Eradicating Violence – My Community’s Story

When it comes to the fight against violence against women and girls, it’s quite safe to say that in my community we haven’t won yet. However, we are making progress, and this progress is due to the dedication of Village Health Workers (VHW).

Aside from offering health care, VHWs are instrumental in advocating for the abolishment of violence against women. I understand that women the world over face violence in so many forms, and that the problems women in my community are facing are mirrored in challenges women face globally.

It’s how we’re tackling gender-based violence in my community that makes us unique.

Royden-Nyabira in Mashonaland West province is located 50km from the capital city of Zimbabwe – Harare. We do not have a dedicated organization in my community working to end GBV, however, that has not incapacitated us from tackling the issue.

Village Health Workers are the ones who have taken up the advocacy as well the policing role in the fight to eliminate violence against women. VHWs act as the eyes and ears of the village and work with law enforcement agents and the Ministry of Health – which has resulted in a sizeable number of cases of GBV being reported.

There are still a lot of men who are resistant to change and continue resorting to violence as a means of solving family disputes. However, we do not tire because this is a fight which we must win. My community’s strategy has always been  simple and realistic – VHWs educate community members through conversation and discussion.

It’s perfect for us because there is room for everyone to interact and ask questions, while VHWs have the opportunity to answer and clarify things. There is a lot of information about GBV available online, but people in my community are very poor and cannot afford to buy data to access information on the internet.

By circulating information through word of mouth everyone has the opportunity to learn – even those who can’t read or write or access the internet – and so the possibility of leaving anyone behind is reduced.

Utilisation of what we have available is what makes us a unique community. Oral education has had a positive impact so far, and the community’s attitudes to GBV has changed – as evidenced by the reduction of GBV cases. Our Village Health Worker’s commitment to ending GBV has not been in vain.

On top of everything else, VHWs voluntarily conduct a door-to-door operation to engage with residents. This has helped victims of violence to come out of their silence and tell their stories in safety. The method itself has helped build trust between the health worker and the victim because without trust it’s difficult to convince victims to share their stories.

VHWs work on voluntary basis and are very committed. Their opinion on gender based violence is that it is an abuse of human rights and a health care emergency, which means that when reacting to reported cases of violence, they treat no case as an afterthought.

This door-to-door process is time-consuming but it is effective, as evidenced by the community’s growing understanding of what GBV is and the implications it has on the well-being of victims and the community as a whole. In my community, we believe everyone has a role to play in ending gender-based violence. If we can’t do it for the present then surely we have to do it for our future generations.

I believe that if people are willing and committed to the fight to end violence against women, we can and will be successful. We can and will reach Goal 5.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals so that by 2030, there will be elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

This is a very ambitious target, but it’s achievable if everyone joins in.

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.

We Can End Gender-Based Violence Through Education

For over 25 years, the 16 Days of Activism campaign has pursued its mission to prevent and end gender-based violence (GBV) in all forms, and demand gender equality across the world. This year, Girl Up Initiative Uganda joins the rest of the world by advocating to put an end to gender-based violence in our schools, homes, and communities.

In Uganda today, over half (56%) of young women and girls – aged 15-24 years – have experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime. GBV is a result of unequal balance of gendered power and can manifest in physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence. It is the most common type of violence that women and girls experience worldwide, and it can have a devastating impact on their mental and physical well-being.

GBV is a widespread challenge facing the health and well-being of adolescent girls in Uganda. It affects girls’ ability to focus and excel in school. In addition, there are limited, if any, safe places in Kampala for victimized girls to go, so the safety and security of girls experiencing GBV cannot be guaranteed. Our team recently counselled and supported two girls, Charity and Judith (pseudonyms). 

Charity and Judith are two adolescent girls living with their uncle in Kampala. He started sexually assaulting them on a daily basis. The girls did not talk to anyone about what was going on because their aunt told them that this was a way to repay him for his kindness. During one of our engagements with the girls, Charity explained the situation to her teacher. She told her that when her aunt was previously confronted by another one of her teachers, her aunt fled to another residential area. The girls are now left to stay alone with their uncle.

Sexual abuse cases like these are extremely difficult to solve. Given that Uganda has signed and ratified international conventions protecting women and children from violence – the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the girls’ uncle could be charged in court with child defilement. However, the girls’ safety is at risk if they report because they will likely stay with him during the court proceedings. Even if he were to be convicted of a crime, they will have no place to live if their only relative is gone.  

