A Statement from Siobhán McGee, ICGBV’s Incoming Chair:
I am honoured to be the newly appointed Chair of the Consortium and am enthusiastic about stewarding the Consortium during a strategically critical period for us. I would also like to extend a special thank you to Dominic MacSorley, Concern Worldwide CEO, who did excellent work chairing the Consortium over the last three years.
Since 2015, I have been CEO of ActionAid Ireland. I am proud of our ongoing commitment to gender equality and GBV and as a Member of the Consortium, I really value the role of the Consortium to enable us to improve and grow our work in this area.
At the heart of the Consortium is a commitment to learning and continuously striving to improve our programming on GBV. In delivering this, it is enormously important that the team is in place to achieve this Strategy, through active membership and by the staff of the Consortium.
Our pioneering survivor-centred approach is not possible without engagement of our colleagues who are working with communities and survivors every day. I intend to continue to nurture these relationships with the support of my colleagues in the ICGBV.
In all that we do and plan to do, we seek to ensure that the voices of women and girls are being heard on an international level. Through our work, we have had success in this, but I remain focussed on building on our work.
2020 is an important year with the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 20th Anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and the first five years of the SDGs. It is important that we keep GBV on the agenda around all of these milestones and make sure that it remains a priority for all of us.
Our collective aim is to eliminate GBV in humanitarian and development contexts. Considering the increasing conflicts and displacement globally, this is more urgent than ever. The Consortium shall remain very clear about utilising our unique perspective and ensuring our efforts have the most impact. We will continue to be informed by the experiences of women and girls from the global south and to work hard to have our voices heard at a policy level.
I am passionately committed to continuing the work of the Consortium which combines an important blend of learning and sharing best practice, as well as influencing policy. Examples of this vital work include implementing ongoing IASC trainings overseas, and our representation at high level events such as CSW most recently in 2019.
Chair, Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence
Promoting Gender Equality and Education to Prevent GBV
More than 1.6 million people are internally displaced across South Sudan, in addition to 786,000 people who have fled to neighbouring countries since December 2013.52 Most displaced children have not received any formal education since December 2013 and many have been exposed to numerous forms of violence such as recruitment by armed groups, acute physical violence and a high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence.
World Vision puts a strong emphasis on working with communities to reinforce the value of women and men, girls and boys, and the significance of their contribution to their families, communities and society in all settings, including emergencies and fragile contexts, to build peaceful and sustainable societies based on gender equality. In order to do so, child well-being, education and protection is at the heart of every endeavour.
In South Sudan, World Vision has been delivering a programme funded by Irish Aid which illustrates how it is possible to tackle the two main causes of GBV: gender inequality and discrimination through protection and education for internally displaced children and their respective families and communities implemented with two underlying principles: promoting gender equality and GBV prevention through education for boys, girls, women and men.
Overall, the programme believes in and promotes the idea that IDPs, particularly women and girls, are the active and effective agents of change capable of contributing towards the betterment of the community they live in. Education and Protection programmes that promote gender equality, protection and prevention of GBV at their core are vital for helping women and girls in fragile communities unlock their potential in creating sustainable and peaceful environments.
52 International Organisation for Migration (2016) Update- 6/9/16. Available at: https://southsudan.iom.int/media-and-reports/press-release/conflict-continues-drive-displacement-south-sudan
This outlook led to the formation of a number of key initiatives in three IDP camps and their host communities in Melut County including:
- The formation of girls clubs in March 2016, aimed at empowering women with a greater knowledge of gender equality, GBV, protection, and the importance of education.
- The recruitment and training of both male and female teachers and volunteers from within the community, to ensure robust engagement of men and boys.
- Close partnership between the NGOs in the field, at local, regional, national and international levels, which led to a Protection Working Group focused on child protection and GBV.
- Capacity building training for staff, volunteers, women’s groups and parents associations, around child protection, GBV, gender equality, girl’s education and early marriage to create a protective environment for all children carried out by all the different members of the community.
The involvement of religious leaders to be agents of social change. Though religious leaders were not targeted directly in this particular programme, the World Vision team recognised their roles as valuable members of the community and they were engaged through members of parent teacher associations. They actively worked to disseminate messages on child marriage and the importance of girls’ education during Sunday Church services.
“ I want my child to get better education and become a good citizen of South Sudan. I want the world to support South Sudan to get peace. Let our children go to school and get better education. Because of lack of education people are fighting for many years in South Sudan.”
“After parents saw me and other female colleagues who are working with different agencies receiving good money, they are now supporting their daughters to go to school.”
