For the 31st year in a row, the United Nations marked “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” (GBV) from 25 November to 10 December. As distressing as it may be that the world continues to combat this issue even now, there have been several lessons learned in the decades preceding. Chief among them is that the issue is complex and requires a multi-faceted response in order to make headway.
GBV continues to be a pervasive public health problem, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one in three women has either suffered from intimate partner violence, sexual violence from someone other than a partner, or both; every year, 12 million girls are married as children; and at least 200 million women and girls today have endured female genital mutilation.
In the U.S. in 2021, the Biden administration released the Root Causes Strategy, a component of which is to bolster human rights and improve economic conditions in Latin America while establishing an orderly and humane immigration system (irregular migration is many times a result of GBV and an occasion of further violence, as women are more likely to be trafficked and to suffer assault).
Addressing GBV and its Causes
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) takes a multifaceted approach to this global issue, addressing GBV through partnerships and cooperation with governments; the private sector; civil society; the media; and donor organisations, such as the WHO and the United Nations Population Fund. USAID published 10 “how-to” notes on GBV, each report suggesting concrete steps for organisations seeking to make a difference, including a report on engaging local organisations to “own” the issue in their communities.
“Palladium’s work includes public health programs across the globe and engages local communities in prevention, response, and care for GBV survivors, including males and the LGBTQI+ community,” explains Beth Rottach, Palladium’s senior technical advisor for health. “Our programs include men and boys to enlist their support as allies to stop violence and to care for any of them who may be survivors of violence.”
Rottach adds that multi-sectoral collaborations and social inclusion are part of the approach – in line with USAID’s strategy and because research has shown that single-sector approaches, such as focusing solely on justice and law enforcement, do not work.
Guatemala is an example of a patriarchal society that often excludes women and other marginalised groups, leading to gender gaps in access to health and public services. USAID notes that in Guatemala women run fewer businesses, own less property, have greater difficulty entering the labour market, and have less access to credit and financing than men.
Only 37% of women participate in the formal labour market (compared to 85% of men), 27% own their own business, and 28% have access to financial markets (as opposed to 66% of men). Women have less access to education and healthcare and are more often the victims of violent crime. According to the government, violence against women is the most commonly reported crime in Guatemala – the most recent data showing 51,906 complaints in 2018.
Work for women’s economic independence is among the strategies that have potential to break the cycle of GBV and to prevent irregular migration.
But it’s not enough on its own.
“The causes of GBV are complex and rooted in patriarchy, gender inequality, and power imbalances. Economic empowerment is one piece of a broader approach to address GBV,” says Rottach. “Research is mixed. Some studies show that as women’s economic empowerment increases, their experience of violence may also increase. So, these programs need to be aware of how they alter power dynamics and ensure they engage men to transform unequal gender norms and attitudes.”
An example of that work in Guatemala is the USAID-funded Creating Economic Opportunities (CEO) project. CEO’s objective is to reduce poverty and improve living conditions and economic opportunity—primarily in non-agricultural sectors—thereby reducing gaps between Guatemala and migrant destinations. Focusing on women and indigenous youth (15–24 years old) in five departments of the Western Highlands, the project works with governments and the private sector to promote trade and investment, mobilise financial services, upgrade productive infrastructure, and improve private sector competitiveness.
Recently, Palladium partnered with Walmart to expand its product sourcing to buy over US$5 million in products from over 50 women-owned businesses, generating over 230 new full-time jobs.
“Palladium has a reputation for leading effective projects and achieving results,” says Rottach. “With evidence that multi-sector partnerships are effective in preventing and responding to GBV, we are deploying our convening expertise with an intention that development work is also a fight for women, girls, the LGBTQI+ population, and other survivors of gender-based violence, however it manifests.”
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