Gender, Equity and Human Rights

Violence against women

The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

The magnitude of gender based violence is difficult to determine even in normal situations, and all the more difficult in disaster situations where barriers to reporting fear of retribution, powerlessness, lack of support, breakdown of public services, and the dispersion of families and communities are greater.

While more research is needed, available evidence suggests that the stress and disruption of natural disasters may lead to a rise in gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence. In general, health workers and other field staff are advised to assume that sexual violence may be a problem unless they have conclusive proof to the contrary.

Relief agencies should plan accordingly to prevent gender based violence and to plan an appropriate response when sexual violence occurs. The choice of plan site and administration of the camp should be done to minimize risks to women, and assistance should be distributed to reduce potential risks to women. Basic prevention includes ensuring that women and girls have adequate privacy in shelters, women and girls are adequately protected against abuse, violence, exploitation and thefts, and women that are traditionally stigmatized against on account of their ethnicity, religious preference or employment are not discriminated against or refused shelter and protection in camps.

Sexual violence can result in sexual trauma, undesired pregnancy, mental health disorders, sexually transmitted infection and HIV transmission, and stigma among other social consequences, especially for unmarried women. Health staff should be trained to identify women who have suffered sexual violence, and should be able to direct victims to health services for medical treatment, counseling and protection services. Suspected and confirmed cases of gender-based violence should be recorded and integrated into an emergency health information system.

Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence against Women

Taking Action and Generating Evidence (2010)

A seminal document which guides policy makers and planners and other networks involved in the endeavour towards not only addressing the prevalent violence against women but preventing it from happening altogether. An overarching Public Health approach that combines the Gender outlook, a criminal justice perspective as well as a Human Rights based approach, aims to work towards Primary Prevention of such violence by identifying and addressing the root causes of the same. The document further emphasizes the importance of good data, high quality evidence and supporting and continuing effective or potentially effective programmes.

Taking the WHO Multi Country study as one of the main databases the prevalence of violence is explored, while also looking at Dating Violence and Violence against Men in High Income Countries. Important highlights are the relationships of sexual/intimate partner violence with a number of risk factors like social and cultural norms, income status, alcohol consumption etc which are elucidated later in the document. Health consequences and outcomes of sexual and physical violence in childhood, adolescence and adulthood are widespread both in terms of physical and psychological effects which have an immediate as well as long term impact.

In order for the document to be truly comprehensive in exposing the root causes as well as serving to provide a tool for primary prevention, it identifies a range of risk and protective factors (for both perpetration of violence and victimization) using the ecological model of violence in order to demonstrate the complex interplay between societal, community, relationship and individual level factors.

Some of the highlighted Risk factors that cut across sexual violence, and intimate partner violence are, Low Education, Young Age, Harmful Alcohol Use, Poverty, Weak community and/or legal sanctions, traditional Gender Norms and Inequality, Child Maltreatment, Anti-social Personality etc. Protective factors are highly under-researched but evidence shows that the status of sexual and intimate partner violence can be greatly modified if these factors are fostered. For example Primary prevention efforts in young age, along with healthy parenting and prevention of child maltreatment can have lasting positive influences on a child’s adult life.

Based on the long term principles of Upstream Action and Non Tolerance as well as measures for immediate results, the various programmes and strategies and the evidence for their effectiveness or potential effectiveness is then assessed. The document extrapolates that though most strategies and programmes demonstrate no conclusive evidence of effectiveness; their potential is visible on the basis of theory or knowledge of risk factors, and therefore they can be strengthened. Programmes applicable for different life stages (Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood) are illustrated along with their current status in implementation, their established or potential effectiveness. Several progrmames demonstrate emerging evidence of efficiency especially with regard to Intimate Partner Violence. An important strategy that is stressed is related to Changing Social and cultural norms related to Gender that support or ignore such violence. While the degree and standard and type of such norms vary over time, space and culture; it is safe to assume that an effort to change individual attitudes, remedy misperceptions and dispel myths and stereotypes can be instrumental in impacting gender based violence.

The many gaps in existing strategies can be ameliorated following the substantial recommendations made by this paper. A step by step procedure for improving policy planning and evaluation is elucidated which includes identifying key partners as well as nature of the problem, then going on to explore relevant potential programmes, followed by a clear plan of action ensuring delivery, and finally putting in place a system of evaluation and shared learning.