May 14, 2010

Batwa: Africa's Batwa Women 'Face Daily Discrimination'

Active ImageNew Research shows high rates of violence against women from Africa’s indigenous Batwa community.
Below is an article published by

Africa’s indigenous Batwa women experience shocking levels of violence, with in some cases 100 percent of women saying they had faced an incident of violence, new research by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) shows.

In a study conducted in Uganda, 100 percent of the women interviewed said they experienced violence and for the majority the violence was ongoing, a report by MRG, Uncounted: the hidden lives of Batwa women, says.

Of the women interviewed in Uganda for the research, 57 per cent had been sexually abused at some time in their lives, with 46 per cent having suffered marital rape.

’The Batwa are the first peoples of central Africa, but now they are forced to live on the margins of society, facing daily discrimination,’ said Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG. ‘For Batwa women, the problems are doubled, including denial of education and the toll of habitual violence.’

The Batwa are the original inhabitants of the equatorial forests of Africa’s Great Lakes region. There are no official statistics of their population except in Uganda, but there are an estimated 160,000 people living in Rwanda, Burundi, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

The MRG report is based on four research projects by local organisations; two on violence against women conducted in Uganda and Rwanda and two on girls’ education conducted in Burundi and the DRC.

‘For too long, the Batwa in Uganda have been evicted from their ancestral lands,’ says Penninah Zaninka of the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda. ‘Accordingly the Batwa suffer extreme poverty and Batwa women become more vulnerable to abuse. Until there is official recognition of the problems Batwa women face, their suffering will increase.’

The perception amongst Batwa women is that they suffer violence more than women in other communities. Sixty one percent of the women interviewed for the survey in Rwanda said the level of violence against Batwa women is greater than against other women.

The causes for the violence varied between the respondents. A majority of Batwa women in Rwanda felt that extreme poverty was the main factor for the violence.

The study which focused on girls’ education in Burundi and the DRC found that in both these countries Batwa boys are twice as likely to attend school as girls and at the national level Batwa girls have half of the opportunities to go to school as girls from other communities.

The drop-out rate of Batwa girls is twice that of Batwa boys in Burundi and in the DRC only 39 percent of Batwa children attended schools.

In both countries the causes for the limited access to education of Batwa children were similar – poverty, attitude of parents towards education and early marriage.

The report recommends that governments in the region acknowledge the need for disaggregated data by gender and ethnicity. A pre-requisite for this is that governments recognise the diversity of the population and acknowledge the existence of minorities and indigenous people.