While gender-based violence (GBV) is not a problem unique to Africa, there is little doubt that the extent of the problem persists more severely on the continent than elsewhere in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, in 2013, 35% of women worldwide had experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In contrast, 45.6% of women 15 years and older in Africa have experienced the same. This high incidence of GBV in Africa can be correlated to low levels of education, exposure to violence elsewhere, patriarchal systems, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality, and low access to information. In societies where justice is seldom achieved, knowledge of women’s rights is limited, and exposure to violence is consistent the task of reducing GBV remains of paramount importance.
Furthermore, such violence has multi-faceted implications: every instance of GBV is one which renews the cycle of normalized violence against women, increasing the number of girls and boys who are raised to believe that such attitudes and actions are the norm. The physical effects of such violence are obvious; however, the psychological effect on women are frequently less well-considered. In particular, the lack of support from authorities and the community, as well as the simple psychological trauma from such instances place strain on the very women who must bear the emotional burden of supporting and nurturing their families.
To combat both the existence and effect of GBV, the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided funding to 14 projects that addressed gender-based violence (GBV). These projects aimed to prevent gender-based violence, protect the victims of GBV, bring about the social and psychological reintegration of survivors and identify social and community factors driving such violence. These objectives were achieved by reinforcing the institutional capacity for the treatment, identification and resolution of GBV-related problems, as well as using education and communication as a tool for behavioural change and eradication of such perpetrations. In many countries, the projects successfully campaigned for the adoption of laws to eradicate domestic and gender-based violence. Other interventions included mapping instances of GBV, motivating victims of domestic violence to attend counselling sessions, and training family counsellors and community agents on domestic violence.
Success Stories and Case Studies
The following two projects outline the success that was achieved in eradicating gender-based violence.
WRAP (Women’s Rights Awareness Program): The Economic Empowerment of Abused and Violated Women in Nairobi, Kenya
The Women’s Rights Awareness Programme (WRAP) is a human rights organisation that creates awareness and advocates for the rights of women and children in Kenya. WRAP used the disbursement provided by the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment to economically empower abused and violated women from the Mathare, Huruma, Githurai and Kiambio slums of Nairobi, by helping them identify economic opportunities and enhance their skills and income-generating capabilities. By creating support groups for women in abusive relationships, they could work together to generate their own income and become financially independent, thereby providing a means to leave abusive relationships.
Five income generating activities were implemented in Nairobi, Kenya, which helped 2,261 women. The 5 businesses established included a taxi service, catering business, vegetable farming, equipment hiring for events and poultry farming. This provided women with long-term sources of income which helped them to leave abusive relationships and break the poverty cycle.
The following story illustrates the good work done by WRAP:
“Faustine is a proud mother of five children and stays in the Korogocho slums of Nairobi. She is HIV positive. Her family started to discriminate against her due to her HIV status and her husband deserted her with 5 children to care for. She also had to close down her business because she could no longer balance her time between taking care of her sick child, herself and running the business.
Faustine was introduced to Women’s Rights Awareness Program (WRAP) by a group which had already benefited from WRAP. On visiting WRAP, she narrated to the social worker about her ordeal, who then referred her to the project manager. On the assessment of her needs, we provided her with training on life skills to enable her to generate income for herself through skills acquisition. She made savings from this business and has moved from a one room to a double room house which she bought out of her savings from the beadwork.
Faustine is now a landlady on her own and can freely concentrate on her beadwork and on the expansion of the business. She says that she has used these skills to train and encourage other women who are survivors of GBV, to step forward and live a violence free life through engagement in some economic activities rather than depending on their abusive husbands.
Faustine says that they formed a group of 100 women out of those who had benefitted from these trainings and further subdivided into small groups of 5 in different regions.
Her group of 100 later on came back at WRAP and further trained on business skills and Gender Based Violence training to equip them with necessary skills to face the challenges of their informal settings that are characterized with social injustices.
She confesses that ever since she was born, she never knew how to do bead work or crocheting. Thanks to the training she now has a stable income, she can live without fear and carry out her dream of making beautiful items to sell”.
SAMRC (South African Medical Research Council): The development and implementation of an intervention to reduce Gender Based Violence Perpetrated against young women aged 16-24 in a peri-urban setting in South Africa: A Community Participation Model
Community participation techniques were developed and implemented by SAMARC (South African Medical Research Council) to reduce gender-based violence against young women aged 18-24 in Mbekweni, Cape Town. Social and community factors driving violence were also explored. One hundred young women and 30 young men were recruited for the program, an Anti-Gender Based Violence Training manual was developed, and a 14-week training programme was facilitated.
The major successes of the project were the establishment of 6 Community Action Groups wherein 123 community members participated. Six Event-based Action Plans and 3 Action Planning Camps to reduce gender violence in Mbekweni where further implemented. A 4-day Self-Esteem Camp was facilitated for 26 young girls and boys in Mbekweni and a Women in a Circle Gender and Development Forum was established. Evaluation assessments indicated that the project achieved a significant shift in attitudes and perceptions about gender-based violence.
The project’s success was enabled by the participatory and reflection-for-action approaches that were used to deliver the sessions. These approaches provided participants, facilitators, the project leader and partners with the opportunity to critically examine long held beliefs, ways of being and experiences of woman/manhood and be able to identify the ways in which they generated the risk of gender-based violence. The reflection-for-action exercises meant that the beneficiaries were not didactically taught about how gender-based violence is produced in their society. Instead through the reflective, participatory approaches of the program, they were able to shape their own learning, discovery and transformation and arrived at critical answers about gender, power and violence themselves. By these means, everything that was learnt during the course of the project was internalised and diffused within the participants social environment, as well as through new conversations with their families, co-workers, friends and neighbors.
