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Tackling gender-based violence through community action

As we observe the UN’s 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), let us remember that GBV is a pandemic that needs our collective effort every single day and that actions geared towards ending GBV need to be mainstreamed in every development sector.

Why is this an issue for Ripple Effect, since we’re not an organisation specifically focused on family relationships or sexual violence? The reason is clear to our project workers. If we aim to tackle poverty and work with the most vulnerable communities, these are the people who are most vulnerable, and the causes, and the results, of what often used to be called “domestic violence” are intimately connected with poverty.

Young women are most vulnerable

Adolescent girls are hit particularly hard by this pandemic. In Kenya, a survey on Violence against Children in 2010, indicated that 49% of girls aged 13 - 17 reported experiencing some type of sexual violence or physical violence the last 12 months.

Most of these abuses are perpetuated by people close or related to the adolescent girls, making it a challenge to seek support or report issues as they are swept under the carpet to save the family name.

The vulnerability of girls to such violations is compounded by poverty. Low household income can push them to adopt risky behaviours such as transactional sex, where sex is exchanged for money to purchase products that meet essential needs.

Violence against girls is also perpetuated by a culture that tolerates sexual exploitation of adolescent girls with the notion that they are in the pre-adulthood age and can therefore consent to a sexual relationship. These trends of violence are a threat to girls’ education which is critical in empowering and transforming their lives to break the cycle of poverty.

“During very hard times parents marry off their young girls to reduce the size of family and sometimes send them to Migori town, to exchange sex for money with older men.”

Paskal Okuombe Chairman of a Community Disaster Risk Management Committee

The importance of community action

A study conducted by Ripple Effect alongside the Global Women’s Institute and funded by the Sexual Violence Research Initiative revealed that we as a charity are working in communities deeply affected by GBV and there is an urgent need to integrate collective community action towards tackling it.

The results also indicated that inequitable gender attitudes are widely held and women themselves often feel violence is acceptable under certain circumstances. Gendered attitudes that normalize violence against women and girls are a product of the whole community’s belief system, so a complete transformation is needed to have a hope of creating lasting change.

Recognising that violence against women and girls is a serious risk in the areas in which we work, Ripple Effect has embedded a community approach to tackling GBV within our project design.

The Community Disaster Risk Management approach is based on the idea that community risks (physical or social) are everyone’s business, and everyone has a contribution to make in creating and maintaining a protective and safe environment.

Communities form representative committees that come together to assess risks and draw plans on how to collectively mitigate or respond to them. These committees provide the perfect place for GBV work to continue.

“This research demonstrates how reductions in GBV can be made through the combination of sustainable agriculture interventions with gender transformative approaches. Ripple Effect’s partnership with the Global Women’s Institute, on learning around their GBV impact, also demonstrates a unique partnership between the agriculture and GBV-specialist sectors.”

Dr Lora Forsythe Associate Professor in Gender Inequalities and Food Systems at the Natural Resources Institute

Our work in Migori County, Kenya

In Migori County, Ripple Effect formed two community committees and equipped them with the skills and knowledge to educate their peers on GBV through awareness events and individual interactions. They also learned how to identify vulnerable girls and GBV survivors and refer them to known resources and supports.

Paskal Okuombe the chairman of West Kanyamakgo CDRC, reports that since it began one year ago, the committee has been raising awareness at community gatherings to help people to understand what abuse is and share support systems for survivors.

“We come across many cases of violence against [women], but it’s difficult to convince a survivor to seek support when the perpetrator is a close relative as they resort to solving the issues within the family.”

Paskal Okuombe Chairman of a Community Disaster Risk Management Committee

After these local awareness campaigns we have seen a rise in people seeking out services, especially girls and parents of abused girls.

Paskal and other committee members are very proud that they were able to rescue two school girls who had been duped into marriage. The girls are now back in school, with a chance to complete their studies and take control of their futures. Through the committee’s advocacy, the perpetrators were arrested and one is serving his jail term.

As a leader and champion against GBV, Paskal is optimistic that collective action is the best way to create safe communities for girls and women, despite the culture and attitude challenges they face.

Dealing with GBV requires the involvement of all stakeholders and Ripple Effect recognizes the critical role that communities play in changing lives and making the world a better place for all.

By Sylvia Owino, Gender and Social Inclusion Officer for Ripple Effect