As sundown approaches, the people in South-East Cameroon begin to wind down on their day. In some other parts of the country, The 9 – 5 workers get ready to escape the office. When it hits 5 o’clock they close up and go out. It usually means the beginning of a night market with women hawking and selling small goods by the roadside. In the northern regions, the business is not as bustling, the violence in the region has reduced the area to a refugee pandemic, still, people try to survive, and for the women after dark is a lot scarier than during the day
The UN documents cases of abuse and as of 2019 had documented only 1065 cases, a number viewed as a drop in the ocean for the region. Women and children have become soft targets due to the ongoing violence and displacement of people in the country. The women face the threat of sexual violence every day from civilians and uniformed men too. The lawlessness in the affected areas has resulted in a dangerous existence for women because the abusers know they would commit crimes and go unpunished. With the violence continuing in the war-torn areas, the sexual abuse has increased exponentially; between January and March of 2021, the UN documented 500 cases of rape and sexual assault in the North-West and South-West regions alone. They also recorded over 500cases of gender-based violence which included but wasn’t limited to forced marriages especially involving girl children. The UN reports that more than 30% of the cases involve children. In the regions where human rights have been eroded, women suffer the total absence of rights and are treated as commodities up for grabs.
Nkongho Christ Ayuk a gender-based violence case manager at a local humanitarian organization called “Reach Out”, was featured in an Aljazeera sponsored investigationon the issue. In an interview about the dire situation women facesheduly attributed it to the lawlessnessthe state had developed into. A local human rights advocate in Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, who asked not to be identified said this in the interview about the situation with uniformed men, “Girls and women will just be walking around; I have witnessed it, my daughter has witnessed it, you just see the uniformed people and they have their guns with them, and they are calling you. You are helpless, you are scared because they can just pull the trigger. So you approach them to hear what they are saying and it’s about ‘Oh you are beautiful,’ or they create a motive asking, ‘Where is your ID card?’ or something that will put you with them and they corner you – they do what they want to do with you”. A case of misuse of power and the feeling of danger even in the presence of the people meant to protect them.
The issue isn’t limited to regions in the country plagued by instability, but it is highly prevalent in those areas. It is really bad and keeps growing, even with the efforts of authorities and agencies like the UN Women and other NGOs. A suggested solution would be pursuing the restoration of peace and then the rule of law so that offenders can be adequately brought to law. The safety of women in society is paramount and should be ensured in maintaining a well-functioning environment which Cameroon aims to be.