The Intrinsic Links: Violence Against Women, Poverty and Impunity

She was pulled by the hair and dragged out from a dark alley, just off the boardwalk in Mumbai’s famous Colaba district. In the light from the sparkling interior of one of India’s finest hotels and across from the monumentous Gateway of India, this woman was beat, kicked and yelled at by a man, who might or might not have been her husband. This poverty-stricken woman was dirty from the street and her child came running, crying from a distance for his mother. A handful of spectators stopped to see what was happening, and a policeman stood and watched. My parents, who happened to be there at that time, were struck by the paralyzing indifference of the audience. My father, a foreigner, started to shout and approach the man, making the policeman finally take action. He took out his baton and beat the man to the ground. The show was over.

For a short minute, this violence was uncovered and we were given a glimpse of a hidden, global epidemic.

In the darkest of alleyways, in communal slum bathrooms, in the corrugated tin hut a girl calls home, on the way to school, in the long walk to fetch water, in the bondage of a dark, hot factory, and in the tent of the refugee camps, violence rages and destroys all efforts of women and girls to prosper and have hope.

Violence against women and girls is far from a matter only affecting those living in poverty. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described violence against women as a global health problem of epidemic proportions. 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide will be affected by violence, most often by the hands or bodies of an intimate partner.


Impunity, the exemption from punishment of a crime, is one of the largest problems of the global epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Impunity has been raised by the United Nations as one of the main factors of the raging rape levels used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to terrorize communities and keep families living in fear.

For women and girls living in poverty (in places of “peace”), justice is a light they don’t have the wealth to see. Impunity is one of the main problems hindering development for the world’s poor. Crimes against those living in poverty are crimes that often go unpunished. Law enforcement does not work for the world’s bottom billion.

How can we achieve “development” if the work we do to ensure education, health, and economic empowerment is impaired and held back by this plague of violence?

This is exactly what Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros new book, The Locust Effect, is about. Through reports from individuals, families and entire societies in poverty, they uncover a hidden plague of violence, that is holding a tight grip on their everyday lives. So, why is it called The Locust Effect?

We must continue to raise our voices and work to end violence against women and girls, that is a weapon of war – even in the places where there is “peace”.

Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic and the violence becomes more rampant for those living in poverty. Nevertheless, there are no targets to end violence in the Millennium Development Goals. Goal 3 only specifies that, violence against women continues to undermine efforts to reach all goals.

For us to see a world where girls are able to finish school, where childbirth is safe, where children grow up healthy and young people have the knowledge, resources and services to live the lives they choose to live, for us to ensure that the investments we make in development are sustainable, we must eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

In the Post-2015 agenda, let’s ensure that the world unites with the common priority to end violence against women and girls. It is a plague that affects us all, and we all have the responsibility to raise our voices and intervene. Let us not become paralyzed spectators at the sidelines of ensuring human rights and development. Instead, let’s take action and make our common goal echo across the world, into the darkest of places, and light them up with justice for all.

Take action and urge the UN to protect the poor from violence, and to include targets to eliminating violence against women and girls in the new development goals.

Don’t miss the Twitter chat on ending everyday violence, hosted by Girls’ Globe and International Justice Mission tomorrow, Friday, February 7, 1-2 pm EST. Join using #LocustEffect and #EverydayVAW.

Featured image: A family in a Kolkata slum. United Nations

Violence against women and girls: Business as usual is not enough

This week, we at Girls’ Globe are raising awareness about every-day violence against women and girls. Earlier this week, Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission published The Locust Effect, a book that paints a shameful picture of the lives of millions of poor people to whom experiencing violence is more a rule than an exception.

Though it’s clear that the road to a violence-free world remains long and that progress is currently too slow and too uneven, a lot is still happening in every corner of the world. Identifying promising interventions and celebrating success is important, and leveraging programs that have potential for scale-up and replication is crucial for sustainable progress on the road towards a violence-free world. At Girls’ Globe, we celebrate innovation and out-of-the box ways to deal with challenges that girls and women face around the world – and violence against women and girls is most definitely a challenge that needs to be tackled from all angles, and with innovative approaches.

We need innovation, because business as usual is simply not enough anymore. We need new tools, new programs, new players, new messages – because what we are doing now is not working well enough, or fast enough.

So how do we innovate to end violence against girls and women? Many organizations are using new technologies to end violence and increase women’s and girls’ safety. Platforms such as HarassMap, launched in Egypt in 2011, allow women and girls to report incidences of violence which are geotagged, helping users to identify hotspots for violence. Last year, the World Bank organized a hackathon in Kathmandu to create mobile applications to end gender-based violence. Similar hackathon was also organized to address domestic violence in Central America. Technology can be used to share messages that promote social and normative change, to allow women to report incidences of violence, and access information on what their rights are and where to get help.

