Tag Archives: Domestic violence

New Report: The Continuity of Risk: A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S

The summary below was contributed by Karin Wachter, one of the report’s co-authors

In October 2014, the University of Texas at Austin and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University issued their report: The Continuity of Risk: A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S. The study was conducted to prepare for the 50,000 Congolese refugees planned to be resettled in the United States over the next several years through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

The Continuity of Risk concludes that Congolese refugee women have a sense of safety and food security in the U.S., and struggle with integration. The primary concerns expressed by the research participants include the impacts of trauma, social isolation, loss of power as mothers and precarious financial survival. The UNHCR “woman-at-risk” resettlement category is also discussed from both practice and policy perspectives.

The findings highlight women’s intersecting experiences with violence and forced migration.  The recommendations section of the report, in particular, emphasizes the potential for collaboration between resettlement and domestic violence and sexual assault agencies to help meet those expressed needs.  This study can help to inform those collaborative efforts already underway and spark ideas for new initiatives and partnerships.

The report can be downloaded from the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) website at:  http://www.utexas.edu/ssw/cswr/institutes/idvsa/congolese-refugee-women-at-risk/

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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.

GBV is not sexy

by Sarah Martin

Recently, on a humanitarian mission, I had the pleasure of running into several old and new GBV friends. Some of us got to talking at dinner one night about the way that people who don’t work in the GBV field sometimes talk about our work. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear “GBV is so sexy right now”.

Some people say this dismissively and often with a sneer, which implies that, it’s a made-up problem. It’s true that you hear a lot more about GBV nowadays and that the GBV field’s hard work and advocacy has paid off finally and now aid programs are being required to try to work GBV into their projects. I also know that the people that say this are not all cynical and opposed to our work. I think that what some of the good-hearted people might be trying to say is that talking about Gender-based Violence is “trendy” or on the forefront of donors minds and suddenly seems ‘fashionable”. It’s the hottest things – like “micro-credit” programming was in the late 90s.

But it’s deeply painful and upsetting to hear otherwise smart people associate the word  “sexy” with “Gender-Based Violence”. Perhaps because we use an acronym to discuss what we do conceals what it actually means to do Gender-Based Violence programming. We use so much jargon in our business- GBV this, VAW, M&E, SOPs, the acronym soup goes on and on and it is sometimes easy to forget what we are actually talking about. The topic itself doesn’t lend itself to easy discussions  – so we invent a language to refer to it without having to say what it really is.

In the trainings that I conduct, I sometimes do an exercise where I ask participants to think of every word they know for vagina, every word for penis, every word for sexual intercourse and every word for leg and arm. Of course there are a million slang words for our sex organs and sexual intercourse because society doesn’t like to talk about it directly. It’s not polite to talk about in “good company”. There are fewer slang words to describe legs and arms because we can talk about them explicitly. Just like we invent slang to avoid talking about sex, we use the acronym GBV to cover up what we’re really talking about.

GBV programming is about talking to women who have been physically, emotionally, and socially abused by those that they love and trust. GBV programming is about working with women who have deep dark secrets and fears having been forced to have sex with exploitative aid workers, soldiers, and others who prey on their vulnerabilities. GBV programming is about convincing women whose husbands have raped their daughters, not to abandon their daughter and keep their husband because he’s surely going to rape her other two daughters but she’s afraid if she leaves him then she’ll fall into destitution and no one will survive. GBV programming is about trying to create a bond of trust with vulnerable women who have been hurt and trying to help them move forward in an environment that is hostile to women.

I think of the women who have disclosed their rapes to me. I think of the counselors and service providers who have to listen to stories of incest, abuse, and self-hatred from GBV survivors. I think of the struggle we still have to implement even the most basic and proven interventions.  We still have to fight to get aid workers to put lights near toilets or locate women’s toilets away from the men’s to stop rapes at night in IDP camps, evacuation centers, and other places where the vulnerable have to turn for help.

And I think – gender-based violence is not sexy. It’s not sexy at all. So please, for the love of God, please don’t let people around you get away with saying “GBV work is so sexy right now.”

