Monthly Archives: February 2014

Policymakers, we need you! ….to pay attention to the evidence.

by Chen Reis

Last week Nicholas Kristof*, the popular NYT columnist, created a storm on twitter and facebook with his column “Professors, We Need You! “ which, among other points, decried the irrelevance of much social science research to policy-making. There have been a number of responses from academics on Twitter, Facebook, and in blogs with many pointing out that they and a significant number of their colleagues are actively working to produce policy relevant research.

Kristof makes some valid points about the obscurity of much social science research and the inaccessibility of the jargon. But he does not mention an important reality:  that even relevant, good quality, and well communicated research often fails to have much impact on public dialog and policy.  Some of the challenges may be inherent to the nature of policy-making itself, but the discrepancy is often seen when research findings do not conform to preconceived notions or agenda of  policymakers. When research demonstrates that pre-existing ’solutions’ are not applicable, it is likely to be ignored as well. This too is true both in the US national system and internationally.  For example, even though  the data suggest that most of the gender-based violence even in humanitarian settings is perpetrated by intimate partners, most of the focus in processes aimed at ending impunity and preventing violence remains on combatant perpetrated sexual violence.

Even in areas for which there is more of an evidence base, it is not clear how and whether the evidence is used. ALNAP, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, is working to identify the quality and use of evidence available for the humanitarian sector.

The problem is not only that existing evidence is often ignored, but also that there is also little recognition or mention of the need for data on what works, even in key high level statements and commitments. The lack of evidence about what works speaks to not only the complexity of research in crisis settings but also to the lack of resources available for robust program monitoring and evaluation.  When it comes to prevention of and response to sexual violence in conflict, and to evaluation of humanitarian programming in general, it is only fairly recently that there has been a move to identify  evidence of what works. Humanitarian non-governmental organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are working with academic institutions to evaluate interventions for sexual violence in humanitarian settings. There are also initiatives to support the generation of evidence for action, such as the Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) initiative of the ELRHA.

It will be interesting to see whether this push for evidence-based action is reflected in the UK hosted Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict scheduled for this June.  I hope that support for building the evidence base and for using the evidence to inform policy and programming plays a greater and more integrated part of the global efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in humanitarian settings.

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* Kristof’s own work and actions related to sexual violence have been critiqued  as uninformed /naïve and potentially harmful.

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Are YOU guilty of Violence Against Women?

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Despite advances, we still face many structural challenges in the fight against sexual violence. Some of these challenges are external – the persistent attitudes and beliefs that women are somehow to blame for rape or questioning of the veracity of women who come forward to report sexual abuse. Some of the challenges relate to the different approaches to preventing and responding to sexual violence.

Those of us who work to end acts of violence against women, often neglect to consider how we as advocates, practitioners, and academics may also be enacting more subtle forms of violence against survivors and colleagues through our words and actions.

Perhaps one of the most visible examples of GBV activists contributing to the problem is related to Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising Campaign (OBR).  Critics  say that OBR both appropriates and negates the experiences of women of color and others.  Critics argue that “white savior” feminists recreate colonialist attitudes and fail to treat sexual violence survivors “in the field” with humanity – seeing them as a ‘scientific object to study’ rather than as a fellow human being in need. These critiques and responses to them have been discussed in detail and merit consideration for what they can teach us about the importance of inclusive mass action. But there are other – more subtle – ways in which we, in the GBV world, as individuals and as part of a larger movement may be contributing to the problem . What follows is a list of some of the more common ones that many women in our field have faced.

  • We mistreat those who work for us and with us and by doing so, we enable those who seek to dismiss our work.  It is telling that in the recent incident in which an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was charged with making false statements and committing visa fraud in relation to a domestic worker she hired, the headlines  made much of her being a women’s rights advocate who treated a woman in her employ abusively . Those of us who have worked in the field can probably recall several incidents of mistreatment of junior staff by (female) managers, of local staff by expatriates and of domestic abuse by those in the humanitarian sector.  These may not get the media attention that the Khobragade case has, and they may be ignored by organizations, but they do not go unnoticed. How many have heard co-workers admit that they hate working for female managers because they treat their staff so poorly or experienced such poor treatment?
  • In a complex and multidisciplinary field that is chronically stressed due to competition for funds, overwork, and the “tyranny of the urgent”, it is to be expected that there will be disagreements. Our work is political and we become political when we engage in it. However, when we, as GBV practitioners, speak negatively about or attack the character and qualifications of colleagues with whom we disagree, we undermine them, but also ourselves, our work, and the women we are fighting for.
  • Infighting within and between organizations benefits only those who want to diminish the impact of work to end and address violence against women. When we create division, opposition and competition between sectors or organizational approaches instead of seeking opportunities for collaboration we do irreparable harm to the field of Gender-based Violence prevention and response and ultimately to those we claim to be working for survivors of sexual violence in humanitarian settings.