Teressa, is 24 years old and has been displaced twice in her life as a result of conflict in South Sudan. When she first entered the camp in Melut county, she didn’t see many opportunities for education and thought that there was widespread gender inequality at the camp, with most men spending their days idle while women were responsibility for collecting firewood, cooking, cleaning and looking after children. In August 2015, she applied to be a teacher at the Irish Aid supported education project and started working as a volunteer assistant teacher. After three months, she became a teacher in one of the Early Child Development centres. Since April 2016, Teressa has been working with World Vision South Sudan as a Food Monitor and is now happy to be working in the area of nutrition and supporting her son.
Prevention of Domestic Violence in Lebanon; Engaging Men and Boys
As the war in Syria has descended into the world’s deadliest conflict, almost five million people have fled to surrounding countries.1 Protection concerns for over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon continue to increase. Of 1,048,275 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon as of March 2016, 80% are women or children.2 Continued displacement and lack of access to work and other coping mechanisms has led to a loss of hope amongst many men and resulted in frustration and negative coping mechanisms.3
In this context, many women have become increasingly vulnerable to domestic violence, and early marriage.4 A UNICEF survey carried out in 2016 revealed that child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon had soared to 39 per cent compared to 13 per cent in pre-conflict Syria.5 The same survey indicated that attitudes towards acceptance of domestic violence are particularly high in the Akkar district of Northern Lebanon which borders neighbouring Syria, and is host to a large amount of Syrian refugees.6
Concern’s Engaging Men programme has a specific focus on preventing and alleviating sexual exploitation and GBV. This is done through dialogue on: concepts and practices of masculinity; the positive and negative use of male power; and education on how gender norms can affect men such that they are harmful to women but also to men and boys themselves.
The programme is based around a 12 week training course structure that uses activities and exercises to understand gender roles and gender relations, gender roles in action, cycles of violence, violence against women and sexual violence, non-violent communication and men as nurturers and caregivers. The programme employs a prevention-focused, community-based approach to help reduce GBV and build up overall community structures.
1 UNHCR (2016) Syrian Regional Refugee Response Portal: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php
3 UNHCR (2015) Culture, Context and the Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing of Syrians: A Review for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support staff working with Syrians Affected by Armed Conflict, p39
4 Amnesty International (2016) ‘I want a Safe Place’ Refugee Women from Syria Uprooted and Unprotected in Lebanon’, p41 & 50
5 UNICEF 2016) Baseline Survey. Available at: https://data.unhcr. org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=11355
The 2016 evaluation of the Engaging Men programme highlighted a number of significant impacts including:
- The programme facilitated a safe emotional space for men to meet collectively to talk about their problems and to become more attuned and reflective about their relationships with their wives and children.
- Men reported it provided them with a reason and avenue to leave the house; it provided them with a chance to socialise, feel some sense of belonging and expand their social network; and offered some degree of relief from mounting psychological distress and pressure.
- Within their families, results indicated many men expressed greater empathy towards their wives and their needs and increased dialogue and positive time spent with children.
“Because of the rent situation, because of the pressure from the landlord, and because we and the children were hungry, he (Khadija’s husband) began to get depressed. He was shouting at us then he began the hitting, beating, arguing with me all the time….”
Kahdija, a mother of five boys and two girls, lives in a crowded informal settlement on the outskirts of Halba, in the Akkar province of Northern Lebanon. It contrasts sharply with the comfortable home she shared with her husband and their five children in Al Qusayr, about 35km south of Homs. They were forced to flee with their extended family to Lebanon three years ago. Since then, all their life savings have gone on rent for their temporary home. The family has undertaken severe debt, which has in turn created extremely tense conditions in her home.
Khadija and her husband enrolled in the workshop courses run by Concern. The sessions helped her understand what was happening in her family and she enjoyed the comradery with the participants. She said her husband’s mood improved after going to the sessions and the community project, which was built into the session, made him feel in control of his life again. She believes the programme has helped to improve relations with her husband. Kahdija says they sit down together to discuss their problems and try and talk things through unlike before.
Establishing Community Protection Committees in Uganda
Oxfam supports a rights-based approach to gender justice that involves addressing the consequences, and also the causes, of gender inequality and GBV. This is done by very deliberately putting women’s rights at the heart of all activities. In practice, this means promoting widespread changes in attitudes and beliefs about gender power relations.
In Uganda, Oxfam works with South Sudanese refugees to promote protection of communities in displaced settings by supporting the establishment of Community Protection Committees. These committees, comprised of equal numbers of men and women from both displaced and host communities, are trained on basic human rights, supported to identify protection issues in their communities, and develop plans to address these issues. These plans may include acting as mediators in a local dispute, making a referral to a specialist service provider (e.g. medical/psychosocial support in the event of sexual violence, or advocating with local authorities or NGOs for support to their right to protection). Each Committee has a dedicated Women’s Forum, a safe space for confidential discourse on matters of concern to women and girls.
