Strategies for Ending Gender-based Violence Globally
By Joanne Lu
Twenty-five years ago, tens of thousands of women from around the world decided it was beyond time for women to have a seat at the table of their own wellbeing and advancement. On September 4, 1995, they traveled to Beijing, China to attend the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, a critical event that would later be recognized as a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality.
It was at that conference that then-First Lady of the United States Hilary Clinton delivered a famous speech in which she declared that, “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Also at that meeting, 189 countries unanimously agreed to adopt an agenda that set out to achieve gender equality in 12 critical areas, including violence against women. Sixty-eight countries even made actionable commitments, such as a six-year, $1.5 billion program by the U.S. to fight domestic violence. Perhaps most importantly, some experts say the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action made violence against women a matter for public discussion, instead of just a private, family issue.
Although the Beijing Declaration continues to be celebrated as a major step forward for women, no country has achieved equality yet, and violence against women and girls, in particular, remains an alarming global problem.
Femicide Watch reports that in 2017, an estimated 87,000 women around the world were murdered – more than half of them (50,000) by an intimate partner or family member. This means that every single day, 137 women are being killed by their own family.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that more than one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate-partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner in their lifetime. But the estimates vary by region and in some countries, intimate-partner violence has affected up to 70 percent of women.
It’s true that gender-based violence (GBV) includes more than just domestic violence against women. CARE defines GBV as “a harmful act or threat based on a person’s sex or gender identity.” So, it certainly includes violence against men and boys, such as the targeted killing of men and boys in conflict or sexual violence against male refugees. However, GBV does disproportionately affect women, girls and other minorities (particularly LGBTIQ people), largely because they are disempowered by systemic gender inequality. And it can take on many different forms, including street harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, marital rape, honor killings, psychological bullying, and cyber harassment.
What’s more, GBV has serious repercussions on survivors. For example, the WHO found that women who have experienced intimate-partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and contracting HIV than women who have not. Many survivors also face social stigma.
Since the Beijing conference in 1995, governments, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations have adopted many strategies to fight gender-based violence and bring it to an end globally, all of which must work together to change societies that allow gender-based violence to continue.
To tackle a problem, one must first understand the scale and scope of the problem. But GBV is notoriously under-reported because of barriers like social stigma and limited access to services and resources. This lack of data means that it’s nearly impossible to accurately assess if global rates of GBV are increasing or decreasing over time. For this reason, there has been a push to collect more data. Researchers are finding better ways to collect information, like calling violence-against-women surveys “women’s health surveys” instead, and organizations, like Human Rights Watch, are compiling the data into reports for use in advocacy. OutRight Action International, an advocacy group that fights for the rights of LGBTIQ people around the world, also does a lot of work to fill the huge gaps in data regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities.
As a result of improved data collection and public conversations about GBV after Beijing, two-thirds of countries have adopted laws to stop domestic violence. But Every Woman Treaty wants to take it a step further by creating a legally binding global treaty that requires countries to prevent and address violence against women and girls. In the meantime, organizations like OutRight and Vital Voices are working with institutions on the ground to make sure that the laws are actually being enforced and that women, girls, and LGBTIQ individuals have access to the help and services they need.
But ending GBV is more than just a legal battle; it also requires resources, including financing. Although funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment is increasing, women’s rights organizations are still “significantly underfunded” compared with other development programs, according to the Equality Institute.
Ending GBV also requires a shift in cultural norms and attitudes toward gender. That’s why Breakthrough is using pop culture, media and technology to challenge gender-based norms in the U.S. and India and to help tackle violence. For example, their first campaign in India in 2008 was a series of TV ads called “Bell Bajao!” (or “Ring the Bell!”), which promoted the idea that violence is everyone’s business. So, if you witness your neighbor being violent toward his wife, you can help by creating an interruption, like ringing their doorbell. Breakthrough is also helping women in India realize for themselves that violence against them by their husbands is, in fact, a problem and should not be accepted.
To accelerate changes from the ground up, some organizations are focused on supporting grassroots activists. For example, the Seattle International Foundation (SIF) has been partnering with the U.S. Department of State for years on a program called Mujeres Adelante (or “Women Forward” in Spanish), which addresses GBV by hosting grassroots women leaders from Central America in the U.S. for two weeks of leadership training and exchanges. The goal, according to SIF, is to create a more organized and powerful network of change agents across the region who can support each other in their efforts to end GBV.
