LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian emergencies has grown rapidly over the last two decades, according to a recent study by the Humanitarian Practice Network at the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
Greater knowledge has led to better preparedness to deal with gender-based violence when emergencies – a war, a natural disaster – break out. But the humanitarian community is still devising the mechanisms to tackle an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of people globally.
The study pulls together a collection of papers by experts and major players in the world of humanitarian assistance. Some argue that a lack of data on GBV and conflicting perspectives on what works best to prevent it may be hindering response efforts.
Aisha Bain, advocacy adviser for the International Rescue Committee's Women's Protection and Empowering Unit, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that there was enough data to act swiftly and effectively.
Q: What is prevalence data on gender-based violence ?
A: Prevalence studies often try to estimate the number of incidents in any given place. They take time, they go around they interview women and talk about very difficult things and they leave. Research has been done over and over again and it proves that GBV occurs in emergencies around the world. It must always be assumed to be happening and we must always provide services. It’s time to stop and act – stop looking for the numbers, stop looking for the prevalence, stop looking for the proof and stop placing the burden on survivors to share their pain with strangers and people they don’t trust – we have enough information to act and provide services. Women and girls by and large don’t come forward and disclose the violence until they have services in place which they know can help them. So, sometimes prevalence (data) doesn’t give you an adequate picture and information to design programmes in a specific context and area.
Q: What would you say is paramount when dealing with GBV in emergencies?
A: Understanding who's walking through your doors... their age, the demographics. If they share with you where (violence) has happened, what time of day, that allows us to design programmes and come up with services that they need, possibly mitigate the violence and work on preventing that violence.
Q: What progress has been made in tackling gender violence in emergencies?
A: Ten years ago you wouldn't hear about it (GBV). It was viewed as secondary...What does that lack of prioritisation mean? If we take it down to the raw bits of it: You’ve been attacked, you’ve been "violated, you’ve been raped. Prioritising GBV on a second phase is like saying: "Okay, well sorry, wait three to six months for some help." So it’s critical – you have five days to prevent unwanted pregnancies, three days to prevent HIV, for some critical injuries only a matter of hours and mental health, emotional health of course it's an ongoing process. We have tools and models that impact positively and reduce trauma in a matter of weeks...There really has been an extraordinary amount of work done by many actors, researchers.
Q: Some research found that women also commit sexual violence in conflict situations. Is this something you've come across?
A: Unfortunately everyone commits violence. By and large, the vast majority of survivors globally that walk through IRC doors are women and girls. That one in three figure (according to U.N. figures, one in three women will be sexually abused during their lifetime) is globally recognised and that’s a big part of the reason why so much of the information that we talk about it's really geared towards servicing the majority of the people who are being affected by this violence. Every type of violence that we see in refugee camps, walking to school or in a conflict or in a home – are the same types of violence we see in any country and context in the world. It’s not an “us” vs. “them” – this is something that is shared globally.
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