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RENATA's 'aunties' tackle sexual abuse in Cameroon

A long-standing volunteer army raises awareness and wants more government action to fight an endemic problem in the central African country.

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RENATA's 'aunties' tackle sexual abuse in Cameroon

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Downtown Yaounde in Cameroon, and a group of people are heading out to raise awareness about sexual abuse.

The organisation RENATA which began in 2005 now has more than 20,000 female volunteers. A few years ago it estimated that nearly one in every 20 women in the central African country had been raped.

Charnelle Lumière once tried to take her own life because of the abuse she’d suffered.

Now she’s one of RENATA’s “aunties”, trying to help people avoid the same experiences.

“Most often when rape happens in the family circle it’s difficult for someone to talk about it because the family members will say — this is a family issue and it shouldn’t be discussed with outsiders. It’s better for the family members to try and fix it. Most often the family goes into an agreement with the aggressor without the knowledge of the victim. The victim herself is abandoned,” she said.

The aunties trawl Yaounde’s streets including its red-light district.

Cameroon’s government says it’s trying to toughen laws on sexual abuse – but RENATA officials say many cases of rape simply go unreported or don’t get much attention.

“Government really needs to make laws and be consistent in punishing people who continue to perpetrate this but you also need to care about the victims. We provide more support to victims by maybe supporting organisations like RENATA,” said the organisation’s co-founder Flavien Ndonko

With more than 350 groups around the country, RENATA reaches many people in Cameroon and is able to distribute free contraceptives.

It is funded largely by German development agency GIZ, but some of its revenue from US sources is under threat because of a change of policy by the Trump administration. The president’s order reinstates a global gag that bans US-funded groups from discussing abortion.