SEATTLE — Two USAID initiatives dedicated to women’s empowerment in Benin are working to address the country’s two most critical issues: gender-based violence and the educational equality gap.
According to a report by the Academy for Educational Development (AED), gender-based violence is a global problem that causes more poor health and death than a great deal of many other physical and psychological maladies combined. Moreover, studies have shown that in developing African countries such as Benin, gender-based violence acts as a perpetuating factor of the educational gap.
Benin has perpetually ranked poorly on Gender Equality Indices determined by the U.N. and similar organizations and has historically had one of the largest educational gaps in the world. Initiatives dedicated to women’s empowerment through education in Benin have ameliorated the gender gap, witnessing a 9 percent increase in female enrollment between 1997 and 2001 alone.
Despite this encouraging progress, however, gender-based violence in schools remains an obstacle to increased female enrollment. Sexual violence and harassment of schoolgirls is a direct cause of underachievement, dropout, damage to physical and psychological health, early and unintended pregnancies and STI transmission, including HIV/AIDS.
Research conducted by the AED on the prevalence of gender-based violence in schools in developing African countries has revealed that sexual abuse of schoolgirls is pervasive and institutionalized, in that perpetrators often go unpunished for their crimes.
While schoolgirls are common targets, gender-based violence affects women and girls across the age and social strata in Benin. A survey conducted by the Benin Ministry of Family and National Solidarity in 2009 found that up to 70 percent of women and girls in Benin have experienced some form of gender-based violence, including physical abuse, rape, trafficking and female genital cutting.
USAID plays a critical role in women’s empowerment in Benin through two key initiatives seeking to address gender-based violence against Beninese women and girls, and therefore the educational equality gap. The organization’s central initiative is EMPOWER II, which encompasses a wide range of projects that include:
- Providing funds that strengthen the ability of local and national service organizations to provide emergency assistance to victims of gender-based violence.
- Providing funds for the establishment of centers dedicated to the complete care of victims of gender-based violence in regional hospitals. These centers offer medical, psychosocial and justice services all in one place.
- Promoting the understanding and application of new anti-gender-based violence laws by magistrates.
- Promoting the public awareness of negative consequences of child marriage, and the way gender-based violence affects women and girls with disabilities.
USAID’s second key initiative is the Vi-Kanxixo Project (Women Protecting Girls), which empowers women community leaders involved with Mothers’ Associations to protect school-aged girls from gender-based violence. Mothers’ Associations are education-focused community-based women’s groups whose creation was encouraged by USAID organizations.
These two initiatives are believed to have helped prompt the Beninese government to enact new legislation related to the issue, including a 2012 law that greatly enhances the protection of women. The parliament additionally released a 2010-2014 National Action Plan for combating gender-based violence.
Reducing gender-based violence is key to women’s empowerment in Benin. In addition to promoting the safety and security of women, eliminating gender-based violence in Benin will remove a major roadblock to increased female educational access. USAID’s efforts related to women’s empowerment in Benin have resulted in promising progress so far.
– Savannah Bequeaith