This year, the annual 16 Days Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign is observed under the theme “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape!”. This campaign is carried out to pool advocacy efforts towards combatting gender-based violence (GBV) and address specific issues which frustrate the realization of a world free of violence which targets women.
Women and girls have traditionally been victims of sexual harassment and rape in times of peace as well as in times of war. This is rooted in the practice of patriarchy which has designed roles and situations which serve to keep women in a place of subordination and inequality. This practice has also contributed gravely to the vulnerability of young girls and women which are constantly being taken advantage of through sexual and other forms of GBV. Consequently, women can become victims of rape irrespective of the fact that they are free or in prison detention.
Detention does not strip persons of their fundamental human rights which always have to be upheld and protected. This however does not diminish the risks which women in detention face. The United Nations Bangkok Rules on women offenders and prisoners recognizes that women prisoners are at particularly high risk of rape, sexual assault and humiliation in prison[i]. In Cameroon like in places with similar prison systems and conditions, women in detention face sexual violence and exploitation because of the deplorable conditions existing in prisons. To survive these harsh conditions women in prison are forced to undergo these acts from prison officials and fellow prisoners which amounts to discrimination strongly condemned by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Apart from overcrowding and underfunding of prisons in Cameroon[ii], there are no female only prisons. All prisons are mixed and according to the World Prison Brief [iii], the female prisoners in Cameroon made up only 2.7% of the prison population in 2017, making them a target for sexual violence. An article by Le Relais Enfants-Parents du Cameroun (REPCAM)[iv] an association of social workers who mediate between women prisoners and their children, provides that 80% percent of the women in detention were between the ages of 20 and 30.
Women in incarceration also undergo systematic patterns of GBV and thus should not be left out on any initiatives which aim to curb and end GBV. The 16 Days Activism campaign is for the plight of women all over the world with no exception. Being in prison specifically affects women because they suffer more from the stigma associated with being a prisoner; their particularity, needs and rights as women are not specifically taken into consideration. And they face heightened risks of violence and discrimination of any kind. From information gathered by REPCAM in 2012, women were even punished more severely for the same crimes committed by their male counterparts, making it seem like they were not allowed to make mistakes[v].
This year, the 16 Days Activism against Gender Based violence as well as the International Human Rights Day focuses on youth and how they can be part of the solution to common problems. Contra Nocendi International appreciates this initiative and advocates for inclusive participation of women and girls in detention to understand the challenges they face and seek to find better ways to protect and promote their human rights while in detention. The campaign is coming to an end, but the fight is not nearly over. Let us continue to stand against rape and sexual violence for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.
[i] The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (2010)
[ii] Aurora Moreno Alcojor (2017). The stigma of being a prisoner, a woman and a mother in Cameroon. The Equal Times. Available at https://www.equaltimes.org/the-stigma-of-being-a-prisoner-a?lang=en#.Xe6AIfwo_IU
[iv] REPCAM (2012). Les Femmes et la Prison au Cameroun, Le Regard du REPCAM. Available at http://relaisenfantsparentscameroun.over-blog.com/article-les-femmes-et-la-prison-au-cameroun-le-regard-du-repcam-101684666.html