While women become more empowered to assert their rights, many organizations are also realizing the importance of engaging men and boys in the conversation in order to break the cycle of violence. After all, violence in many cases is learned behavior. In Lebanon, for example, a study found that men who had witnessed their fathers beating their mothers during childhood were three times more likely to perpetrate physical violence. However, CARE is helping men and boys redefine masculinity through family economic initiatives that teach couples how to run their households as equals, through male support groups that have open discussions about GBV and by facilitating conversations about GBV between male change agents and political and religious leaders. In patriarchal systems, it’s especially important for men to lead other men by example. That’s why Vital Voices, an organization that invests in women leaders, puts a big emphasis on male allies when they train police officers, lawyers, judges, and religious leaders – professions still dominated by men in many countries – on how to prevent and respond to violence against women.
Although there’s still a long road ahead in the fight to end GBV, experts are encouraged that at the very least, social change has been initiated. And as all of these strategies continue to work together to address the many facets of violence, changemakers are optimistic that the momentum will build: new generations of girls will grow up knowing that they have a right to safety, education, and decision-making about their own wellbeing, and new generations of boys will learn how to be allies. But making that a reality will require sustained efforts to actively change norms and uphold the rights of women, girls, and minorities everywhere.
The following Global Washington members are working to end gender-based violence around the world:
Awamaki partners with women’s artisan cooperatives to teach them to start and run their own businesses. Awamaki invests in women’s skills, connects them to markets and supports their empowerment. Through Awamaki’s programs, artisan women from marginalized and remote villages learn business and leadership skills so they can earn an income and gain a voice in their households and their communities. The organization’s trainings include gender-based violence awareness and women’s rights topics, and its income-generating programs allow women to build successful futures and create a better life for themselves and their children.
Women and girls are born into a context steeped in discrimination and gender-based violence, with about 1 in 3 women worldwide having experienced violence at some point in their lives. India is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a girl or woman, with early marriage a serious concern, doubling the likelihood of violence. Against this backdrop, Breakthrough works to make gender-based violence and discrimination unacceptable by transforming the cultural norms that perpetuate these practices. Breakthrough is a global human rights organization based in the U.S. and India. The organization uses culture to change culture, reaching people where they are to inspire action, replacing harmful norms with human rights values through the power of pop culture, media, arts, and tech, combined with on-the-ground engagement. Breakthrough’s powerful campaigns reach and inspire millions, and equip people to take action. Breakthrough focuses on youth, as the organization believes they hold the most potential to ultimately create a new generation that will reject violence and discriminatory gender norms to create new narratives. Breakthrough’s proven community engagement model of change in India is working to transform attitudes and behaviors with the aim to reach over a million young people by 2023.
Ending poverty requires addressing the power inequalities between women and men, girls and boys that underpin gender-based violence. CARE is committed to supporting the empowerment of poor women and girls in their challenges to enjoy happy and healthy lives and to change the contexts in which they live, learn, work and raise families. This includes the organization’s dedication to working with women and men in all settings to confront gender-based violence, which affects at least one in three women worldwide. CARE’s holistic approach to gender-based violence combines prevention with comprehensive service delivery, and addresses root causes driving various forms of gender-based violence and gender discrimination. In more than 40 countries around the world, CARE works with issues of GBV, including providing critical medical, legal, psychosocial and protection services to people experiencing violence (primarily women and girls), and provides local activists with assistance and support to link with others to provide case management to survivors, advocate for improved policies and laws, raise awareness and change local norms that perpetuate violent behavior.
Days for Girls (DfG) International’s mission is to turn periods into pathways. Around the world, women and girls miss days of education and opportunity because they lack access to menstrual health products and education. This can put them in vulnerable positions where they are taken advantage of, exploited, and experience violence and abuse. Giving women and girls the resources they need to manage their periods contributes to a world that is safe, equitable, and healthy for all womankind. DfG works in three key areas: 1) Focus on educating both boys and girls with health education, which includes human-trafficking avoidance, self-defense, and other empowering tools to utilize and implement. 2) Support sustainable social enterprises that are locally-led and generate jobs within a community. Enterprises are small businesses led by women who are trained to sew and sell washable DfG Kits (reusable pads) while also providing our valuable health education. 3) Connect with policymakers, governments, and coalitions to include and invest in menstrual health resources within education and governmental sectors. This three-pronged approach has enabled DfG to reach more than 1.7 million women and girls in 144 countries.
Every Woman Treaty is a coalition of more than 1,700 women’s rights activists, including 840 organizations, in 128 nations working to advance a global binding norm on the elimination of violence against women and girls. The organization’s working group studied recommendations from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and scholarly research on how to solve the problem of violence against women and girls, including trafficking and modern slavery, and found that a global treaty is the most powerful step the international community can take to address an issue of this magnitude.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) fights to end violence against women and girls, advance women’s right to health care, and promote women’s economic and social rights. HRW’s method is straightforward. The organization investigates violations of women’s rights, talking to the women and girls directly affected on the ground in countries around the world. HRW documents its findings in hard-hitting reports with detailed recommendations. Then HRW uses these reports—and targeted media outreach—to generate pressure for reform by the entities that perpetrate abuses against women. All HRW’s work is intersectional and is done in partnership with local organizations and activists. HRW researchers fight sexual harassment in the workplace and abuses in garment manufacturing to combatting human trafficking; work to end child marriage, and defending women’s access to land and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health. HRW’s latest work is uncovering the new intersections between technology and gender-based violence, including digital stalking and on-line harassment, as it continues to document abuses and foster coalitions that protect, defend, and fight for women’s rights around the world.
