How to fight violence against women

On the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it would be easy to write a sensational blogpost with a barrage of chilling statistics and passing reference to a handful of the many high-profile cases that have been in the news over the past 12 months. Gang rape, rape as a weapon of war, domestic violence, sexual exploitation. The list could go on.

In order to understand gender-based violence better, however, I think it helps not to look at the sensational cases. It’s a complex issue, with no easy answers. It’s vital to take on board the complexity, the cultural specificity and the sheer prevalence of violence against women and girls the world over.

Here’s one chilling statistic: worldwide, among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.

Violence against women takes many forms. The internationally accepted definition is found in the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women: ‘“Violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’ (Article 1).

Because gender-based violence is such a massively complex issue, it’s true to say that there are no simple answers. And yet there are many many ways that we can make a difference. As today’s frontpage webstory points out, many of the projects IFAD supports do work to protect women against violence, or to enable women to protect themselves.

The UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a significant day on which to celebrate the projects that have won IFAD’s first Gender Awards, because it makes the point that many different kinds of interventions can work against gender-based violence.

Economic empowerment is key. The statistics show that women who have no form of income are more likely to suffer domestic violence. So we know that enabling women to earn a living, to get access to credit and to build up savings or take out insurance, will make them less likely to fall victim to gender-based violence.

Education is part of empowerment, of course, enabling women to find work, express their needs, participate in their communities and make their voices heard. Making girls safe against violence and exploitation while they are in school is vital to ensuring that they stay in education and reap the benefits.

Strength in numbers
India: the Sukalyani Shakti Dala self-help group holds a
meeting. The group campaigns against alcohol abuse
that is a main cause of domestic violence.
As in so many other fields of life, there is strength in numbers. Enabling women to form groups, for almost any purpose, creates solidarity. And this can give them the confidence and determination to challenge the perpetrators of violence and the social norms that condone coercive behaviours towards women and girls.

To give just one example: in India, a women’s self-help group supported by the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme went from door to door in their village to campaign against the alcohol abuse that was one cause of the high rates of domestic violence. You can read more about their story and others in Trail Blazers – a book about IFAD-supported work with courageous women in India.

IFAD supports women's groups and associations all over the world. Some of their achievements are highlighted in the recently published regional gender briefs, which also give statistics on the position of women and girls.

A final thing to say is that violence against women is not an ‘us and them’ problem. It affects women and girls everywhere. Just a few days ago, a case emerged in my own country, the UK, of three women kept in domestic slavery for 30 years. Something that each and every one of us can do is to be aware that a colleague or a friend or a family member may need our support and our sensitivity.

#ifadgender #gender awards