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Key findings
  • São Toméans see gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address.
  • More than half (52%) of São Toméans say GBV is “somewhat common” or “very common” in their community.
  • About eight in 10 citizens (81%) say it is “never” justified for a man to use physical force to discipline his wife, a view shared equally by men and women.
  • Almost six in 10 respondents consider it “somewhat likely” (29%) or “very likely” (29%) that a woman will be criticised, harassed, or shamed if she reports gender-based violence to the authorities. Only 24% say this is “very unlikely.” But most (85%) believe that the police are likely to take cases of GBV seriously.
  • A large majority (81%) of respondents believe GBV should be treated as a criminal matter that involves law enforcement agencies rather than as a private matter to be resolved within the family.

São Tomé and Príncipe, an idyllic ecotourism destination in the Gulf of Guinea, is no refuge from a threat to the safety of women and girls everywhere – gender-based violence (GBV). More than one-fourth (28%) of São Toméan women aged 15-49 have experienced intimate- partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once (UN Women, 2023; Instituto Nacional de Estatística, 2010), often resulting in severe injuries (Observador, 2023). It was the story of a woman whose arm was severed by her husband in a domestic dispute that sent shockwaves across the island in 2007 and galvanised activists and policy makers, leading to laws against domestic violence (Martins & Corminales, 2022).

In addition to São Tomé and Príncipe’s ratification of international treaties and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, national laws seek to prevent and criminalise violence against women and girls. The country has also updated its national strategy to combat gender-based violence and established a counselling centre against domestic violence and an emergency hotline to support domestic violence victims through its Office of Women’s Affairs (Albuquerque & Camblé, 2020; Plataforma, 2021).

GBV persists despite these efforts, enabled by factors such as cultural norms, difficult economic conditions, limited awareness of available resources, and ineffective enforcement of existing laws (White, 2017; Albuquerque & Camblé, 2020; OHCHR, 2023; U.S. Department of State, 2022). Reported cases increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns (Carlos, 2022; Plataforma, 2023), though many other cases of GBV go unreported due to fear of retaliation and other socio-cultural norms surrounding family, divorce, and women’s autonomy (White, 2017; Albuquerque & Camblé, 2020).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender- based violence.

In São Tomé and Príncipe, citizens consider gender-based violence the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address. A majority of respondents say GBV is common in their community, even though most consider it “never justified” for a man to use physical force to discipline his wife.

Citizens believe that GBV should be treated as a criminal rather than a family matter, and they trust the police to take such cases seriously. But a majority also think that women who report such crimes to the authorities are likely to face stigmatisation by community members.

Maame Akua Amoah Twum

Maame is the communications coordinator for North and Anglophone West Africa at Afrobarometer

Francisca Sarpong Owusu

Francisca Sarpong Owusu is an assistant research analyst at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development.