“I wanted to share with you my newest creation and passion- a weekend retreat for women in our line of work- so that you might consider coming and/ or sharing this information with other women in your network. My hope is to work with and welcome humanitarian workers and service providers who may benefit from my support. This retreat is just one of those ways and also a very exciting entry point!You may know that I started a business, Healing in Service, in the last few months to support women in the humanitarian field to better prioritize themselves; shift their lives towards abundance, connection, and energy; and create a movement of people who serve others with inner peace and joy. You can find more information about the work and get a feel for what I am hoping to achieve at www.healinginservice.comThe bottom line, is that I work with women who are serving in important ways but are also looking to move beyond their work to integrate different parts of their lives, personally and professionally, and are wanting more skills to live in gratitude alongside their desire, pleasure, and deepest longing in the outside world.I want to support these women to:– Gain clarity about their immediate needs and values– Check-in with their bodies and their stories in the present moment– Heal and recover from past experiences that are still with them– Determine ways to nurture, love, and be good to themselves– Move gracefully through transition and periods of instabilityIf you know women who may resonate with this work or message and are looking for some additional resources in their lives, whom you think might be interested in this retreat, and who are ready for making the choices that will bring them to deeper alignment with their passion, needs, and values- it would be great to know more about them. I am really eager to find women who want to join me along this path.”
This entry was originally posted by Julie Lafrenière, Women’s Rights Specialist at Oxfam Canada, on 25 November 2015 at Oxfam’s Gender Justice Blog.
In South Sudan, domestic violence is widespread and largely tolerated. In the all-too-common words of two young women from Warrap State: “we are often beaten. When we make a mistake, we are beaten – and there are so many mistakes.” So when widespread conflict broke out across the country in December 2013, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, it was unfortunately not surprising that gender-based violence (GBV) was a major threat for women living in IDP and refugee camps. Yet some aid workers struggled to fully grasp the issue and take action in a timely way, and at times exacerbated the situation by failing to incorporate GBV considerations into the design and delivery of the very services that were meant to protect and save lives. They also missed opportunities to address some of the underlying women’s empowerment and gender equality issues that could have led to lasting change.
South Sudan is by no means an isolated example. When I traveled to Jordan in 2014, the international community was already struggling to deal with the massive influx of refugees, and humanitarians on the ground had real concerns about the rise in violence against women and girls. In the camps, colleagues from a number of organizations described challenges related to protecting women and girls – such as ensuring proper lighting, locks on latrines and safe fuel collection. Although many actors were aware of the risks to women, girls and marginalized groups, they did not systematically include them in the design and implementation of projects. And although they were aware of their sector-specific guidance – such as theSphere Handbook – they faced huge challenges in incorporating GBV into their programming, both technically (in terms of what to do) and operationally (in terms of how to do it). There was a clear need for a practical tool that would help them prevent GBV in camps and in urban areas. Fortunately, practical and relevant assistance is now available, in the form of new guidelines.
I was in Jordan as one of the authors of the revised Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action (GBV Guidelines). Following a two-year consultative process led by UNICEF and UNFPA, the revised GBV Guidelines were officially launched in September in South Africa.
The first version of the Guidelines was published in September 2005. Nearly 10 years later, the humanitarian community has made significant progress come in moving GBV from the side-lines, where it was viewed as a “niche” area of work, to the forefront of humanitarian action. During those 10 years, the UN established a Special Representative focused explicitly on sexual violence in conflict; the Security Council passed critical resolutions promoting a more robust security response to sexual violence; many UN entities and NGOs scaled up their engagement in this area of work; and far more young professionals are choosing to focus their careers on the prevention of GBV and Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG).
These revised Guidelines are a practical, field-tested tool for humanitarian actors and crisis-affected communities. An important contribution of the Guidelines is that they show that all humanitarian actors have a role to play in preventing GBV, whether a water engineer or a food security specialist. Specifically, they target actors working in 13 sectors, including Education, the theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism. In many humanitarian settings, attending school can be a risky endeavor. The erosion of standard protection mechanisms in humanitarian emergencies means that students and education personnel—particularly females—often face an increased risk of sexual harassment, sexual assault or abduction while travelling to and from school. There are also significant risks in schools: lack of supervisory staff increases the risk of bullying, sexual harassment and assault occurring on school grounds by peers as well as teachers and other adults. The Gender-based Violence Guidelines make a number of practical recommendations for designing and implementing education interventions that reduce or minimize risk to women and girls including, for example, considering alternative, informal, or non-traditional approaches and ensuring that locations and times of programmes meet the needs of women and adolescent girls who have domestic and family-related responsibilities.
