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This article was written as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, a global campaign to highlight that safety from gender violence is a fundamental human right. The campaign runs from November 25—International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—to December 10.
Every year, International Medical Corps marks 16 Days of Activism to raise awareness of gender violence in the communities where we work and bring together voices from around the world to call for an end to violence against women and girls.
Location: Boqolmayo, Dollo Ado, Liban Zone, Somali Region, Ethiopia
Job Title: Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Program Manager, International Medical Corps Ethiopia
Briefly describe the work that you do for International Medical Corps.
As a GBV program manager, I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day GBV activities, including prevention and response interventions serving Somali refugees in Dollo Ado camps: Melkadida, Kobe and the Reception Center. I also build and mentor staff to facilitate GBV activities; build and strengthen community capacity to prevent and respond to incidents of GBV; and network/ collaborate with partners and local authorities to coordinate GBV interventions in International Medical Corps’ areas of operation.
Why did you choose to work in the field of GBV?
As a child born and raised in an African community, I watched many women and girls be battered every day by their male counterparts, including husbands, uncles, fathers and brothers. My mother also lived in a very violent home where she had suffered both emotional and physical violence regularly for not performing her daily reproductive tasks, such as cleaning the home, cooking, doing manual laundry etc. I was overwhelmed by her sorrows every time I sat down and watched her cry out for help when being beaten, but no one in the community could help her out. As an older child, I always cuddled my brothers and sisters to cry along with our mother. In some instances, we were also beaten by our dad in the process. Having lived in this home for years, my mother finally passed away in September 1990.
In 1991, I fled to Guinea as a refugee, where I remained and completed my secondary studies. Upon my graduation from high school in 1998, I decided to teach for few years. At the end of 2000, a refugee camp in which I was living was attacked by armed men from neighbouring countries— Liberia and Sierra LEone—and we fled to another camp known as Kountaya in Albadaria region in Guinea. During the early days of this camp establishment, refugees from different countries and families were placed in common communal shelters, each hosting about 50 individuals without any privacy. During this time, women and girls were also subjected to a wide range of abuses including sexual violence, physical violence and emotional violence from their family members and other refugees. Watching women and girls go through such abuses and reflecting on what my own mother went through gave me the desire to help.
In 2001, I mobilized seven other community members (4 male and 3 female) as community volunteers to support GBV activities that were jointly run by relief agencies in Kissidougou camps in Guinea. A few months later, we were recognised by the both organisations, trained and provided incentives as motivation. Since 2001, my passion to protect women and girls grew and I began climbing the ladder from GBV community volunteer to GBV Program Manager today.
It must be a challenging job to deal with these issues every day. What keeps you motivated and what do you enjoy about your job?
Indeed, this job is very challenging. Every day, violence against women and girls continues based on power inequality, social norms, expectations and cultural practices towards women and girls. Challenging such cultural or societal practices that placed women at risk to GBV is always resisted by men who are primary perpetrators of violence against women and girls. In most instances, men feel that they are losing their positions and status as men and this brings vigorous resistance to my job. Another challenging part of my job is the desire to assist women and girls who suffered GBV incidents but for whom the needed services are not available or the service providers are not willing to assist. Listening to difficult experiences that women and girls share with us every day is overwhelming. The lack of coordination among service providers is also challenging for us and even the survivors we assist. Finally, being mocked at by other men for the work we do is common.
Notwithstanding, what motivates me to continue this job despite the challenges mentioned above is the “smile” that I see on the women and girls’ faces when they have recovered from their difficult experiences and regained the courage to live a normal life once more. Seeing other good men challenge their own perceptions towards women and girls and making accountable efforts to end violence against women makes me feel motivated as well. I feel that my job, no matter how it is perceived by other men, is saving lives and restoring dignity for women and girls who have gone through GBV incidents.
Without providing any identifying information, can you give us 1 or 2 examples of particularly inspiring women you have encountered or challenges that you have been able to overcome?