We are advocating for safe homes for survivors of violence to be established at every regional police station. Girl Up Initiative Uganda is also working closely with the Child Protection Unit of the local police to find solutions to cases of violence experienced by our girls. In the coming years, if nothing changes at the national level, we aim to open a Girl Up Uganda Center to serve as a temporary shelter for girls. In the meantime, we will continue to teach our girls about their rights as enshrined in national and international laws, and how they can be peer educators in spreading their knowledge to their friends and family members.  

Participating in advocacy campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is another key avenue for spreading our messages, especially to girls outside the formal education system, so that all can fully exercise their potential and contribute to social change.

This year, we are planning the following activities for the 16 Days Campaign:

  • A girl-led advocacy march through the community with placard information; to engage community members (especially men) in conversations about supporting girls and their right to an education, while putting an end to gender-based violence.
  • A celebration of the 240 girls that are graduating from our 2017 Adolescent Girls Program.
  • On November 30th from 5pm-6pm (EAT), Girl Up Initiative Uganda will be hosting a Twitter Chat. Join us and share your views on how best we can reduce gender-based violence in education!

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence provides a platform to speak to key stakeholders about policy changes we would like to for gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and girls’ right to an education. During this campaign, Girl Up Initiative Uganda calls on the government and other key stakeholders to:

  • Promote girls’ education by providing girl-friendly school environments 
  • Improve the availability of and access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services for girls and women
  • Establish capacity-building trainings for local police and Child Protection Units to build their skills on how to address issues of GBV

Together, we can end gender-based violence in education and make schools safer and more secure for adolescent girls!

How You Can Help End Violence Against Women

Anyone who’s been watching the news lately is finding it impossible to ignore a very painful, destructive reality: one in three women worldwide face gender-based violence at some point in their lives.

Based on what CARE has seen over almost 75 years working with women and girls in the world’s most vulnerable communities, we know that in some contexts – especially humanitarian crises – that staggering number is even higher.

In emergency contexts where social networks are lost or strained, women and girls too often become targets of violence and abuse – like sexual violence as a weapon of war, exploitation and harassment as refugees, domestic violence and abuse,  and child marriage in the upheaval of displacement.  And when it comes to the assistance that impacts them, they are frequently kept out of the decision-making process.

But we also know that’s not the end of the story. While women and girls disproportionately face violence, they also are often the key to their families’ survival. We’ve seen over and over that in emergencies, women embody strength,  perseverance, and resilience. Faced with the horrors of war or the devastation of natural disaster, women hold families and communities together, carrying children to safety and keeping them fed, and rebuilding shattered lives as refugees in a new land if they are unable to return home.

Women are also their own best advocates. Women and girls everywhere are fighting for safety, opportunity, and a say in their futures. This year, in preparation for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, CARE Action (CARE’s advocacy arm) is standing with the women and girls who are championing their own rights and keeping their communities together in the face of terrible atrocities, and calling special attention to gender-based violence in emergencies.

From November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (Human Rights Day), CARE Action will be taking part in this global campaign that brings together people across hundreds of organizations and nearly every country in the world, all with one mission – to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence everywhere. We’re working together, stepping up advocacy efforts and promoting policies to eradicate pervasive and rampant violence against women including domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual assault, trafficking, psychological abuse, honor killings, child and forced marriage and pervasive gender-based harassment.

The statistics surrounding GBV are staggering and we’ll be highlighting them throughout the 16 Days:

  • At least one in three women and one in five men worldwide will experience GBV
  • As many as 35 percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lives
  • At least one in three women will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused and in most cases, the abuser is part of her family
  • 15 million girls will be married before the age of 18 every year

CARE will also be amplifying stories of the grit and resilience of women like Gambo and Hadja, who fled extreme violence in Northern Nigeria and took refuge in Niger with nothing but the clothes on their backs. With a few blankets, some netting and basic supplies, they’re making a life for themselves and their children. Or women like Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for CARE DRC who wrote about the under-staffed health centers in the DRC’s Kasai province, where a recent survey indicates that more than 1,400 survivors of sexual violence – mostly between the ages of 12 and 17 years old – have accessed services in the past year.

Finally, we’ll be urging action through the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. This legislation would strengthen U.S. leadership and empower women and girls in the fight against gender-based violence. There’s so much we all can do to help stop the injustice. Supporting IVAWA is one of them.

To join us in our campaign and lend your voice…

  1. Follow CARE Action on Facebook and Twitter
  2. Check out careaction.org
  3. If you’re in the US, sign our petition and share using the hashtag #16Days…
  4. …and tag your Members of Congress on Facebook and Twitter and urge them to support and pass IVAWA

The scourge of gender-based violence is global problem that we all can and must help to solve. 16 Days of Activism is an opportunity to educate yourself, educate your communities, and take meaningful action. Join us!