As the 16 Days of Activism get underway in 2015, I am reflecting back on my time in Jordan and other humanitarian settings – and seeing the opportunity that the new Guidelines afford all of us to treat gender-based violence prevention and response as a life-saving priority right from the start of humanitarian crises – across all sectors. Let’s make it happen.
This entry posted by Julie Lafrenière, Women’s Rights Specialist at Oxfam Canada focussing on GBV in humanitarian settings. Oxfam was actively engaged in the drafting of the Guidelines and is supporting their roll-out and implementation. Ending GBV and VAWG is critical to Oxfam’s mission of addressing the root causes of poverty and suffering.
Photo: Gathering wood – the missing link between eating or going hungry in South Sudan’s Bor refugee camp. Credit: Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam, May 2014
- A senior gender-based violence (GBV) advisor finds herself sitting in a Humanitarian Country Team meeting with the heads of UN agencies discussing how to program CERF funds. At this meeting she is explicitly told by the head of a large UN agency that GBV work is “not life-saving” so shouldn’t be considered for funding (despite the clear CERF guidelines that note that it fulfills the life-saving criteria).
- Attending a workshop full of gender advisors means that the coffee breaks are filled with weary and cynical talk about frustration at the inability get a meeting with the humanitarian coordinator because gender is seen as just “window dressing” to appease headquarters and a box to be checked rather than actual commitment to improving gender inequality.
- A recent story in the Guardian about sexual harassment in the UN relates a story of sniggering senior management men mocking a gender presentation and then commenting on their young female colleague’s attractiveness.
- GBV specialists often talk about being denied seats on the assessment team and fighting with other agencies to include basic questions about what is happening to the women during natural disasters and conflict settings. “We’re doing an urgent life-saving assessment, we don’t have time to deal with that. You can wait,” is usually the justification.
The gender equality and GBV field (which is staffed predominantly with women) abound with stories like this. Our common refrain: Why is it so difficult to get otherwise smart and committed humanitarians onboard with supporting gender equality and fighting the repercussions of gender inequality – i.e. gender-based violence? Is it due to sexism?
The negative reaction to and lack of understanding about the word “gender” and its feisty sister “feminism” have been written about and discussed in the past year (high profile feminists like Beyoncé helping the “f word” break into the mainstream media in the USA in 2014). If you ask most humanitarians what they think about “gender mainstreaming” or “GBV specialists,” eyes begin to roll and the anecdotes about “shrill angry GBV women” come out – usually from men but also from women. I always wonder – do other sectors in the humanitarian system get such reactions? Do people who are passionate about hand-washing in the Water and Sanitation sector get laughed at by fellow humanitarians? If you care passionately about finding environmentally friendly ways to build health clinics, do people run out of the room covering their ears when you bring it up? Why is addressing gender inequality and women’s issues seen as so toxic and unrelated to humanitarian work and why is it difficult to discuss this within the humanitarian aid system?
The humanitarian field’s resistance to meaningfully working on gender equality and its lack of understanding about mainstreaming gender equality into the humanitarian work extends to the way the field – and even our own gender colleagues – talks about the issue. We “do gender” now and we forget about the equality part of the equation. There are “gender advisors” who can’t tell you the difference between sex and gender but whose job involves disaggregating data by sex and age (without really understanding why we are doing that). Projects are submitted that have sprinkled the words “women, girls, boys and men” (or my new least favorite acronym wgbm) throughout and are seen as “promoting gender equality”. Somehow, we have had to turn our work on fighting for equal rights for women and girls in the humanitarian response into a less threatening technocratic “ doing gender” which more acceptable than actually talking about sexism and inequality and the discrimination against women and girls’ needs.
Is it due to sexism? The internalized culture of sexism within the humanitarian system – particularly within the UN has been described in a number of articles that have examined the nature and challenges of gender mainstreaming in international development organizations*. These articles have focused on the sexist culture within the UN but NGOs are far from exempt from these charges. Does this sexism influence the ability for us to address gender equality in a meaningful way in our work? I would argue yes. Despite 15 years work on “mainstreaming” gender equality into humanitarian systems, working gender is still seen as a niche issue within humanitarian work and is always linked to “women’s issues” which somehow carries with it a negative connotation linked to the word feminism.
