16Days: The Male Champion in Me

When we talk about gender-based violence, people still think that it’s a woman’s responsibility to spearhead advocacy movements. Men are often the perpetrators of GBV, and so it’s very important that men stand up as advocates.

Today, we reach the end of the 2018 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

Violence against women has recently taken on new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.
We need to have ‘male action groups’ consisting of young men and boys from all walks of life – rich, poor, from urban or rural communities, black and white. Groups must be formed or strengthened to raise awareness of positive fatherhood, and to educate community members about healthier and more equitable behaviors for men and women.
Investing in empowering male peer educators and male champions of change to prevent GBV can go a long way in communities that are deeply influenced by cultural and traditional norms.

There is urgent need for community members to hold each other accountable with women and men working together for greater gender equality.

During one of the community dialogues conducted by Peer To Peer Uganda in Buyende District, Uganda, one of the male champions explained how cultural norms, myths and misconceptions discourage gender equality and equity in his community.

To tackle this, male champions are empowered and equipped with information, so that they in turn can sensitize communities about sexual and reproductive health issues.
Today in Uganda, alcohol and drug substance abuse are among the leading cause of domestic violence in homes. Ineffective laws also pose a big challenge to the fight against gender-based violence. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of gender-based violence. For example, none of these laws criminalize marital rape.
Men and women – including boys and girls both in and out of school – must be reached with knowledge and information on gender-based violence. Health facilities, local leaders, police, policy makers and government need to work together to put an end to GBV, and creating male champions will play a critical role in stamping out GBV in our communities.

Teenage Girls in Argentina Deserve Better

As multilateral organizations continue to research sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America, I’ve been learning many sad truths about my country.

This year, we learned that Argentina’s teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). It’s estimated that 109,000 teenagers and 3,000 girls under 15 years old give birth to a child every year. These numbers make up 15% of annual births in the country.

Most of these pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted. UNFPA’s latest study, The Power of Choice, shows that Argentina’s maternal mortality rates are also much higher than in the rest of this region. For every 100,000 births per country, 52 mothers die in Argentina, 44 in Brazil, 22 in Chile and 15 in Uruguay.

The results of this study have strengthened the call for inclusive sexual education, accessible contraceptives and the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina. 

Adolescent maternity rates are higher in communities living in poverty, where girls are also less likely to go to school or have access to healthcare and contraceptives. When a girl gets pregnant at an early age, she’s very unlikely to continue her studies, which perpetuates a circle of poverty for the girl and her family. She’s also less likely to survive the pregnancy and the birth.

Earlier this month, a 13-year-old girl had a baby in the Chaco province in northeast Argentina, where poverty and early maternity rates are among the highest in the country (according to UNICEF more than half of children under 17 years old in Chaco were living in poverty in 2016).

Her name has been kept secret, but her living conditions have shocked the country. She was malnourished, anaemic and had pneumonia, yet never received treatment for any of these conditions. She was living with an older man, her boyfriend, and wasn’t going to school.

When her 20-year-old aunt took her to the hospital for a fever, they discovered she was 28 weeks pregnant. The fact that this girl was pregnant for 7 months without knowing it…it’s hard to imagine how neglected she was. She had to have a C-section because of her extremely weak condition. The baby lived only a few hours, and the girl died less than a week later.

So many things went wrong for her.

The health system in the province went beyond failing her, because it didn’t even know she existed until it was too late. She didn’t have family to take care of her and the system did nothing. Her health was gravely deteriorating and the system did nothing. She was in an abusive situation and the system did nothing.

Her story breaks my heart. And it hurts me even more to know that she’s not the only one living like this and won’t be the last to end up like this. She deserved better. All of them deserve better. 

Health Care Workers Matter for Gender Based Violence

It was 10:30 pm on a Monday night.

After a long day at work, I was preparing to go to bed. I usually read before I go to sleep and I’d been trying to finish one book for ages but other things kept coming up. I hoped and prayed tonight would be the night, but the universe had other plans – as always.

My cell phone beeped: “Doctor, it’s an emergency.’’ 

I flung myself out of the bed and tried to reach the hospital as quickly as I could. The patient was a married 27-year-old woman who had sustained major injuries after accidentally burning herself while cooking.

“60 percentage burn,” I deduced, after taking the patient’s history and a physical assessment. But somewhere inside, I knew this wasn’t an accident and I felt sure there was more to the story.

I started with the patient’s family members. Unsurprisingly, upon enquiry they maintained their stance and kept trying to convince me that their daughter-in-law burned herself while preparing the meal for the family. I decided to talk in confidence with the victim, but she was hesitant to break her silence too.

One day, over the course of providing her with routine care, the woman broke down into tears and alleged that her in-laws had set her on fire for dowry.

In a country like Nepal, speaking out about gender-based violence (GBV) is exceptionally difficult because of the shame, stigma and pressure from families and communities preventing victims from reporting abuse and seeking appropriate services.

Victims are often afraid of disclosing or reporting violence because of the consequences they fear will follow.

In turn, silence can aggravate the situation for survivors, leaving them with prolonged mental and physical suffering.

Nepal has a very high incidence of gender-based violence. And while everyone – regardless of gender – can be affected, women remain the main victims. It is difficult to understand the gravity of GBV in Nepal as many of these cases go unreported due to the silence maintained by victims and perpetrators.

GBV remains one of the most rigorous challenges to women’s health and well-being. It can take many different forms, like physical, sexual, emotional or psychological. The causes of gender based violence are multi-dimensional, and include social, political, economic, cultural and religious factors.

Dealing with survivors of GBV can be a very challenging and sensitive task; starting from acknowledging and identifying the violence to asking relevant questions, without being too intrusive or judgmental at all.

