By the WITNESS GBV team and interns Karen Kirk and Phoebe Lytle
This is the last post of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence series.
Over the past few weeks, we have highlighted videos and stories on the Human Rights Channel and the blog in honor of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. For this final 16 Days post, we’re highlighting some of the successful solutions and promising strategies that are being developed to address sexual and gender-based violence.
Education and empowerment of girls
Equal access to education is essential for creating sustainable social change. It has been shown around the world that when women and girls thrive, societies thrive. When a girl is able to continue her education, she bypasses the obstacle of early marriage and the related health and safety risks such as unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.
This is being increasingly reflected in policy. For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently released a new policy addressing gender in development. This identifies the education of girls as a priority and thus acknowledges that when afforded equal opportunities, girls and the women they become are better equipped to participate in and change their societies. In the video below, the 10×10 campaign identifies education as one practical solution to for gender inequality and discrimination, and thus helping to end sexual and gender-based violence.
Activism and protest in transforming cultural and societal attitudes
For survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, an added injustice is the victim-blaming that predominates societies around the globe. This is where the survivors of rape and sexual assault—and not the perpetrators—are blamed for the act. Survivors are expected to prove that the attack was not provoked by their dress, character, marital status, or actions. A recent tipping point for victim-blaming came after Toronto constable Michael Sanguinetti’s ill-conceived advice that female students “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The outrage crescendoed in a march in April 2011, the start of what became a worldwide protest movement known as “Slutwalk.” Today, Slutwalk has spread beyond Toronto; marches have taken place in NYC, London, Kyrgyzstan, Delhi, Berlin, Sao Paulo and beyond. They demonstrate that around the world, it is perpetrators – not survivors – who are responsible for rape. The video below is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Civilian protection and national, regional, international mechanisms
Several mechanisms to protect of civilians in conflict exist at an international, regional, and national level, though effectiveness remains a challenge. At the national level, national army and security forces’ primary mission is to protect civilians and restore security. Humanitarian organizations are also key to protect civilians, though they have limited capacity and access.
Globally, UN peacekeeping operations are mandated to protect civilians, with a focus on those most affected: women and children. Peacekeeping missions have met with mixed success in their work to end conflicts and protect civilians. Some, such as the African Union peacekeeping operations in Somalia, has been successful in providing the needed protection for civilians. Others—such as MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo and the largest UN mission in the world—have failed to provide effective protection to civilians in the Eastern Congo. While peacekeeping missions can certainly be a successful strategy, they require intense, informed planning and nuanced implementation.
Increasing access to justice for survivors of SGBV
Key in fighting global sexual violence is improving access to justice for survivors, and increasing the number of perpetrators held accountable. Far too often, we hear stories of men and women who experience sexual violence at the hands of perpetrators who walk free, immediately or eventually. Survivors face a plethora of hurdles, including barriers to reporting, flawed investigations, unjust laws, and inadequate implementation of punishments in sentenced cases.
At the local level, survivors can benefit tremendously from a cohesive, efficient, and just system. They need processes for reporting, investigating, and prosecuting crimes of sexual violence that are centered around concerns for the human rights and dignity of survivors. A good first step in this direction is in the video below from Rwanda. It looks at on “gender desks,” and shares how the creation of dedicated areas for reporting sexual violence aids survivors in receiving justice and support.
Although much work remains to be done, the videos above illustrate real solutions and successful strategies for addressing and mitigating sexual and gender-based violence. Many of the frequent obstacles (resources, political will, societal attitudes) are substantial but not insurmountable.
Throughout our 16 Days coverage, it is clear that video is a critical tool to share solutions and to push for action to create real change. Its power to amplify and document the stories of SGBV survivors makes it possible for them to share their stories with those who need to hear them. In our fight against sexual and gender-based violence, it is one of our most powerful tools.