The current fashionable way to combat this unpopularity seems to be the introduction of working with men and boys into the work (although gender activists have been working on this since 1999 at least when I attended my first Inter-agency Gender Working Group at USAID). At the 2014 UK Global Summit on to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, there was (some would say) an overemphasis of the plight of men and boys who are sexual violence victims in conflict which current statistics show us only amount to about 10% of survivors in big emergencies like the DRC and in national surveys in developed countries amount to about 3% of survivors. There’s a push by some UN agencies (encouraged by certain actors) to demand equal attention and funding for male survivors with female survivors despite the evidence that the victims are overwhelmingly female. Working with men and boys is the new “microfinance” and exciting for donors and the media. There was an announcement of a “ground breaking” UN conference on gender equality that would only allow men (making it different from most conferences that aren’t about reproductive health or gender – how?) and women’s rights activists have raised concerns about the increased emphasis on men and boys diverting funding earmarked for female-oriented projects.
Academics* have highlighted the challenges of gender equality mainstreaming in our humanitarian system. They argue that our approach has ignored the way gendered inequalities are deeply woven into the fabric of the international system and that our bureaucratic method of “mainstreaming” has drowned out the voices calling for gender equality. This has effectively “neutered” gender equality work to make it more palatable. Sexism has also seemed to be active in the creation of the newest United Nations agency: UN Women aka the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. A 2010 paper from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex analysed the experience of feminists within the UN struggling with the institutional sexism of the UN bureaucratic machine. Denied seats at the table and consistently given lower job rankings (the ultimate power currency in the UN system), UN Women has struggled to find its place. At the creation of UN Women, many civil society organizations urged the new agency to adopt a different approach to working at country level to UN agencies in the past. Its approach should be transformative, leading to actual change. Stacking the ranks with old school former UNDP managers doesn’t seem to be achieving this goal.
Even the media (not always a place of gender sensitivity) notices the sexism at the UN, “Gender equality is honored in name both inside and outside [the United Nations], but is more likely to be honored in the breach inside. At least one senior official still pats women on the head, and the women’s rooms were situated by someone who must have had an earlier career creating mazes or running scavenger hunts.” Recent stories about sexism in humanitarian agencies in The Guardian and the comments by female aid workers on the article, in Facebook groups, and in face to face awareness-raising sessions I have conducted confirm this.
I have also seen and heard about this in my own work in GBV and gender equality work in different agencies and countries. I fought long and hard at Refugees International to have the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping missions to be taken seriously and finally convinced my two male bosses to allow me to write about it in our peacekeeping work. The topic was mostly dropped when I left and 10 years later, the problems addressed in my report Must Boys be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Missions don’t seem to have changed at all. Attending the high-level session on this topic at the UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was a depressing step back 10 years into the past. At MSF, I faced complete indifference by some of my male and female colleagues when I raised issues of sexual harassment, understanding domestic violence and marital rape or sexual exploitation (At MSF, we weren’t allowed to talk about the “g word” or gender-based violence but only about sexual violence). “Why are you always going on about this feminism thing?” one female colleague asked me, half joking but also half serious.
I had a long discussion with a friend (let’s call her Cassandra) who also works as a gender specialist. “There is a lack of understanding of how feminism and gender equality are related,” she said, “The two go hand in hand, but the UN system does not want that. It wants gender equality, but the watered down way without shaking the tree, rocking the boat, or changing the status quo.” I agreed with her – sharing my own experiences of how people sprinkle the word “gender” throughout their work without a seeming understanding of what it means. We were worried – the risk is that the word “gender” and the philosophy of feminism have become divorced. The more we disassociate “gender” with gender equality, the less it becomes about fighting for women’s rights and the more its just a checkbox.
Feminism seems to be a dirty word at the UN. “I honestly don’t know what is so radical about wanting equality, for women to be treated with dignity and respect,” Cassandra lamented before we moved onto our normal discussions of delicious foods we had eaten recently. But this idea that “Feminism is the problem” persists – evaluations of the Gender Capacity (GenCap) project in 2010 and 2011 both noted complaints from UN agencies who had hosted Gen Cap advisors about the “feminist” agenda of some as if it were negative thing that distracted from mainstreaming a gender perspective in humanitarian work.