16 Days: Rogue Stats

by Chen Reis

As someone who works in the field of prevention of and response to sexual violence, I use data to advocate for more attention, more action, more resources and am always on the lookout for statistics that are both persuasive and based on sound methodology.  Every year, advocates and activists around the world time the release of fact sheets, infographics, and reports on violence against women to coincide with the 16 Days of Action. Unfortunately, every year, many of these repeat the following INCORRECT factoid about the impact of violence against women.  “Violence against women causes more death and disability among women aged 15-44 worldwide than cancer, war, malaria and traffic accidents combined.” This factioid, or some version of it, has been repeated in multiple reports including by  influential think-tanks,  in fact sheets and briefing papers produced for the UN  and popular campaigns  and even included in articles by magazines  notorious for rigorous fact checking.

This statement has often been wrongly attributed to the World Health Organization (WHO). When I worked for WHO, we would often send out corrections to those using this factoid, to indicate that it was wrong and that its source is not the WHO and yet the factoid persists. Is this a function of our Wikipedia world where we believe what we read without digging deeper to identify the primary source? Or is it simply that something repeated often enough as truth acquires that reputation?

More importantly, where did this factoid come from?  It likely first appeared in a March 1998 briefing by the Panos Institute. My WHO colleagues and I thought it was probably based on an inaccurate reading of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report published in 1996 or the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) in 1993, which includes the GBD data for 1990.  More recently I did a little more digging and I think it is based on a table (table 5) included in a discussion paper “Violence against Women: The Hidden Health Burden” authored by Lori Heise, Jaqueline Pitanguy, and Adrienne Germain for the World Bank in 1994. This paper extrapolates from and builds upon the analysis for the WDR 1993 and estimates that globally among women 15-44, 9.5 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) were lost to domestic violence & rape, as compared to 9.0 million for all cancers, 4.2 million for motor vehicle accidents, 2.7 million  for war, and 2.3 million for malaria.  The paper includes an appendix which clarifies the author’s approach to estimating the percentage of DALYs lost to women age 15 to 44 due to conditions that are attributable to domestic violence and rape. The exact methods for estimating these percentages are not specified in the paper but the authors indicate they are on file with World Bank staff.

20 years on, we now have a refined GBD methodology and more recent data from the GBD project, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the 2010 GBD data which are searchable online. In the 2010 report, intimate partner violence (IPV) is included as a risk factor (there are no specific data for rape). The current GBD estimates are that globally about 16.8 million lost DALYs are attributable to IPV as a risk factor for women for all ages.  For women of all ages, 37.8 million DALYs are attributable to Malaria, 80.6 million to cancer, and 20.9 million to transport injuries.

The 2010 GBD estimates are just one source of recent and reliable data on VAW. In 2013 there have been 2 major studies published on VAW. The first, a  report released earlier this year by WHO, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council ,found that  one out of every three women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual  violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner. Other key facts from the study: 30% 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. A report released by Partners for Prevention earlier this year provided important multi-country comparative data for the Asia- Pacific region on men’s perpetration of violence against women.  We should be using these more recent data as the basis of our advocacy and awareness-raising.

Opponents of work on violence against women accuse anti-VAW activists of spreading misleading and exaggerated information. There are numerous websites aimed at challenging our work to prevent and respond to VAW. One of their key tactics is to highlight erroneous data used by anti-VAW advocates.  When we use data irresponsibly, we provide fodder for those seeking to undermine our work. As consumers and producers of information we have a duty to be responsible. We must examine the primary sources of the statistics we cite and make sure that we are using the most recent and accurate data available.

16 Days of “Action”: A Lament

Slacktivism
The second in a series of posts inspired by the 16 Days of Action. Cassandra Complexity co-editor, Sarah Martin, reflects on social media.

I get tired of social media sometimes. I recently read how the act of posting a charitable act on Facebook will actually make people LESS likely to donate money to a charity because in our minds, when we hit “like” or “share”, we’ve done our duty. We don’t have to DO anything. We’ve passively passed on the buck and “raised awareness” about the issue. It’s called “slacktivism.”

I’m guilty of this sometimes. I’m a social media junkie and love to read and share the different news pieces and articles that my many friends in Gender-Based Violence world post on Facebook and twitter. I know people working in the UN, in different NGOs, people working as journalists and in the human rights field, aid workers and people who have left the humanitarian field, and just smart interesting thoughtful people who like to read. As a consultant, it is very tempting to procrastinate and spend a big part of the day educating myself by reading all the interesting articles that I find when I jump on social media. But I know in my heart that it’s not “work”.