Kati Collective improves systems across global development by providing experienced, strategic, and pragmatic action focused on three of the most important drivers of change: women, digital, and partnerships. In all of its engagements, Kati Collective applies a gender lens, thinking strategically about how to engage men and boys, while concurrently supporting women and girls in LMICs. Kati Collective’s work concentrates on culturally relevant technology for social impact, focusing on girls’ and women’s empowerment applications for effectively educating communities and maximizing outcomes for the underserved across the globe. Gender-based violence, which is faced by women globally, is not a female problem – it is a human problem, rooted in the attitudes, cultural norms, and behaviors of men worldwide. When men and boys are educated about ingrained sexist and systemic biases, they begin to see how they can partner in stopping these behaviors and practices from harming the next generation. Kati Collective approaches partnerships with the goal of aligning agendas regarding GBV and other female-centric issues forward collectively. Local and global perspectives must come together for impactful and lasting systemic change. Kati Collective provides its clients with perspective and experience, as well as the strategies and tools needed to improve outcomes for women on a global scale.
Children and youth in Central America face widespread gender-based violence (GBV), including sexual abuse, human trafficking, and sexual violence by gangs and organized criminal groups. With nowhere to turn for protection or support, many children are forced to migrate in search of safety. KIND’s Gender and Migration Initiative seeks to prevent and address gender-based violence against children and youth in Central America by shifting harmful social norms that enable these forms of violence and creating stronger support systems for children at the local level. In partnership with local organizations in Guatemala and Honduras, KIND engages children and youth in violence prevention and healthy relationships activities and adolescent girls in leadership and economic empowerment programming; trains teachers to recognize cases of sexual abuse and connect survivors with assistance; provides parents and caretakers with tools to communicate with children about GBV and healthy relationships; and raises awareness of GBV in local communities. This programming reached over 1,800 individuals in Guatemala and Honduras in 2019 alone. KIND conducts research on GBV and child migration, and advocates with U.S. and regional governments to increase protection and support for survivors of violence. KIND’s ultimate goals are to protect children from GBV and prevent them from being forced to migrate to escape GBV.
Landesa champions and works to secure land rights for millions of those living in poverty worldwide, primarily rural women and men, to promote social justice and provide opportunity. Evidence shows that women’s land rights can transform power dynamics within households and communities, improving women’s status and their own perceptions of their power. This empowerment forms the bedrock for greater economic opportunity for women, and can also contribute to better health outcomes, including potential reductions in gender-based violence, rates of HIV infection, and other threats to women’s safety. In West Bengal, India, Landesa is working with USAID and PepsiCo to raise awareness of issues related to GBV in agricultural supply chains. This work includes developing guidance documents for a project that is helping women farmers learn skills to participate in PepsiCo’s potato supply chain. Guidance has been tailored both for field staff who work directly with farmers and for management staff, including training materials developed in collaboration with a local CSO to help field staff address GBV. Across more than 50 countries, Landesa has helped strengthen land rights for more than 180 million families.
Mercy Corps is a global team of nearly 6,000 humanitarians working in more than 40 countries around the world. From Colombia to the Central African Republic, Mercy Corps partners with local communities to build strong, equitable, and protective societies in which women and girls can thrive. In order to combat Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Mercy Corps works to address the root causes of GBV and connect survivors with the vital resources and services they need. In Lebanon, Mercy Corps hosts a series of dialogue sessions for Syrian refugees in order to bring awareness to GBV and provides case management, connecting survivors to medical and legal services, psychological support and safe housing.
Lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) people around the world often face violence and exclusion in many spheres of their lives, fueled by laws that criminalize same-sex relations and gender non-conformity and encouraged by governments who tolerate, endorse, or directly sponsor the violent clamp-down on those who do not follow prevailing societal norms. Often LBT people are excluded or driven away from needed services and social support, and violence often goes unreported. They are also often denied access to justice based on archaic laws that limit the definition of rape while also delegitimizing same-sex and queer intimacy. OutRight Action International works with grassroots partners in Asia and the Caribbean to ensure that the experiences of LBT people are included in anti-gender-based violence work. For example, in 2019, OutRight and its Caribbean partners launched the Frontline Alliance: Caribbean Partnerships Against Gender Based Violence project to engage first responders, local government officials and others with a focus on domestic violence, family violence and intimate partner violence and to advocate for improvement in policies and protocols through engagement in research, trainings and strategic campaigning. OutRight has also documented the violence and exclusion LBT women face in Asia, worked with grassroots partners to improve domestic violence protections for LGBT people in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Myanmar and China, and is currently launching a regional platform of experts on SOGIE and GBV in Asia.
