NEW YORK – Conflict, humanitarian crises and increasing climate-related disasters have led to higher levels of violence against women and girls (VAWG), which have only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the urgent need to stem the scourge.
Globally, nearly one in three women have experienced violence, with crises increasing the numbers further.
Gender-based violence (GBV), the most widespread human rights violation, is neither natural nor inevitable, and should be avoided.
On the 16 Days of Activism to Combat Violence Against Women and Girls, UN Women presents the voices of five survivors, each of whose names have been changed to protect their identities. Be forewarned that each character sketch includes descriptions of gender-based violence.
Originally from the Argentine province of Chaco, 48-year-old mother of seven, Diana suffered for 28 years before finally deciding to separate from her abusive partner.
“I wasn’t afraid he would beat me, I was convinced he would kill me,” she said.
At first, she was reluctant to file a complaint with the police for fear of her reaction, but learning more about the services provided by a local shelter, she realized that she could escape her tormentor. She also decided to file a complaint.
Living with an abusive father, his children also suffered psychological stress and economic hardship.
The start was not easy, but with the support of social workers, a local shelter and a safe space to recuperate, Diana got a job as an administrative assistant in a municipal office.
“I admit that it was difficult, but with the [mental health] support, legal aid and vocational training, I have healed a lot, ”she explained.
Essential services for survivors of domestic violence are a lifeline.
“I no longer feel trapped, cornered or betrayed. There is so much that you go through as a victim, including psychological issues. [persecution] but now I know that I can accomplish whatever I set out to do ”.
Diana is one of 199 women survivors staying in a shelter affiliated with the Inter-American Network of Shelters, supported by UN Women through the Spotlight Initiative in Latin America. The shelter has also provided psychosocial support and legal assistance to more than 1,057 women since 2017.
Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Bangladesh, triggering an increase in VAWG, many shelters and essential services have closed
Romela had been married to a cruel and tortured man.
“When I was pregnant he hit me so hard that I ended up losing my baby… I wanted to end my life,” she said.
She eventually escaped when her brother took her to the Tarango women’s shelter, which, in partnership with UN Women, was able to expand its integrated program to provide safe temporary accommodation, legal and medical services, and vocational training. to abused women who were looking for a new start.
Living in an abusive relationship often erodes women’s choices, self-esteem and potential. Romela had found a safe place to live with her 4 year old daughter.
Opening a new chapter in her life, she said, “I have always been told by others how to dress, where to go and how to live my life. Now I know these choices are in my hands ”.
“I feel confident, my life is better,” said the emancipated woman.
Tarango houses 30-35 survivors at any time and provides 24/7 services that help them recover from trauma, regain their dignity, learn new skills, and secure placement and subsidy in two-month cash to strengthen their economic resilience.
“Our job is to make women feel safe and empowered, and to treat them with the utmost respect and empathy,” said Nazlee Nipa, program coordinator.
Goretti returned to western Kenya in 2001 to bury her husband and, as dictated by the local culture, remained in the homestead.
“But they didn’t want to feed me. Everything I came from Nairobi with – clothes, household items – was taken from me and shared among the family, ”she said.
For nearly 20 years after her husband’s death, Goretti was trapped in a life of abuse until her in-laws beat her so badly that she was hospitalized and unable to work.
Fearing to go to law enforcement, Goretti instead contacted a local human rights defender, who helped her get medical treatment and report the case to local authorities.
However, she soon found out that her in-laws had already forged an agreement with the police on her behalf to withdraw the case.
“But I don’t even know how to write,” Goretti said.
Human rights defenders in Kenya are often the first responders to violations, including gender-based violence. Since 2019, UN Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have been supporting local organizations that provide legal training and capacity building to better support survivors.
In addition to reporting the issue to local police and courts, human rights defender Caren Omanga, who was trained by one of these organizations, also contacted former locals.
“I was almost arrested when I confronted the officer in charge,” Ms. Omanga said. But knowing that the community would be against Goretti, she launched “the alternative dispute resolution process, while taking the matter to court.”
Finally, with her case settled out of court, Goretti received an agreement granting her the property and land title she had lost in her marriage dowry, and the perpetrators were forced to pay fines to avoid jail.
“It’s like starting a new life after 20 years, and my son feels more secure… I’m thinking of planting trees to save the plot and build a chicken coop,” she says.
In Moldova, sexual harassment and violence are taboo subjects and, fearing blame or stigma, victims rarely report incidents.
At 14, Milena was raped by her boyfriend in Chisinau. She was unaware that her violation was sexual assault and continued to see her assailant for another six months before breaking up. Then she tried to forget it.
“That memory was blocked off, like nothing happened,” until two years later, upon seeing an Instagram video that sparked flashbacks of her own assault, she said.
Almost one in five men in Moldova have sexually assaulted a girl or a woman, including in romantic relationships, according to a 2019 study co-published by UN Women.
Determined to understand what had happened to her, Milena learned more about harassment and sexual abuse and then began to educate her community.
Last year, she joined a UN Women youth mentorship program, where she was trained on gender equality and human rights and learned to identify abuse and challenge sexist comments and abuse. bullying.
Milena then developed a Self-Help Guide for Survivors of Sexual Violence, which, informed by survivors aged 12 to 21, offers practical tips for seeking help, reporting abuse, and accessing resources. recovery after trauma.
Against the backdrop of the cultural blame of victims, which prevents those in need from getting help, the mentoring program focuses on feminist values and diversity and addresses the root causes of gender inequalities and stereotypes that perpetuate GBV and discrimination.
“The program has shown that youth activism and engagement are essential to eliminate gender inequalities in our societies,” said Dominika Stojanoska, UN Women representative in Moldova.
A 2019 national survey found that only three in 100 survivors of sexual violence in Morocco report incidents to the police because they fear humiliation or blame and lack confidence in the justice system.
Layla started a relationship with the head of a company she worked for. He told her he loved her, and she trusted him.
“But he hit me whenever I didn’t agree with him. I endured everything from sexual violence to emotional abuse… he made me believe that I had no chance against him, ”she said.
Pregnant, single and lonely, Layla finally surrendered to the police.
To her relief, a policewoman met her and told her there was a solution.
“I will never forget that. It has become my motto in life. Her words encouraged me to tell her the whole story. She listened to me with great care and attention,” Layla continued. .
She was referred to a local shelter for single mothers where she got a second chance.
Two years ago, she gave birth to a daughter and recently completed her bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
“I was studying while looking after my baby at the shelter for single mothers,” she says, holding her daughter’s hand.
UN Women maintains that building trust in the police is integral to crime prevention and community safety.
When professionally trained police officers deal with GBV cases, survivors are more likely to report abuse and seek justice, health and psychosocial services that help break the cycle of violence while sending a message. clear that this is a punishable crime.
In recent years, the Directorate General of National Security, supported by UN Women, has restructured the national police force to better support female survivors and prevent VAWG.
Today, the 440 district police stations have dedicated staff who refer female survivors to the nearest specialized unit.
“It takes a lot of determination and courage for women to seek help from the police,” said Saliha Najeh, police chief of the Casablanca Police Unit for Women Victims of Violence, who after a specialized training under the UN Women program, now trains its police. agents to use a survivor-centered approach in cases of GBV.
In 2021, 30 senior police officers and heads of units were trained under the program.
“Our role is to give survivors all the time they need to feel safe and comfortable, and to trust us enough to tell their story,” she said.
Driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, Morocco has also expanded the channels for survivors to report and access justice remotely through free 24-hour telephone support, an electronic complaints mechanism and hearings in line. – UN News