To sustain the achievements of the project, two of the Community Action Groups, with SAMRC’s support, established a non-profit Gender and Development Forum (Mbekweni Women in a Circle Gender and Development Forum) to act as an umbrella body for all community based projects engaging in gender and development work.
SAMRD found that community participation is complex and establishing consensus was difficult, particularly in poverty-stricken communities where the priority is to meet primary survival needs. The complexity is compounded when communities must re-evaluate and reject patriarchal beliefs and hierarchical gender relations which can generate gender-based violence.
A further observation that was made was that readiness for action must not be assumed; some groups may be ready only for individual change, and not to engage in community action to change others. The process therefore requires time and there must be willingness and flexibility to accommodate the lengthier implementation time frames.
SAMRC found that collaboration is important and that by working with other partners they could transform indifferent participants into men and women who were persuaded of the importance of good gender relations, as well as the usefulness and urgency of transforming themselves and doing away with gender based violence in Mbekweni.
Incentive initially given to ensure participation (R100 shopping voucher) had a negative impact on retention of participants during the intervention, because they expected to continue receiving such the incentive throughout the intervention.
Generating interest in gender-based violence was a challenge, especially in poor communities with their high and normalised levels of violence against women. Community members were therefore initially disinterested in participating because they prioritised employment and food security needs above gender-based violence issues.
Further challenges that SAMRC encountered was to entrench self-reliance, self-direction and leadership in the groups.
The best success stories were those where participants/beneficiaries who were initially unconcerned about gender-based violence began to question their beliefs and transformed into eager activists for women’s empowerment and equal intimate relationships.
Two stories of such evidences of transformation stand out:
“During one of the camps, we facilitated an exercise called Violence Washing Line, which required people to anonymously share their experiences of having perpetrated or been on the receiving end of gender violence. They had to write such experiences on small, color coded pieces of paper and post them on the wall. After everyone had posted their experiences on the wall, we gathered in a big circle, and then two young men put up their hands and shared with emotion and tears the acts of violence that they had committed in the past. They apologized remorsefully for their violent acts and reflected with great insight that previously they had perceived these acts as being justified, but since having participated in the interventions, they had come to realize that violence is too harmful to ever be justified”.
“Another great moment where we felt we had succeeded in the project was when a few participants began to report about individual and small actions that they were taking whenever they witnessed violence against women in the community. One participant talked about visiting her neighbor who regularly beat his wife every weekend and advising him that the next time he did so, she would report him to the police. This was a proud moment for this participant because in all the years she had witnessed the neighbors’ violent episodes, she had been an apathetic bystander, never considering that she had agency and power to take action against it.
MINFAMU (Ministério da Família e Promoção da Mulher): Support for Gender Issues in Angola
The MINFAMU project addressed domestic violence against women in Angola and 32,020 GBV victims were assisted between 2008 and 2010, while 600 advisors also benefitted from the project.
An import outcome was the adoption of the Law on Domestic Violence in 2011 in Angola. This law criminalises and penalises any occurrence of domestic-based violence. Information relating to this law was widely disseminated by means of workshops as well as through TV and radio debates.
A database on domestic violence was further established to improve the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of statistical information on domestic violence against women. Other interventions included motivating victims of domestic violence to attend counselling sessions at Family Counselling Centres; training family counsellors and community agents on domestic violence; constructing a Shelter House to accommodate victims of violence; building a Referral Family Counselling Centre (CAF); refurbishing Family Counselling Centres; strengthening support services to victims of domestic violence by conducting training workshops across the country and producing training manuals on legal and family counselling and the Law on Domestic Violence. The initiatives undertaken during the MINFAMU project have significantly contributed to achieving the strategic objectives set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.
The success of the project further resulted in the Namibe Provincial Department for Family and Women Promotion requesting additional training session for Family Counsellors. The request was granted, and the training took place, accordingly.
Key Lessons Learned from the Eradicating Gender Based Violence Projects
Capitalise on existing political will to help achieve the objectives of a GBV project
In a number of projects, it was found that it is important to capitalise on existing political will to help to achieve the objectives of GBV projects. For example, the successful litigation of the cases against women and girls charged with adultery in Sudan, while not translating into immediate reform of Sudan’s rape and public order laws, resulted in the government expressing a commitment to align with the African Union and its treaties and conventions.
Collaborate with political parties, other NGOs, and formal groups to ensure the success of GBV projects
The broader the constituency of actors that are approached to assist with advancing the goals of a project, the greater the impact of the advocacy engagements. Working with other partners and collaboration helped the SAMRC project in South Africa to transform indifferent participants to men and women who were persuaded of the usefulness and urgency of transforming themselves, improving gender relations and doing away with gender-based violence.
Sensitise communities, government and religious groups to GBV projects and adopt culturally sensitive interventions when implementing such projects
It is crucial to adopt a culturally sensitive approach when implementing interventions to eradicate GBV. For example, in many cultures, it is offensive to discuss GBV issues in public. In South Africa, the SAMRC team reported that the complexity was compounded when communities had to re-evaluate and reject patriarchal beliefs and hierarchical gender relations which can generate gender-based violence.
Implement good communication facilities, reporting standards and procedures for GBV projects
It was emphasised in many of the projects addressing GBV issues that it is important to maintain good reporting and project tracking procedures. The SAMARC project leaders emphasized that documenting every activity of the project has proven very helpful to understand the process, what worked well, what could have been done differently and what was achieved.
Note: This article first appeared on the website of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development at http://www.nepad.org