Photo courtesy of UN Women/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

Non-technology based innovations are equally, if not more, important. Many poor people still lack access to ICTs, and therefore non-technology innovations are crucial for ensuring that progress reaches the most poor and most marginalized. Every year, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women provides grants to organizations around the world working on ending violence against women and girls. Last year, grants were given to Grassroot Soccer in South Africa, an organization using soccer and sports as a way to foster girls’ empowerment; a project in Fiji that included establishing mobile health clinics to provide improved access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and sexual assault counseling and referral services; and a project in India that aims to change prevailing accepting attitudes towards violence against women and girls through a multi-pronged approach involving use of media, community mobilization and leadership training – among others. Many of the funded projects also address the issue of weak or non-existent laws or insufficient implementation and enforcement of laws – a topic that is covered in detail in The Locust Effect.

Violence puts at risk all other aspects of women’s and girls’ lives – their health, their education, their independence, their income, their ability to made decisions and participate in their communities, their empowerment – their life. It is clear that there is no silver bullet to this problem, no magical solution, no one size fits all model – but what is also clear is that it takes all of us to change the reality that millions of women and girls face every day: A reality filled with violence and fear. Change starts from the grassroots, from awareness that turns into action, and we each have a role to play. YOU can start by finding ways to volunteer in your community; by speaking and standing up against violence everywhere; and by visiting The Locust Effect to learn more  about the universal plague of violence and about what you can do to help. Time to think outside the box and step up the efforts – there is simply no more time to waste.

GG IJM Twitter Chat

Featured image courtesy of Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

How Violence Plagues the Poor

“The locusts of everyday violence have been allowed to swarm unabated in the developing world. And they are laying waste to the hope of the poor.”
– Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros in their new book, The Locust Effect

At the International Justice Mission, we come face to face every day with the reality that poor people are vulnerable to violence. Globally, the facts are stunning. Nearly 30 million children, women and men are held as forced labor slaves. One in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape – and sexual violence makes everyday activities like going to school, gathering water, using a communal restroom or taking public transport dangerous.

The truth is that 4 billion people  – that most of the world’s poorest people – live in places where their justice systems don’t or can’t protect them from these kinds of “everyday violence.”

We, at the International Justice Mission just put together this unforgettable video that shows what the world is up against as we work together to help our poorest neighbors.  You won’t want to miss the powerful moment at 1:48 – – our fight against poverty is worth safeguarding.

Everyday Violence Against Women- Join the Conversation

Tomorrow, (Feb. 3rd) the founder of one of Girls’ Globe’s Featured Organizations, Gary Haugen (of the International Justice Mission– IJM), is releasing a new book called The Locust Effect. The book emphasizes the necessity of ending everyday violence if we want to eventually see the end of poverty. As I read through The Locust Effect and Gary’s recounts of people he and those at IJM have encountered in the field who have experienced extreme forms of violence, I am filled with a mix of emotions- mostly sadness, anger, and disbelief. At the same time, I am relieved a book such as this will engage new audiences and inform readers on the debilitating realities of everyday violence.

This week, the Girls’ Globe blogging team will be raising their voices in a conversation about everyday violence, and more specifically, everyday violence against women. Today, to kick-start the conversation, I want to talk about everyday violence and how far reaching its effects are specifically, on women and girls. In The Locust Effect, everyday violence is defined as violent acts (like rape, physical abuse, and trafficking) that have become common, routine, and relentless. We often hear on the news, stories of war-torn countries and the extreme forms of violence civilians encounter, but what we often don’t hear about (and what The Locust Effect points out) are the extreme forms of violence that aren’t tied to a war or conflict, but are simply tied to every day life in seemingly “peaceful” countries. Unfortunately, those who suffer most from the realities of everyday violence are women and girls.

Because everyday violence occurs so regularly, in so many and often rural areas of the world, many instances go unreported. Even in cases that are reported, often, little is done as a consequence or preventative measure, due to lacking legal services and law enforcement (a significant issue The Locust Effect delves into). This also makes it difficult to fully comprehend the size and extent of the problem. However, the World Health Organization estimates

1 out of every 3 women globally, has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.

I am deeply troubled by this statistic. We see so many programs and initiatives run by credible, outstanding organizations focused on increasing access to healthcare, education, and resources in developing countries, but what seems to fly under the radar, is the stark reality and impact of everyday violence. If a girl can’t walk to school because of the likelihood of being raped or sexually assaulted, what good is the school to her? If a woman can’t run her small business because of the physical and mental implications of domestic abuse, what good is a micro-credit program to her?

Violence seems to be at the forefront of many hindrances to development, especially for women and girls.

I don’t believe there is a simple solution to this problem, but I do believe it needs to start with a conversation. Awareness is the first step toward change.

On Friday (Feb. 7th) Girls’ Globe will be co-hosting a Twitter chat with IJM to discuss everyday violence against women and The Locust Effect. Please raise your voice and join us using #EverydayVAW and #LocustEffect.

GG IJM Twitter Chat