Standing against gender-based violence

by ACT

  • Posted on Nov 23, 2018

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The 25th of November marks the International Day for the elimination of violence against women.

From female genital mutilation, to sex trafficking, to infanticide, to domestic abuse; the ways in which women are subjected to violence in our world are numerous and ever present. Recently, Croatian MP Ivana Nincevic Lesandric informed Croatian parliament that after a miscarriage she was sent to have a cervical scrape where she was tied down and forced to endure the procedure without anaesthesia. Ms Lesandric referred to the incident as “the most painful 30 minutes of her life”. Unfortunately, Ms Lesandric’s experience is the norm for many women, not only in Croatia but right across the Balkans and Eastern Europe where all gynaecological surgeries and procedures are carried out without any form of pain relief. This is a choice made by medical professionals; pain relief is readily available and affordable – however, they choose not to use it. Daniela Drandic of the Croatian women’s rights NGO Parent’s in Action said:

“It is simply the culture; women are expected to feel pain. Women have even been told ‘if you like men you have to experience pain’.”

Ms Drandic went on to say she knew of a woman who was in so much pain during one procedure that she ground her teeth so hard, they broke. In attempting to highlight this issue, Parents in Action asked Croatian women to share their stories. In just 4 days they received 400 letters. This example serves to highlight how normalised violence against women is in all walks of life. These medical professionals don’t consider themselves abusers, but they are.

Young school girls organize themselves before the March to End Gender-Based Violence in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  One sign reads: “Refrain from using abusive language for Women and Children”. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath

According to a UN report, data collected between 2005 and 2016 across 87 countries revealed that 19% of women between 15 and 49 years of age had experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months[1]. A specific form of violence is Female Genital Mutilation. In the 30 countries the UN constantly monitors, survey data from 2015 indicates that more than 1 in 3 girls between 15 and 19 years of age have undergone the procedure.[2] In addition, only 52% of women in the countries covered by the study make their own decisions about consensual sexual relations or the use of contraceptives and health services.[3] These statistics are borne out by the World Health Organisation, which estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence.[4] This problem is not restricted to poor or developing nations, this is a global problem and it forces pain, suffering and even death upon our mothers, daughters and sisters. We need to do more as a society to eradicate this scourge.

One of the key drivers of violence against women is men, but more specifically, it is the inequality between the genders that leaves many women vulnerable to abuse. That is why ACT’s work empowering widows by helping them to set up businesses, raise animals and grow crops is so important. With greater economic independence comes greater social power, and the ability to stand tall in a world dominated by men. In poverty women are especially vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

Kenyan women protest on Tuesday in light of rape allegations at the flagship Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. Kenya’s health minister has ordered an investigation into the claims, after social media posts alleged that male staff members targeted the women when they went to feed their babies. – SIMON MAINA/Getty Images

But changing cultures is also a huge factor in the fight against violence towards women. In Bangladesh, sexual harassment is commonplace. Men with power often use that power to exploit vulnerable women, and this even extends to university campuses. But an education campaign by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) focusing on men and women is having a real impact in changing attitudes. Through the campaign men are put face-to-face with female victims of harassment and made to listen to their stories. One male student, Koyesh Miah, had this to say:

“Before we joined the campaign group, many of us thought sexual harassment was harmless fun…We didn’t realize how our behaviour affected women and girls. Today I know how to raise my voice against sexual harassment, whenever and wherever a girl faces harassment in front of me, now I never think twice about protesting.”

A similar approach was taken in Tajikistan, where 60% of women said they had experienced physical or sexual violence in the last 12 months. After family and individual counselling sessions that number fell to 34%, and the percentage of men who said they had been violent fell from 47% to 5%[5]. This demonstrates that violence can be tackled, and education that includes both men and women is a good place to start.

In Rwanda, Indashyikirwa (Agents for Change) is an intimate-partner violence prevention project being implemented across seven districts in the Western, Northern and Eastern provinces of Rwanda. The programme targets both partners in a couple through a series of reflection sessions that challenge drivers of gender based violence and promote equality.

Ndabaruta Beatrice and Ndayambaje Godefroid are one of the couples that were selected to be part of the five-month, weekly curriculum. Beatrice spoke about the difference in her life and relationship before and after participating in the curriculum:

“When we got married we didn’t own much, but as time went on, it got worse. We barely had any food in the home because even the little earnings we had my husband spent on alcohol. He always came home late and drunk and he often kicked the door open while hurling insults at me and the children. I became such a miserable person to the extent that I didn’t care whether I took a bath or not, I was not even bothered about body hygiene. I lived in that hopeless situation for seven years. After a number of curriculum sessions, I started to notice a change of heart in my husband. He started taking responsibility for the family’s needs, like buying clothes for the children and myself. Before this, the entire time we had been married he had never bought the children any clothes. He even went ahead to open up a joint account for us – for the longest time he had denied me access to financial resources. By opening up this account he was giving me the right to access our income. From that day, he started being intentional about helping me with household chores and whenever I was not home he would take care of the children.”[6]

Although the situation is not great at the moment – empowerment, education and dialogue can have a major impact. Here at ACT we focus on empowerment because it has several other social benefits for the children our widows support and for their communities. To support our work and help transform lives please click here.


[1] http://undocs.org/E/2017/66 p8

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/19/miracle-scheme-ending-abuse-against-women-tajikistan-zindagii-shoista

[6] https://whatworksglobal.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/from-hopelessness-to-happiness-the-reflection-sessions-that-changed-a-narrative-in-rwanda/


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