Stories of gender-based violence have become an everyday norm. For many who experience it, gender-based violence (GBV) is not a one-time event; it is a lifetime experience.
It is the time to call GBV what it really is: an ongoing human rights violation of pandemic level. Ending it should be our common agenda.
Here at the Bantwana Initiative Eswatini, we leverage our relationships with the people who we serve, the government, and community-based organizations to prevent and respond to GBV.
To commemorate this year’s 16 days of activism against GBV, we highlight eight ways to prevent GBV:
- Strengthen relationship skills: Equipping adolescent girls and youth with vital soft skills like effective communication and self-confidence to build healthy relationships can protect them from GBV. Through our Protect Our Youth Curriculum, we build adolescent girls and young women’s (AGYW’s) agency and empower them with skills to mitigate the triggers of GBV. Our peer mentors work with AGYW to cultivate positive perspectives on gender norms, raise consciousness of gender-related risks, build assertiveness, and decision making and negotiation, which are vital for equitable relationships.
- Strengthen positive family relationships: Families have a critical role in children’s upbringing, and should be places of sanctuary, growth, and development. Parents and caregivers can be the first line of support for children, and facilitate access to essential services. A number of factors, however, can turn home environments into places of abuse and trauma. Our parenting programs raise parent/caregiver awareness of GBV, and give them skills to build positive relationships with children. Our Leave No one Behind and Insika yaKusasa projects supported by the UN Trust Fund (through SWAGAA) and USAID/PEPFAR (through PACT), respectively, reach over 4,000 parents/caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and AGYW, including those with disabilities.
- Facilitate access to post-GBV care services: With the interconnectedness of communities, most perpetrators are related to survivors and family relations often are prioritized over reporting. We are generating awareness and empowering survivors to break the silence by combining GBV prevention with post-GBV care services. We train community cadres and social workers to act as a GBV response team that provides linkages to key resources, including the police, social welfare offices, and health and legal services to facilitate access to GBV care and support.
- Build capacity to respond: Service providers need specific skills to minimize the consequences of GBV. In the absence of survivor-centered trainings, the risks of re-victimization, stigmatizing, victim-blaming, and confidentiality breaches can be catastrophic for survivors. Survivors are often made to recount their abuse multiple times, which is re-traumatizing and often discourages them from seeking services in the future. To enable survivors to access high-quality post-GBV care services, we adopt a system-wide approach to strengthen the capacity of the social service workforce to put survivors first and do-no-harm. Our partnerships with UNICEF and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have enabled us to build GBV response readiness, including providing first-line support and fostering gender-equitable attitudes.
- Focus on children and AGYW: Childhood and adolescence provide an opportunity to shape positive norms of masculinity and femininity. Sadly, children and AGYW are disproportionately subjected to GBV, and those with disabilities have an even higher risk of GBV. It is crucial to address the intergenerational cycle of violence and ensure that people with disabilities are part of the GBV prevention continuum.
- Respond to the shadow pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns further marginalized people who are vulnerable to GBV. Evidence that humanitarian emergencies exacerbate inequalities and lead to new forms of GBV is increasing. In partnership with UNICEF and FCDO, we have worked to build response readiness among the social services workforce, and are strengthening GBV surveillance systems. In addition, we have extended cash-based transfers and savings groups to support caregivers of OVC and AGYW with disabilities. We continue our economic empowerment interventions to help marginalized families recover and thrive.
- Discuss GBV in schools: Our Life Skills Education (LSE), a curriculum-based program supported by the Global Fund (through CANGO), reaches over 115,000 learners in more than 280 secondary schools. We strengthen teacher capacity to identify and respond to GBV in schools and help them coordinate with social welfare, police, and health facilities to facilitate access to essential post-GBV care services. Through the LSE program, schools model positive gender norms at a critical age, creating safe and gender-sensitive environments
- Transform attitudes, beliefs, and norms: GBV does not occur in a vacuum, but is sustained by socio-economic and cultural contexts. We engage communities in dialogues that spotlight the causes and consequences of GBV. In these discussions, people critically reflect on their role in preventing GBV. Changing mindsets and cultural norms takes time, but it can be done. Our GBV-prevention work directly challenges masculine hegemony and shows that male allyship is critical to mitigate potential backlash.
Our call to action as we commemorate the 16 (365!) days of activism is for all actors to treat GBV as a parallel, not a shadow, pandemic that exists side-by-side with COVID-19, HIV, and climate change, and which, like them, requires sustained transformational efforts and funding and an enabling policy framework.
Written by Saul Chirume, Case Management Technical Advisor for the Bantwana Initiative Eswatini.