commitment to do more to address violence against women and girls in recent years. Through our Department for International Development (DFID), we are working closely with the Government of Ghana, civil society organisations and other partners to address some of the risk factors of violence in a variety of sectors. Our ongoing programmes include:
• Our Girls’ PASS programme, worth £47 million, provides scholarship packages to 86,000 girls from deprived households at significant risk of dropping out of school. These scholarships enable girls to complete their cycle of secondary education.
. Our nearly £20m Adolescent Reproductive Health Programme in Brong Ahafo works with adolescent girls – and, importantly, boys – providing them with access to advice and health services to enable them to have more control over their sexual health and behaviour.
• Additionally, our Complementary Basic Education programme, worth £18 million, targets out of school children, including girls, and provides them with a second chance at education.
• Lastly, we have a new programme which will focus on preventing violence against adolescent girls. In particular, the programme seeks to tackle the harmful social norms that drive domestic other forms of violence.
In addition to collaborating with the Ministry of Gender to provide support to the domestic violence research which we are launching today, the UK is also funding a three-year study that seeks to measure the economic and social costs of violence against women and girls in three countries including Ghana. It is clear, most especially from the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women that took place earlier this year, that the availability of data on domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls remains critical, particularly if member states are to track progress towards achieving the relevant Sustainable Development Goal.
This research is therefore so very timely. We congratulate those who worked so hard and diligently to put it together. They have made a real contribution towards understanding and tackling this deplorable phenomenon.
I would like to end by congratulating the Minister and her Ministry for their leadership, commitment and guidance on this study, and for bringing us all here today for the launch. I trust the rich knowledge in this room will be used to its full extent as we take forward the recommendations outlined in the report in the coming months and years to make domestic violence, and all forms of violence against women and girls, firmly a thing of the past.