It is not just gender advisors who feel this way.In a comprehensive survey launched by Oxfam before the creation of UN Women, an activist said “we are seeing an increase in “subtle patriarchal resistance” within organisations that are mainly male dominated. We have observed the systematic marginalisation of women’s rights organisations – naming them as “radical” in their approach to women’s issues. The agenda for achieving women’s rights and gender equality are compromised by the type of people appointed to such positions.” At GBV gatherings and meetings, specialists mention that any attempts to push for more attention to GBV in emergencies are often seen as being “pushy, too feminist, or negative.” One GBV specialist that I know said “If you get angry as a person, they say it reflects poorly on the sector. [Compare their complaints to those] about a WASH manager who washes his hands all the time, that’s positive! He’s clean. But when you mention sexist attitudes… when you are a ‘GBV person’ in a big group- its hard to be that person.” Others agreed noting “GBV and gender specialists are viewed as a bunch of chest-beating activists” and saying that we have to be “agreeable” and “nice” to get other sectors to work with us. In the quest to be palatable to this humanitarian system, in order to fit into this male oriented system we are told that we need to behave in a certain way. “Be agreeable – don’t rock the boat.” Gender equality and GBV activists comply and thus we too perpetuate the status quo and fail to push for transformative gender equality.
At a recent GenCap workshop, we were encouraged during an exercise to step out of our “nice roles” while advising as a way to explore different ways to be effective. It felt uncomfortable at first for me. Like many in our overwhelmingly feminine sector, I sometimes feel that I have to play to traditional gender roles in order to be respected, liked and accepted and heard otherwise our message of equality for women will not be accepted. No one wants to be the “bitchy Gender advisor” yet in the immortal words of Tina Fey “Bitches get stuff done.” There is this push by some humanitarians and even supported by some gender people for us to be less feminist, less activist, less focus on women’s empowerment and to be more diverse to the point that diminishes our expertise and focus. Last time I checked, women and girls were still the oppressed and marginalized, controlled and sexually abused due to their gender. Are we supposed to ignore this?
The strategy of divorcing “gender” work from the fight for feminism and women’s equality in order to make it more palatable may have backfired in achieving our goals. “Gender mainstreaming” sometimes seems to have moved away from addressing gender inequality and fighting for a real effort to change culture and has led to “gender” being a technocratic term that means almost nothing aside from saying ‘women, men, boys, and girls’ throughout applications to the CERF in hopes of getting a “2A” on the gender marker.
Maybe its time we actively embrace feminism (but not just white women’s western feminism but a truly global feminism that is linked to anti-colonialism) and link up in solidarity with movements to liberate women and embrace women’s equality in the countries where we work rather than turning “mainstreaming gender” into a technocratic term that few understand but most know they are tired of dealing with.
In the words of my friend, Cassandra, “Gender equality requires an understanding the politics of women and oppression and all that feminism stuff. So let’s get with it.”
* Goetz 2003, Prugl and Lustgarten 2006, Rao and Kelleher 2005, Klugman (2008), True (2003) and Charlesworth (2010).
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/
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.
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.
- In humanitarian settings, international organizations have treated the context as a tabula rasa and applied “one size fits all” solutions to the problem instead of engaging local women’s groups and learning about and from what is already in place and can work. The international community often physically, financially or linguistically excludes local colleagues and partners from meetings and decision-making processes. Regardless of whether this is deliberate or inadvertent, this approach wastes resources, has little chance of making a positive long term impact and misses crucial opportunities to (re) build systems to help survivors who will need long term re-integration and support.
- 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.
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.
There was an interesting article in the New York Times the other day that uncovers some of the major issues that those of us who work in GBV talk about frequently – how do you get GBV on the agenda in humanitarian response? Do you “mainstream it” or do you focus specifically on programs for girls and women? The article, Efforts to Help Filipino Women Falters, says U.N., outlined some of the problems that we face when we try to address GBV in emergencies. It’s a multi-sectoral problem and requires a multi-sectoral approach but is there any accountability when the issue is mainstreamed but the response of the various sectors is insufficient or non-existant? The article included a quote that identified the challenge of mainstreaming –
” Some experts expressed skepticism about the agency’s approach, however. “When you talk about integrated protection, accountability to women and girls goes out the window,” said Heidi Lehmann, the director of the Women’s Protection and Empowerment unit of the International Rescue Committee. “That requires specialized, specific gender-based violence programming.” It is not realistic, she said, “to think that you can add a bullet point to the shelter guy’s job description.”
But does this mean you don’t add a bullet point to the shelter (or WASH) person’s job description? Or what do you do when that bullet point is added but it doesn’t make a change on the ground? Speaking of shelter (and latrines- another favorite subject for GBV people), how is it that we are still building emergency evacuation shelters for disasters and conflict zones that don’t recognize the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls? Where is gender analysis in the Disaster Risk Reduction planning?
Please let The Cassandra Complexity know what you think. Any brief responses can be posted in the comments section but we also welcome longer responses which we may post on the blog in the next few weeks (see policies section for how to submit).
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.”
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 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