With the focus on addressing violence against women as a part of Sustainable Development Goal 5, there has been an upsurge of international interest in the topic. It is far from being a new issue – but one that has often not received the attention that it deserves. It was therefore extremely interesting to be given the task, in partnership with the specialist organisation medica mondiale, to facilitate a capitalisation of the work of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in addressing sexual and gender based violence.
Capitalisation of experiences
“Capitalisation” in this sense means reflecting, analysing, and learning from experiences; it is not the same as an external evaluation. The process comprised a mixture of analysing project documents, distance guidance of in-country workshops, a face to face workshop of key persons in Sarajevo, and then the drafting a document and incorporating into it the comments of key SDC staff and partners. In such an exercise, it is important to have a document as an end product – but equally important is the opportunity for all concerned to share, learn, and ultimately build the lessons learned into improved project activities. The insights and expertise provided by medica mondiale, particularly consultant Gurcharan Virdee, were also crucial.
SDC’s work on addressing SGBV goes back as far as 2002, when activities commenced in the Great Lakes region, and now includes specific projects in 12 countries, as well as smaller initiatives elsewhere. The 12 countries are Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Burundi, DRC, Lebanon, Myanmar, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Rwanda and Tajikistan. As can be seen, they include countries in conflict, post-conflict, and more stable development contexts.
The capitalisation document has now been launched. It’s impossible to summarise the findings in a short blog, but here are a few key points. For clarity I use the term “victim” for those who have experienced violence, although “survivor” is often seen as a more positive, self-affirming word.
- There is convincing project experience showing the effectiveness of a psychosocial approach in addressing SGBV. This entails working with all concerned – not only the victims, but also other family members (particularly children), communities, and perpetrators.
- It is crucial to understand the context in which SGBV is occurring, and to adapt accordingly. During the workshop in Sarajevo, everyone was struck on the first day by the similarity of situations between countries – and on the second day, by the extent of the country-specific differences. Assumptions are dangerous; it is just so vital to always listen to those who are experiencing or have experienced violence, however initially hesitant they are to speak.
- Work with men and boys, as perpetrators and as victims, is very important, and needs to be conducted through separate, specialist services – not just as an “add on” to services for women and girls. However, such specialist provision should not be made at the expense of services for female victims; herein lies a dilemma when budgets are tight.
- SDC has made significant contributions to legislation against SGBV in a number of countries – notably in Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Tajikistan, and in the Great Lakes region. Fighting impunity through bringing perpetrators to court is important, but it should only be done when this is the wish of the victim. Globally, very few cases actually go to court as the victim has other priorities, such as the need to guard anonymity and respect, to avoid speaking of the unspeakable, or to maintain a place in her family and a roof over her head. Again, emphasis should be on listening to the victim, to know and respect what she (sometimes he) actually wants.
- A source of livelihood for women victims is often crucial for them to survive trauma or be able to separate from an abusive partner. These can range from savings and credit groups to skills training and income-generating activities. However, the latter rarely develop into sustainable enterprises without professional guidance. Linking to projects that are working in market systems development and can offer appropriate support is thus generally the best option – a good example in this regard is the Employment Fund in Nepal.
To end on a personal note, the capitalisation exercise has given me regular cause to reflect on the possible occurrence of SGBV in widely differing situations in our work. It is a topic that we address directly only in a few projects, as mentioned in previous blogs. At the same time, we know SGBV blights far more lives than statistics show. We need to be sensitive to risks, to ask the right questions in an appropriate way – and at very least, to know what support is available if it is needed. In this sense, addressing SGBV is not a matter only for specialists, but an issue on which all development practitioners should be aware.