As we strive to create a world free of violence against women and increase access of survivors to services and opportunities for justice we must also consider the means by which we do so.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or on twitter #WakeupVAW

The Conflict-Related GBV that the Humanitarian Community Ignores

by Sarah Martin

In humanitarian settings, there’s been greater attention paid to the issue of sexual violence in conflict thanks to the work of GBV activists around the world. There are more programs, more media and academic attention about the problem, and even an acronym (CRSV = Conflict Related Sexual Violence) created to allow us to refer to it in short-hand on power-point presentations. While, we still struggle to implement programs and get sufficient funding (CARE International UK released a report showing that only 3% of the U.S.’s humanitarian aid is spent on programs that focus on gender, including GBV) and GBV sub-cluster leads must still argue with other agency leads that GBV falls under CERF criteria for life-saving, progress has been made in acknowledging sexual violence in emergencies.

Rape is a horrifying fact of war for most people around the world. Yet women in non-conflict countries also experience sexual violence and not always at the hands of parties to the conflict. The latest data show that some 1 in 3 women globally experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. Thirty percent of women worldwide experience violence perpetrated by husbands, boyfriends or other intimate partners and up to 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Although Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has been documented in humanitarian settings including refugee camps for over 10 years, IPV is rarely addressed in humanitarian response. Dr. Jhumka Gupta, a social epidemiologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health, asks the question in today’s Huffington Post, “Why then are such private forms of violence against women largely an afterthought in settings impacted by humanitarian crises?”

Dr Gupta raises good questions – leading with a strong personal anecdote about a woman in Haiti during the coup against Aristide (pre-Earthquake) who wandered into the hospital she worked in with stab wounds from her husband. There were no services to refer her to and

“as a women’s health professional, all I could do was buy her food and see her in the hospital every day until she healed—at least from her physical wounds.”

Despite the assistance available during humanitarian emergencies (mental health, health care, shelter, protection and other programs), there continues to be a blind spot with regards to humanitarian attention to IPV.

Her anecdote reflects my personal experiences working for Medecins Sans Frontieres- Holland as an advisor on responding to sexual violence in the headquarters. MSF is known for working in the difficult places. They are known for drawing attention to neglected diseases and taking up issues that are ignored in humanitarian settings.  But when it came to arguing that MSF should pay more attention to IPV, I normally hit a wall. I often debated with conflicted team members in the field whether or not MSF should be treating domestic violence cases or trying to assist women who had been assaulted by their husbands. While I could normally get them to agree that it didn’t matter who the perpetrator was – that healthcare was needed and should be offered, I was not always very successful (particularly with non-medical personnel). I always ran up against the “culture” argument that IPV is “a cultural issue and we shouldn’t touch it” (although I had allies in operations including those who fought hard to open up Family Service Centers in Lae and Tari and now Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea that provide comprehensive services for IPV survivors.)

A review of published research  by Stark and Ager looked at studies conducted in conflict affected settings like Bosnia, East Timor, and refugee camps in Jordan and concluded that “rates of intimate partner violence tended to be quite high across all of the studies—much higher than most of the rates of wartime rape and sexual violence perpetrated by individuals outside of the home.”  Gupta points out that the International Rescue Committee released a report calling for the humanitarian community to consider intimate partner violence as a humanitarian issue in West Africa in 2012, and questions whether it is not addressed because it fails to capture the media’s attention. At the Cassandra Complexity, we also wonder why its not addressed with as much fervor as conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by combatants (see the recent high level meetings hosted by the US Institute of Peace’s including one focused on “Men, Peace and Security”, a number of UN Security Council Resolutions specifically regarding sexual violence in conflict (as it relates to peace and security) and the UN Action against Sexual Violence initiative ). Stay tuned for more thoughts from the Cassandra Complexity community on this.

Ignoring IPV doesn’t make sense in humanitarian settings. The physical, emotional, social, and economic costs of IPV are staggering. Gupta points out:

“According to the World Bank, the economic costs of lost productivity due to partner violence are estimated to be around 1.2-2% of GDP. This is close to what the Democratic Republic of Congo spends on education. These health and economic tolls can threaten any chances of stability long after wars end.”

She also references a partnership with the International Rescue Committee and Innovations for Poverty Action in Côte d’Ivoire that shows how the humanitarian community can start to address this issue.  Her project observed reductions in IPV when combining women’s economic empowerment with a program that engaged men to challenge traditional gender norms. Gupta’s article calls for more US leadership on addressing this issue, but I believe that humanitarian organizations should take a lead in addressing this more concretely by speaking out about the impact of IPV on the clients, beneficiaries, and patients that they work with in conflict and humanitarian emergencies world wide. We have to stop using the culture argument to turn a blind eye to the suffering in the communities where we work.