Recently, CAEPA Cameroon, and NGO based in Bamenda, Cameroon’s northwest, has conducted a voluntary, non-compensated survey of 320 women. The purpose of the survey was to assess how much awareness exists toward VaW, whether women know their rights when it comes to reporting incidents, as well as what the general consensus is toward VaW in the region. The questionnaire consisted of thirty-three (33) questions, most of which were in Yes/No/n/a format, though some questions required a short answer.
Out of 320 women surveyed, about 88% (281) have heard of violence against women, and 55% of all women surveyed (176) have been a victim of such assault. Furthermore, about 86% of the women surveyed believed that sexual intercourse without consent is considered a violation on their womanhood. It is interesting to note that out of 14% of women who did not agree that lack of consent was a violation to their womanhood, only 6% believed consent was not at all needed, while 8% of the respondents did not have an opinion.
Out of 320 women surveyed, 100% answered Yes to being a victim of violence. About 40% (128) reported being assaulted between the ages of 1-15, 29% between the ages of 16-25, 24% between the ages of 26-45, and 6% age 46 and above. Many women surveyed reported have been a victim of or a witness to numerous types of assault, including general assault (beating), coercion, early and forced marriage, being forced into harmful practices, public shaming and humiliation, intimate partner violence, murder, prostitution, rape, social isolation, severe verbal abuse, sexual harassment, spousal abuse, and trafficking.
When asked about the perpetrators, 62% (199) of the women survey reported being abused by their husbands, while 28% (89) reported being abused by their boyfriends. One in four women also reported being abused by one or both parents, and one in three married women have been abused by their in-laws. All 320 women reported being abused not only by close family and other relatives, but also by law enforcement officers, bosses, as well as hooligans.
While most abuse victims reported the incidents to a friend (35%) or a relative (42%), others confided in social workers, husbands, pastors, social workers, and police. It is interesting to note that out of 320 women surveyed, only 2.5% (8) reported to police officers. This alone is indicative of the patriarchal roots on which regional traditions and customs are based upon. Traditions in which men hold more power than women. Traditions in which women are scared to report abuse out of fear for being marginalised and publicly humiliated.
From the survey, it is also evident that women are abused from early childhood, throughout their adult life, and even in their senior years. The abusers are people who, under normal circumstances, would protect and shelter them - their husbands, boyfriends, parents, and in-laws. Instead, women in Cameroon's Northwest communities live in a constant state of fear. Article 18 of the Cameroonian Constitution states that “The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the right of the women and the child as stipulated in international declaration and conventions.” Everyday verbal and physical abuse, sexual exploitation, public shaming and isolation, and other forms of discrimination against women in Cameroon’s Northwest region clearly demonstrate that traditions rooted in misogyny take precedent over the book of law.
Non-government organisations (NGOs) such as CAEPA Cameroon continue to fight for women’s right and to educate women on how to become independent and self-reliant. This is done through vocational training (agriculture, farming, environment protection), education (use of technology, accounting, entrepreneurship classes), healthcare (voluntary HIV/AIDS screening and education about safe sex practices), counselling, and community outreach programs.
Violence against women is a serious and growing problem in Cameroon’s Northwest region. In addition to gender stereotyping rooted deeply in tradition and folklore, the situation has been exacerbated by the influx of internally displaced people (IDPs), poverty, unemployment, disease, and other factors brought about by the in-fighting and corruption. We must protect women and children by providing early intervention, ease of reporting, access to counselling and healthcare, but also by educating the perpetrators and would-be perpetrators on equality and women’s rights. It is an uphill battle, but one that can be overcome with time if enough resources are put into place.