Lessons Learned in the Efforts to End Violence Against Women
November 25, 2010
We’ve learned many lessons over two decades of sustained effort to draw international attention to gender-based violence as a serious human rights, public health and development issue. But perhaps the most important one is that, although transforming restrictive and discriminatory laws and policies is essential to provide women and girls access to justice and protection from gender based violence, it is only a first step in reducing gender-based violence globally.
Since 1995, when the Beijing Platform of Action urged governments to address violence against women and girls, most countries have adopted new laws criminalizing different forms of gender based violence, and provided protection and services for survivors of violence. However, according to research carried out by ICRW and others, women are just as likely to be beaten or sexually abused by an intimate partner today as they were two decades ago. In order to achieve tangible improvements in the lives of women and girls, we need to effectively implement and monitor laws. We need much greater investments, both in developing and testing innovative approaches for preventing violence. And we need to scale up programs which have been proven to work.
Experience has shown that individual “awareness raising” workshops or campaigns are rarely effective in changing people’s attitudes or behavior. Social change requires long-term, systematic engagement of communities, institutions, and decision-makers. Although GBV prevention is still an emerging field, there are many innovative programs that have shown promising results in changing social norms. One such program developed by the Uganda-based organization Raising Voices, is called SASA!. SASA! is a community mobilization strategy for preventing violence and HIV which is being implemented in at least 10 African countries. Rather than discussing punitive responses to violence, SASA! emphasizes prevention by focusing on the benefits of non-violence and gender equity to both men and women. It also supports a deeper analysis of the impact of violence, and the underlying causes of gender inequality. The overall process of social change generated by SASA! is designed to stimulate local activism and advocacy.
Another pioneering approach uses entertainment to raise awareness on important social issues, including violence against women. Internationally, this type of work is known as “education entertainment”, or “edutainment”. Evaluations of internationally acclaimed edutainment programs such as Soul City in Africa, Break Through in India, and Sexto Sentido in Nicaragua, have shown that multimedia programs can help transform attitudes toward gender and violence by providing role models with which audiences can identify who are dealing with everyday problems in new ways.
We have also learned that women can not end GBV alone. We must engage men and boys as allies in GBV prevention, and there are many examples of programs that have done this successfully, such as Program H, developed by the Brazilian NGO Promundo, or the One Man Can Campaign of Sonke Gender Justice Center in South Africa. These approaches engage men and boys in open dialogue about violence and masculinity, and encourage them to develop new ways of relating with women and girls based on solidarity, cooperation, and fairness rather than domination and control. This new approach is being promoted and supported by an international alliance of organizations called MenEngage.
Although there is no “one size fits all” solution for ending gender based violence, these programs have shown that individuals and communities can change and that improving gender equality is an essential part of violence prevention. What we need now is sustained political commitment and resources to act on these lessons.
- Healthy Dialogues, November 2010: Gender Based Violence
- Gender Based Violence in Latin America
- Interview with Michele Moloney-Kitts on Gender Based Violence and Programs that have been Effective in Combating It
Mary Ellsberg, Vice President of Research and Programs at the International Center for Research on Women, www.icrw.org