Has the Arab Spring Failed? Not yet, reckons the Economist – Highlights from its excellent Special Report

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July 17, 2013

Some good news (and lots of guidance) on tackling Violence Against Women

July 17, 2013
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I’m just finalising the first draft of a paper on how states have empowered excluded groups of people (more on that to follow). It’s pretty wide-ranging,Nigeria VAW as you can imagine, but one of the most striking areas of my reading was on Violence Against Women – a critical barrier to empowerment in far too many communities. There really is a lot going on, and quite a bit of good news. Here are some snapshots:

In March, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Bill, including a more comprehensive definition of rape, harsher sentences for rape and other sexual offences, compensation for rape victims, institutional protection from further abuse through restraining orders and a new fund to support the rehabilitation of victims of violence.

According to a recent blog post by Oxfam’s Jacky Repila:

‘So, who and what made the difference between the rejection of the bill in 2003 and its approval in 2013, with only minor modifications? Step forward Oxfam’s partner WRAPA – or the Women’s Rights’ Advancement and Protection Alternative. This organisation has first-hand experience of the consequences of violent crime gained through providing legal aid and counselling services since 1999. As Secretariat for the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW) WRAPA has tirelessly built up a head of pressure on parliamentarians to vote in the VAPP Bill, powered by national and pan-African advocacy and policy connections and the critical mass of seventeen civil society, faith and community groups galvanising support from across Nigeria’s ethnic groups and states.

In 2008 WRAPA starting working with Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice Programme (RHV). The partnership added renewed momentum to the push for poor women’s participation and the domestication of the African Union Women’s Protocol and breathed new life into WRAPA’s campaigning and advocacy around the VAPP bill.’

If you want more on the Nigeria experience, there’s also a four page background paper by Fiona Gell.

There’s some interesting Ushahidi-based crowd mapping of VAW going on in Cambodia, EgyptIndia and elsewhere (thanks to Open Data Research and @sushoban for the links)

Then the latest edition of the excellent (and very pink) Gender and Development journal has a piece on the ‘pink transportation’ movement in Mexico City (which reminds me of the famous pink telephone project in Cambodia – is pink universal now?):

‘Rapid urbanization and rising complaints by women of sexual harassment in the public transit system have led to a need and demand for women-only transportation in many cities, including Mexico City, Bangkok, Tokyo, Dubai, Moscow, and Rio de Janeiro.

pink taxiIn Mexico City in 2009, INMUJERES (a women’s rights-focused state institution) implemented a programme called Viajemos  Seguras (We Women Travel Safe). Viajemos Seguras established booths, hotlines, and other security offices throughout subway stations and bus terminals, giving women a safe and secure place to report crimes.

Secondly, INMUJERES converted some previously invisible women-only transportation into ‘pink transportation’, turning it into a visual campaign to publicize the problem of violence against women. Lastly, it helped establish a line of pink taxis: cabs driven by women, only stopping for women (see pic). Researchers concluded that the Mexico City experience shows a clear role for state authorities in the city in creating a liberated space to support collective action.’

I also got myself an update on the spread of women’s police stations, c/o UN Women:

“Examples of specific state action to reduce violence against women include the creation of women’s police stations in 15 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Most commonly the stations address family violence, particularly physical violence, threats, as well as sexual violence. They are often staffed by specially trained female personnel and aim to improve the ability of the police to respond to the unique needs of women survivors. In India, a study found that the establishment of 188 women’s police stations resulted in a 23 percent increase in reporting of crimes against women and children and a higher conviction rate.”

For more substantial treatments, DFID has a great three part series of ‘How to’ Notes on Violence Against Women and Girls, covering its theory of change, a guide to community programming, and monitoring and evaluation. Oxfam also has a good Guide to Ending Violence Against Women.

Then of course there is the amazing We Can campaign, and the brave campaign against the grim phenomenon of ‘femicide’ in Honduras.

More generally, if you want to know why governments take action, evidence collected over 70 countries across 40 years by S Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun  shows the single most important predictor that states will successfully reduce violence against women is the existence of a vibrant national women’s movement.