The Community Protection Committees represent an important platform for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding of protective norms.
Of particular concern to one committee was the issue of girl’s access to education. The contents and frequency of distribution of hygiene kits to refugees, which included sanitary pads, were insufficient to meet the needs of menstruating women and girls. As a result, girls often stayed away from school thereby affecting not only the quality of their education, but also as a consequence, their life choices. The Women’s Forum of this Protection Committee recognised that this increased the risk of girls being forced into early marriage as a survival strategy.
At the same time, an Oxfam income generation initiative for refugees provided training on the making of reusable sanitary towels using materials available in the nearest large market. Members of the committee sold some of the towels as part of their income generation but most reusable sanitary towels were distributed to women and girls in their community, allowing girls to attend school with dignity. Now these girls are teaching others how to make them. Women’s Forum members then went to schools (Uganda’s favourable open door policy allows refugees to attend primary school for free), actively engaging teachers and students on the benefits of a girl’s right to education.
- Through the committees, refugees from South Sudan are sensitised to Uganda’s legal framework on domestic violence and child marriage.
- Focus group discussions held with a number of Committees reported that known incidents of violence had dropped “by more than 50%” and one Committee reported that its representation had prevented the marriage of two child brides.
The Oxfam engagement with Community Protection Committees shows the importance in identifying often overlooked barriers to women’s access to education- the knock on effect of having insufficient hygiene provisions and how this can eventually lead to negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage.
Empowering Girls through Women Friendly Spaces in Pakistan
Growing evidence shows that in times of humanitarian crisis, both in conflict or following natural disasters, child marriage rates increase, with a disproportionate impact on girls.1
Displacement frequently increases child marriage as a negative coping mechanism and the practice can also perpetuate other forms of GBV, often leading to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation for girls and women.2 Trócaire responds by focusing on women’s voice and participation, women’s education, and on women’s economic empowerment.
Trócaire’s partner United, Motivation, Education and Empowerment for Development Foundation (UMEED) established women friendly spaces in Peshwar, North West Pakistan. The project provides women, including those displaced by regional conflict, with a safe space where they can get client centred emotional and psychosocial support, education to reduce the incidence of early marriage, and also opportunities for income generation activities and life skills.
A female protection officer, together with social mobilisers, carries out home visits to encourage women and girls to attend these women friendly spaces. The project team explain the purpose of women friendly spaces and assure them on security, safety and other concerns. Male family members are also invited to community meetings to discuss the project’s activities.
Within these spaces, women and girls meet other girls of a similar age and they discuss their concerns, whilst exchanging their skills on embroidery, cooking and stitching. The Trócaire and UMEED Foundation partnership also coordinates other service providers to arrange sessions on life skills, provide psychosocial support through different recreational activities and arrange skills training for income generation.
1 Women’s Refugee Commission (2016) A Girl No More: The Changing Norms of Child Marriage in Conflict P13
The project is an example of working with a diverse mix of local service providers, through a local organisation, to provide girls with a range of opportunities that have been denied as a result of displacement, and the cultural norms that dominate women’s lives.
Education provides a myriad of opportunities for girls, from self-confidence and social stability to earning opportunities and better health outcomes. These methods of empowering girls, by offering them opportunities to gain skills and education, providing support networks, and creating ‘safe spaces’ where they can gather and meet outside the home, can have multiple social benefits, changing norms and attitudes and helping them to assert their rights.
“I feel now I am changed. I feel more positive about life…before I came here, I was afraid, as I did not have the courage to speak with others. But now I can do this, I have confidence. I feel safe here and I feel like I am with friends”
Rabia is a 16 year old girl from Bara Agency in North West Pakistan. Her family was displaced to Peshwar as a result of military operations against non-state actors. Rabia enjoyed school but could not continue her studies after 4th grade. Belonging to the traditional Pashtun culture, she is not allowed to move freely outside of her home. Rabia was engaged to be married at the age of 12, and following the marriage, her in-laws were strictly against her continued education. A female Protection Officer visited Rabia’s home to encourage the women in her family to attend women friendly spaces. Rabia and her mother wanted to join but her father and uncle did not allow them. After the project team explained the purpose of women friendly spaces and invited Rabia’s father and uncle to a community meeting to discuss the projects activities, Rabia was allowed to attend a women friendly space.
At this space, she meets other girls her age and they discuss their concerns, whilst exchanging their skills on embroidery, cooking and stitching.