“They’re going to exterminate us”

Cécile Moutouba marched with a knife in one hand, a stick in the other. She said her husband has used both against her.

Moutouba was among some 100 women who recently walked for more than 2km, their hands on their heads (a sign of mourning), in the Chadian town of Guelendeng, 153km from the capital N’djamena.

In what some Chadians said was a rare public demonstration, the women marched to protest violent acts committed by men on their wives.

“They’re going to exterminate us,” said Habiba Abanga, who said she was recently stabbed by her husband.

In the past eight months at least two women were killed by their spouses in Guelendeng, according to women participating in the march. They said many women were seriously hurt by their husbands in the same period in the region. In N’djamena in November a man killed his wife and her mother.

“A psychosis is setting in,” said Larlem Marie, coordinator of the Chadian Fundamental Liberties Association, who participated in the Guelendeng demonstration. “The women of Guelendeng have said ‘enough is enough’.”

Women's groups in N'djamena were recently denied authorisation by the government to hold a march in the capital, members of the groups told IRIN.

Fighting impunity

Larnem and several other women said Chadian society must tackle impunity. There are laws prohibiting domestic violence in Chad “but regrettably, they are not applied”, Larlem said.

Women must continue pushing the problem to the forefront, she said. “We could have mobilised more women [for the Guelendeng march] but fear blocked many from coming out. But we think it is a good first step and that next time it will be easier to mobilise people.”

She added: “Women must mobilise to defend their rights. No one is going to do it for them.”

Forced marriage

Women demonstrating in Guelendeng said forced early marriage was one significant driver of domestic violence.

Women at the march spoke of a 12-year-old girl in Guelendeng who recently tried to kill herself when family members ignored her pleas against a forced marriage to a 60-year-old man.

To combat domestic violence in Chad is to come up against centuries-old norms that tolerate violence against women, forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, according to representatives of some rights groups and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is participating in awareness campaigns in Chad aimed at eliminating harmful customs.

In its latest world population report UNFPA said culture must be integrated into development policy, but cultural sensitivity did not mean acceptance of injurious practices.

“No cultural values abide oppression,” UNFPA representative for Senegal Suzanne Maïga Konaté said at the 19 December launch of the report in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Geneviève Nakiri, head of a Chadian coalition of women’s groups, CELIAF, told IRIN violence against women is largely due to “the weight of socio-cultural norms in Chad". 

''...No cultural values abide oppression...''

But one woman who marched in Guelendeng, who preferred anonymity, said the violence cannot be attributed only to culture. “We all know that there are good and bad aspects of all cultures. But in Chad several other factors feed this violence, including population displacements and extreme poverty.”

Solkem Alhascari, who works with a humanitarian NGO in Chad, said another major cause is the increasing number of women working as traders to make money for the household. This becomes a source of jealousy and frustration for the men, women in N'djamena told IRIN. Alhascari also pointed to an increase in alcohol consumption.

Nakiri and other women said that while violence against women has existed for a long time, it is clearly on the rise. And while sticks and whips used to be the primary weapons, now stabbings are more common. Nakiri said no official figures were available but the increase is plain to see, and parallels a rise in overall insecurity in and around N’djamena. “It is very difficult to find statistics,” she said. “But we women live this. It is visible everywhere, every day.”

Alhascari told IRIN that two days after the Guelendeng demonstration, one man whose wife had participated had her arrested by a traditional chief.