Important and often inspiring (despite the horrendous proliferation of acronyms), but just in case you think I’ve been at the koolaid, here’s a reminder of how slow progress on VAW has been, from a recent World Bank report on the positive, but painfully slow, reduction in violence (or at least the perception of it). At which point I step back and let everyone query the (doubtlessly dodgy) stats.

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3 comments

  1. Duncan,
    Thanks for the excellent blog on violence against women and girls and gender based violence. Occasionally we need the good news since, as you say, this is a grim reality indeed! I want to add two comments:
    While the kind of responses to VAWG you document and reflect on are extremely valuable (of course when they work), ending violence against women is about prevention as much as (and perhaps more than) response. The Commission for the Status of Women – which considered ‘the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls’ – recognised this and established an expert group meeting (EGM ) to report on what work for preventions. See the excellent report
    http://www.unwomen.org/en/events/59/expert-group-meeting-prevention-of-violence-against-women-and-girls/
    Humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict situations see an exacerbation of violence against women, and are particularly difficult contexts for prevention and response work. This is being recognised by DFID, and in 4 March 2013 the Secretary of State for International Development delivered a speech in which she committed to launch an international Call to Action to address violence against women and girls in humanitarian situations, with a Summit in the autumn of 2013 that would “bring agencies, donors and advocates together to make sure that we up our game”. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmintdev/107/10709.htm
    As practitioners we have an obligation to be as responsive, and commit to end violence against women and girls in all its manifestation and in all contexts, especially through truly understanding the root causes.

  2. Thanks for your post Duncan,

    You link to some highly relevant resources and stats.
    I fully agree with your point about the role of strong women’s movements to fight and prevent gender-based violence (GBV). In addition to tackling the problem with human-rights arguments, it can be effective to provide evidence of the direct and indirect costs of gender-based violence. Especially if there is a lack of political will to address gender-based violence, data on the costs of GBV for health care, legal services, lost earning potential and productivity as well as curtailed education can be a powerful argument to trigger change.
    Here is a short blog post with some figures: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourperspective/ourperspectivearticles/2013/03/29/violence-against-women-also-hurts-business-and-development/

    Another important aspect regarding the prevention of GBV is working with men and boys to better understand causes, to develop prevention strategies targeting men and boys and to nurture leaders that make a difference. Partners for Prevention is one of many initiatives in this field and their research on attitudes and practices in the South-Asian region provides interesting insights. Here is a recent study from Sri Lanka: http://www.partners4prevention.org/news/new-study-attitudes-practices-and-gender-based-violence-sri-lanka-launched

    To successfully combat violence against women work on different fronts is needed: improvements of the legal framework and support services as your example of Nigeria shows. Also improved support services and access to justice for survivors and an end to impunity for perpetrators.
    In this context, I’d like to recommend a recent TED Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KTvSfeCRxe8
    Katz makes an interesting point: Discourses about gender-based violence and domestic violence tend to focus on victims. With simple examples he illustrates that neglecting the role of perpetrators and bystanders in our work can have negative impacts on survivors of GBV.

  3. Duncan,
    Point taken on need for caution with statistics derived from purposively selected samples like ours in the World Bank report. We put the numbers out there because they helped us to begin to make sense of and analyze the very large and complex dataset; and also to help frame our major (and often complex)findings for the reader. In fact, the great preponderance of our analysis emerged from systemtic work with the narrative data. But harder to see in the bar chart in the blog, we find that 31 percent of women’s focus groups from the 97 study communities in 20 countries perceived domestic violence to be a regular or frequent occurence for women in their communities; and this is consistent with some other more representative samples (see the great overview work on intimate partner violence by Lori Hesie, for instance). Perhaps more importantly for your encouraging blog, however, is that the discourse in the focus groups makes clear not only the great variance in levels of violence against women on the ground, but also the reality that this violence is not so hidden and neighbors and friends of both sexes can and do discuss it openly — including in our focus groups almost everywhere we went. This would suggest opportunities for broad public outreach campaigns that can tap into and direct this awareness in much more productive ways for the women and also men who are affected by this scourge. Thanks so much for the great post!

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