My previous supervisors in Guinea and Liberia, all female GBV staff, have inspired my life and my work so much that I feel happy doing it every day. One of the challenges I encountered in Liberia in 2006 was to convince community members in five selected communities to elect women in their community leadership structure; this was very difficult. After a series of community forums and dialogues on the advantages of having women in community leadership structure, we were able to have women elected to top positions in three out of five communities in Grand Cape Mount County where we were implementing a GBV program.
Do you think that the situation for women is improving in the country and communities where you work? What do you think is causing that improvement or what is preventing progress?
Having worked in Ethiopia for almost 1 year 4 months now, I believe the situation for Somali refugee women in Ethiopia is improving. The reason for this improvement is International Medical Corps’ program strategy of involving women and other key community members in project planning, implementation and evaluation through participatory consultations and dialogues. All of International Medical Corps’ GBV programs include psychosocial and skills building activities intended for community integration and empowerment are designed with inputs from community members, especially women and girls. Refugees are also involved in our activities as social workers and community mobilizers targeting their fellow refugees with GBV services. Perceptions about women and girls are restrictive and highly rooted in cultural norms and beliefs among Somali people. Such beliefs are now being questioned and challenged by some community members who have gone through International Medical Corps’ awareness sessions on GBV. Community members, including women and girls have begun to challenge cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage and are coming forward to seek services. Their participation in community activities and in psychosocial and recreational activities in the Women’s Centers is increasing day by day. This improvement is slow but it is promising.
What plans does your team have for the 16 Days campaign? Why do you think the campaign is important?
Through consultations with refugee community and partners, my team has the following plan for the 16 Days campaign under the theme: Safety in School- Teachers, Students, Parents and Community Unite to Make Schools Free from GBV (a theme requested by UNHCR and adapted by the GBV inter-agency working group in Dollo Ado camps):
November 25, 2013- Simultaneous launch of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign in Dollo Ado camps—Melkadida, Kobe and Reception Center—with the following activities: community mobilization, parade, introductory speech about the 16 Days of Activism, songs, dramas and speeches on violence against women and girls as a violation of human rights, launching of drawing competition among students on forms of violence in schools and prevention strategies, remarks and outdoor sporting activities.
November 28, 2013- Sialogue sessions with students, teachers and parents to identify forms of GBV in schools and strategies to prevent such violence and this will be followed by a movie show on “student - teacher relationship” (an incident of sexual exploitation and absuse). Action plan(s) drawn from these dialogue sessions will be followed up to ensure their implementation within our existing GBV program in the camps.
November 29, 2013: In collaboration with partners, raise awareness on GBV and female genital mutilation and its impact on adolescent girls’ well-being and education.
December 2, 2013: In collaboration with partners, celebrate the World AIDS Day and link with GBV.
December 3, 2013: In collaboration with partners, celebrate International Day of Disabled and link with GBV.
December 6-7, 2013: In collaboration with partners, raise awareness on the importance of clean schools, do a cleanup activity with students in their schools and that will be followed up by trees planting in the schools; and raise awareness on including people with special needs in schools.
December 9, 2013: Community forum with partners and community leaders on understanding the GBV SOPs and how to prevent and respond to incidents of GBV.
December 10, 2013: Climax of the 16 Days of Activism with the following activities- parade, drama and songs on GBV, awareness on common forms of GBV in schools and strategies for prevention as identified through dialogue sessions with students, teachers and community members; display of the best drawing from the drawing competition on forms of violence in schools and prevention strategies; awards giving, speeches and outdoor sporting activities.
As done every year, this campaign is very important in that it helps to engage community members in awareness efforts on GBV as a violation of human rights as well as it demands community members and leadership to take action(s) to end violence against women and girls. Through this campaign, community members are constantly inform about GBV, services available for survivors and the need to prevent it.
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, International Medical Corps' mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. For more information visit: www.InternationalMedicalCorps.org.Also see us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.