A Men’s Issue

On Monday, December 7, Vital Voices hosted their annual Voices of Solidarity awards to honor five men “who have shown courage and compassion in advocating on behalf of women and girls in the United States and around the world.” The five honorees were Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former peacekeeper and diplomat; Gary Barker, founder of Promundo and global leader in engaging men to prevent violence against women; Sadou Lemankreo, a police officer and human rights defender in Cameroon; John Prendergast, activist and author working to support women survivors of conflict in Africa; and Tom Wilson, chairman and CEO of The Allstate Corporation.

The five honorees have impressive experience working to empower women and engage men to change their attitudes and behaviors towards women. They are rightly honored for their work and should be held as models for how men should act worldwide. But my thoughts on the event, and the issue of violence against women in general, can be summed up with six words from Cindy Dyer early in the night:

“Violence against women is a men’s issue” Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Human Rights, Vital Voices

When I looked around the room on Monday night, it was filled with an overwhelming majority of women. This gender imbalance has been the norm in my experience of attending similar events and herein lays the problem; women, who are victims and allies to victims of male violence, bravely come together while the perpetrators are disengaged from the conversation. This needs to change.

Violence against women stems from a daunting web of social norms, patriarchy, power dynamics, greed and injustice. For example, rape is used as a weapon of war and justice systems around the world drastically vary in their efficiency. With these larger structural barriers in the mix, can one individual make a difference in these issues? The answer is yes.

Dyer and Barker acknowledged the many men who would never hurt a woman and are champions for equality in the workplace and the home. However, when these men remain silent or refrain from participating in gender equality conversations, their actions (or inactions) have an impact. Speaking on her experiences with female victims, Dyer said that the “silence of male leaders speaks louder than women’s actions.” Men can be tremendous activists in the fight to end violence against women by actively taking a stance against the injustice.

So, to the men who believe in gender equality and justice, but are possibly unsure about how to engage in this conversation, I’m here to say: speak up! As a woman I welcome your voice to this discussion! A few conversation starters are below based on my own experiences and reported successes from the Vital Voices event this week.

Men, how can you get involved?

  • Ask questions: do you feel safe walking down the street? What resources are available for women who have experienced violence? Speak with the women in your life and ask about their experience.
  • Share news articles. Use the news as a way to start the conversation, learn about the nuances of the issues and take a stance.
  • Be a mentor. Young boys who witness violence growing up are more likely to exhibit those behaviors as an adult. As a positive influence in a young boy’s life, you can have a lasting change.

Women, how can we engage the men in our life?

  • Speak openly with the men you trust. For example, if you experience harassment in the workplace, debrief with a trusted male friend.
  • Invite your male friends to any conferences or events you attend on issues related to violence against women. Let’s get more men at the table.

As the 16 days of activism to end gender based violence comes to a close, I challenge you to speak with the people closest to you about the atrocities committed against women every day. It is time to end the silence surrounding violence against women and hold men accountable for their actions.

This post is part of Girls’ Globe’s #16Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Post series. Learn more about the #16Days campaign here, and join the discussion on social media with #16Days.

Photo Credit: Holly Curtis

 

I Am Fine

When two sisters are beaten for refusing to marry–at ages 8 and 10–they run away from home to the only sanctuary they know, a small school in northeastern Uganda established by BRAC, the Bangladesh-based development organization that fights poverty, illiteracy and injustice in the poorest parts of the world. “I Am Fine” documents their plight and those of other young girls in the Karamoja region of Uganda, the desperately poor province where girls are valued only for their bride-price in cattle. That attitude is slowly changing, however, thanks to BRAC’s Karamoja initiative, which has established 120 youth development centers in the region. There girls are provided with basic education, and life-skills. More importantly, they learn that they are worth far more than cattle. Such self-confidence is priceless.

©Ami Vitale, Lynn Johnson, Katy-Robin Garton | Ripple Effect Images

Ripple Effect Images is proud to spotlight this important initiative during the United Nations’ 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls around the world. “I Am Fine” increases public awareness of the plight of Karamoja women, as well as the extraordinary gender-equality work of BRAC, which is totally dependent on funders outside of Bangladesh for its program in other countries. Southern hemisphere leadership and collaboration between impoverished southern nations translates into lower costs and higher impacts, making BRAC, according to The Economist magazine, “the largest, fastest-growing non-governmental organization in the world–and one of the most businesslike.” Not surprisingly, most of BRAC’s 125,000 employees in Africa and Asia are women. Please join Ripple in the UNiTE campaign by hosting your own event to “Orange the World!”

Written by Joel Bourne

Photo Credit: Ripple Effect Images