But as the 16 Days of Action against Gender-based Violence rolls around this year, I find myself turned off and almost feeling apathetic. So many tweets and beautiful ad campaigns and heart-wrenching ads, and orange colored clothes on my Facebook feed. In 2003 – 2010, I wrote so many pieces about 16 Days of Action when I worked for Refugees International and MSF. I begged with our comms people to post them and raise awareness. But now, I am seeing them and I feel a surge of sadness.

Maybe its because I spent this year in four different countries (Libya, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Egypt) where the response to violence against women sometimes seems to be limited to awareness-raising. Now don’t get me wrong – there is always someone on the ground TRYING to provide care. Trying but limping along. Maybe there is one organization – maybe 2 or 3 but always under-funded and under-staffed and over-worked.

Where is the link between the legions of twitter users and Facebook fans who like the good work that these organizations do and actual response to the needs of women living with the problem of violence against women in humanitarian settings? If we could even get a dollar for every click that we receive, we’d have enough money to buy dignity kits for adolescent girls to keep them from dropping out of school and from embarrassment when they get their periods. We’d have emergency contraception in all the clinics along with confidential spaces for interviews, and enough money to have training programs for helping nurses and doctors understand better how to interview a rape survivor. We’d have anti-sexual harassment campaigns on all the tvs, billboards, and radios. We’d have literacy programs for women trapped in the camps. We’d have more ability to teach aid workers what a livelihood program is and why its so crucial for women both as a prevention and a response strategy to intimate partner violence and rape in wartime.

But the work that we need to do goes beyond enough money and fundraising – that’s just the obvious link. It goes back to the quality that my co-authors and I identified in our Sexual Violence Research Initiative presentation in Bangkok last October. The “Je ne sais quoi” sometimes known as the Angelina Jolie factor or the CNN impact.

How do we move beyond the passivity of clicking “like” or “retweet” and move into actually generating more programs for women on the ground? A few humble suggestions:

  1. Donate your money to an organization that does actual work on the ground supporting survivors. Don’t be fooled by campaigns by organizations who say they do something – do your research!
  2. Get politically active and demand that your government to do more to support programs for survivors of gender-based violence, including granting asylum, funding abortion care, and providing sustainable care for all women vulnerable to violence – not just conflict-related violence or rape in war.
  3. Volunteer at or financially support a local domestic violence shelter in your home country- raise awareness about the impact of violence in your own community

Any other ideas, readers?

Welcome to the Cassandra Complexity

This is a place for independent ideas, opinions, views, and discussions related to gender-based violence (GBV) – and especially sexual violence – in populations affected by humanitarian crises.  We are a global online forum for practitioners, advocates, and researchers.  We aim to look a little further and probe a little deeper than other sites that are focused on technical support, advocacy, or research.

The name of this blog reflects the Cassandra metaphor and its relationship to the complexity of the issues surrounding gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts.

The Cassandra metaphor[1] is a term applied in situations in which valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The term originates in Greek mythology. Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy.  After a series of events and catastrophes, Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions. We who work on gender-based violence have experienced Cassandra’s dilemma over and over again.

As practitioners, advocates and researchers, we have also been dissatisfied by a lack of space for open, honest, and independent discussion among people working on these issues from diverse organizations or professional perspectives. As there has been increased international attention to the issues of GBV in humanitarian settings, there has also been a silencing of divergent voices and a notable lack of interdisciplinary discussion. We therefore started this blog to fill this gap and enable the sharing of views and debates that have no other forum for publication.

We are most interested in focusing on violence against women and girls in humanitarian contexts, but we will not exclude postings about GBV against men or boys.

We want your contributions and hope this blog will become a lively place for sharing and discussion of views that we cannot easily find in other places.  Jargon-free and humorous writing will be most welcome. Contributors are free to post under their own name or, if they wish, to maintain anonymity by posting under the pseudonym Cassandra.  As the gender-based violence world is small, we wish to offer opportunities for publishing opinions anonymously. This will allow freedom to express unpopular opinions or critique institutions without fear of being censored or blacklisted in the community.

We want to move past institutional views and professional silos and hope that you will join us.

Sarah Martin     Chen Reis     Beth Vann


[1] Variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’. Definition here is adapted from http://cassandrasyndrome.blogspot.com