Oxfam America’s work to advance gender justice is multifaceted and tailored to the people Oxfam serves. In some countries, Oxfam is the largest and most prominent organization to take a stand for women and gender-diverse people, and alongside them, often supporting the infrastructures of burgeoning movements. In other countries, like Sri Lanka, Oxfam helps rethink entrenched systems and remap biases to shift attitudes and overcome barriers. In all places, Oxfam strives for sustainable change. Oxfam does so first by acknowledging women, girls, and feminist actors as effective social change agents who must have a hand in ensuring their own rights and in the development they most want to see – development that will transform their families, communities and countries. Oxfam’s gender-based violence (GBV) work is focused on working with women’s rights organizations and feminist movement actors in 30 countries to challenge and transform harmful social norms. Oxfam’s focus on ending GBV is on addressing changes in social norms that perpetrate violence against women in creative ways and engaging feminist activists a youth at the local level. Oxfam’s global, regional, and national GBV work includes: 1) innovative global and national campaigning activities, like the Enough campaign working with digital influencers to counter anti-rights actors; 2) engaging and supporting the agendas of women’s rights organizations and feminist movement actors; 3) collaboration with feminist funds to provide small, flexible grants to young feminist organizers running campaigns; and 4) supporting the mobilization of young people at regional level.
Seattle International Foundation (SIF) champions good governance and equity in Central America through support for rule of law and the strengthening of civil society. When security and rule of law deteriorate in the Northern Triangle of Central America, women face not only systemic violence from powerful gangs, impunity and government repression, but pervasive domestic and sexual violence as well. This has exacerbated the tendency to migrate, despite a high likelihood of facing additional violence en route and a slim likelihood of obtaining asylum in the United States. SIF has committed to addressing and mitigating this reality through its multi-prong approach and through its key initiatives: the Central America Donors Forum, Central America in Washington, D.C., Central America and Mexico Youth (CAMY) Fund, Centroamérica Adelante and the Independent Journalism Fund.
Vista Hermosa is a family foundation located in Pasco WA, established by Ralph and Cheryl Broetje in 1990 to invest in the growth of flourishing communities. Informed by teachings of servant leadership, healing centered engagement and empowered worldview, Vista Hermosa takes a holistic approach to understanding and reconciling people’s connections to self, others, God, and place (shalom). Vista Hermosa accompanies very marginalized groups of people to discover who they are, find their voice, and be the solutions to their own wellbeing and development. The foundation currently funds partners in Mexico, Haiti, India, and East Africa, as well as the U.S. One of its strategies to address gender-based violence is through supporting the adaptation of SASA! (originally developed in Uganda), a community-led awareness, education and action methodology. Vista Hermosa funded the adaptation for the Haitian context and most recently for Mexico/Central America. The foundation is currently assembling a group of funders to support a cohort of regional NGOs to implement this evidence-based curriculum that addresses power imbalances between women and men in communities. Vista Hermosa also supports a range of organizations working on child and sex trafficking, FGM, and new masculinities.
Vital Voices is a global movement that invests in women leaders solving the world’s greatest challenges. Vital Voices understands that, in order for the world to embrace women’s full potential across industries and issues, gender-based violence (GBV) must be eliminated. Vital Voices works with women leaders and male allies to ensure that victims and survivors of GBV gain better access to services, protection and the justice they deserve. Vital Voices oversees key programs implemented in partnership with local leaders to deliver on this work. The Voices Against Violence Initiative champions innovative solutions to end GBV. Within Voices Against Violence, Vital Voices provides and administers Urgent Assistance Funds to survivors of extreme cases of GBV who do not have alternative means of support for immediate, short-term needs such as medical expenses, psychosocial counseling, emergency shelter and more. Also through Voices Against Violence, Vital Voices hosts Justice Institutes – interactive training programs that promote holistic response to violence and exploitation by convening judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and service providers and other stakeholders across the justice system to focus on victim safety and offender accountability. Vital Voices also oversees the Global Freedom Exchange, which provides a dynamic educational and mentoring experience for emerging and established women leaders who are on the forefront of global efforts to prevent and respond to the destructive crime of human trafficking. These programs support Vital Voices’ work protecting human rights so that everyone can enjoy the safety and security they deserve.