Like me, a wide range of health professionals are likely to come into contact with individuals who have experienced GBV. Health workers are in a unique position to help and heal the survivors of GBV, provided they have the knowledge to recognize the signs. Most of the time, health professionals are likely to be the first point of contact for GBV victims.

But are we, as health workers, equipped with the necessary skills to deal with GBV?

While staff and facilities play a key role in health delivery systems for GBV victims, their efforts will have limited impact unless there are specific policies on the issue of GBV to guide the integration of the response to GBV into health care.

One important approach is to specify the role of health care professionals, and to provide guidance and tools. For instance, the World Health Organization has developed guidelines for in-service training of health care providers on intimate partner and sexual violence against women, specifically. The guidelines are based on systematic reviews of evidence, and cover:

• identification and clinical care for intimate partner violence
• clinical care for sexual assault
• training relating to intimate partner violence and sexual assault against women
• policy and programmatic approaches to delivering services
• mandatory reporting of intimate partner violence

The guidelines aim to raise awareness of violence against women among health-care providers and policy-makers, so that they better understand the need for an appropriate health-sector response. They provide standards that can form the basis for national guidelines, and for integrating these issues into health-care provider education.

Sensitizing staff and building their skills on how to recognize and respond to GBV is crucial. Ensuring that services follow human rights-based and gender specific approaches, and are guided at all times by the preferences, rights and dignity of the victim, is important.

Providing adequate infrastructure to ensure the patient’s privacy, safety and confidentiality is also essential. This can be done by providing a private room for consultations, requiring that consultations are held without presence of a partner, putting in place a system for keeping records confidential or giving instructions to staff on explaining legal limits of confidentiality, if any.

Not only are health workers the ones to fix a fracture or heal a burn injury, they can also play the role of advocate by speaking up against injustice in the course of providing routine care.

Health professionals can also assist victims by making them aware of the counselling and legal services available, which is often a part of the recovery process. Gaining the trust of victims is important in this scenario. Community health care workers and midwives, who are often the most trusted members of societies, can use their power to reach women and vulnerable groups to encourage them to break their silence, and to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives.

The role of health professionals goes beyond simply treating and healing a survivor of gender bases violence – we can empower them, too.

Real-World Things You Can Do During 16 Days of Activism

November 25th begins 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We now have 16 days to speak up in a world that is readier to listen than ever before.

Gender-based violence has many faces and is experienced in many contexts with varying degrees of severity.

It happens most mornings to a garment worker in Lesotho who is coerced into sex with the security guard in order to pass through the factory gates. It happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the South Delhi student raped and tortured on a moving bus in 2012, later dying from her injuries. It is still happening to a 12-year-old in Niger living in fear of a man twice her age to whom she is married against her will.

While many examples are graphic and extreme, gender-based violence can also be subtle and pervasive.

It’s there in the story of the woman choosing a longer walk home from work to avoid the catcaller loitering near her apartment. It haunts the girl who panics after saying “no” to a guy who perceives her refusal as ‘playing hard to get.’ It includes the countless women who have felt forced to compromise their integrity or moral compass to advance their careers, whether on the big screen, in the boardroom, or on Capitol Hill.

As a global community, we are constantly learning about beliefs and behaviors that contribute to gender-based violence. At one point in time, the kind of behavior that would trigger the response ‘boys will be boys’ was considered acceptable; now, it is a societal norm we are unwilling to tolerate.

16 Days of Activism started as an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University and has grown into a global movement. Iconic buildings including the Parliament in Bangladesh, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai will all be illuminated in orange to express their solidarity.

You can share the 16 Days of Activism campaign with your digital community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But we need more than hashtags. Outside of the digital sphere, here are real-world things you can do to make a difference during 16 Days of Activism 2018:

Update your wardrobe. Clothes that are no longer needed in your life could make a huge difference in someone else’s. Several organizations exist to support women in achieving economic independence, break the cycle of poverty, and strengthen communities. Dress for Success has drop-off locations across the world, or you could search for a local organization accepting donations.

Support migrant women affected by the border crisis. Thousands of immigrants are deeply impacted by the border crisis exacerbated so cruelly by American officials. Organizations providing hospitality to new immigrants, asylum seekers and reunited families that have been separated in recent months welcome your support. Annunciation House, a trusted long time shelter in El Paso, Texas, is specifically requesting donations that will enable them to purchase feminine hygiene products for the hundreds of girls and women lucky enough to rest briefly and find human kindness there.

If you’re in the USA, call your members of Congress. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is set to run out of funding again, on December 7th. There was a major debate in Congress over the last reauthorization in 2013 – primarily over a provision to extend the law’s coverage to Native American women, immigrants, and LGBTQ women. It was ultimately given new life and signed by President Obama, but 138 Republican members of Congress voted against the reauthorization. Call your Representative and urge them to fight for a stronger VAWA.

Donate. There are literally thousands of organizations, locally, nationally, and globally, that are doing vital work to help stop gender-based violence. For example, WomenStrong International works with its partner in Kenya to support Community Action Groups against gender-based violence. In the US, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has served as a voice for millions of women, men, and children who have endured abuse for more than 25 years. All of these organizations depend on the support of people like you and me to keep their doors open.

Make time to make the difference. Giving your time is one of the most meaningful ways to impact the world. You can receive training to support someone in crisis with programs such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can support safe reproductive health services by volunteering for Planned Parenthood, or you could get involved in the movement to end street harassment by getting involved with your local Hollaback chapter.

WomenStrong learns from local Community Action Group in Kisumu, Kenya