It was a Friday evening and the auditorium inside St. Xavier’s College in Kathmandu was packed with almost 300 people. Students, activists, experts from the government and civil society gathered inside the hall along with an eclectic panel comprising of a film celebrity, a lawyer activist, an IT entrepreneur and an INGO Head. They were all there to discuss one crucial issue - violence against women and girls.
The statistics are shocking. Nepal ranks 14th among the countries with the highest global prevalence of physical violence by intimate partner, according to a new World Bank report. A staggering 45 percent of Nepali women have reported suffering two or more types of sexual coercion in their lifetime and 20% of the abortions in Nepal each year are carried out by women who prefer a son to a daughter.
violence against women
Next up in the draft case studies on ‘active citizenship’ is the story of an amazing campaign from South Asia and beyond. Please comment on the draft paper [We Can consultation draft May 2014].
We Can End All Violence Against Women (henceforward We Can) is an extraordinary, viral campaign on violence against women (VAW) in South Asia, reaching millions of men and women across six countries and subsequently spreading to other countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas. What’s different about We Can (apart from its scale) is:
- It is not primarily concerned with changing policies, laws, constitutions or lobbying the authorities. Instead, it aims to go to scale, by changing attitudes and beliefs about gender roles at community level. A special feature is the ‘Change Maker’ approach, which comes with a ritual in the form of the “We Can” pledge to reflect on one’s own practice, end VAW in one’s own life and to talk to 10 others about it.
- It seeks to involve men as well as women, with remarkable success
- Its origins lie in a South-South exchange: We Can’s methodology was developed from VAW community programmes in Uganda.
Launched in 2004, by 2011 We Can had signed up approximately 3.9 million women and men to be ‘Change Makers’ – advocating for an end to VAW in their homes and communities. Unexpectedly, about half the Change Makers were men. An external evaluation in 2011 conservatively estimated that ‘some 7.4 million women and men who participated in “We Can” and related activities, have started transforming their perceptions of gender roles and VAW, as well as their behaviour.’
See also: Anniversary of the New Delhi Attack Reminds Us that Tackling Violence is Urgent
December 16, 2012 will in the foreseeable future be remembered as the day in which six men savagely gang raped a 23-year old female student on a bus in New Delhi. The young woman died from her injuries 13 days later. The event shocked the nation and sparked unprecedented uprisings in the Indian capital and across the country. It put the international spotlight on India and reminded us that violence against women remains a leading cause of female mortality worldwide.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of what is simply referred to as the “Delhi Rape”, we are compelled to pause and reflect. Four men were sentenced to death for the crime in September – did this bring closure? Beyond the protests and public appeals for change, has there been meaningful change in India?
There’s a fascinating, brilliant and I think, very significant, piece on the role of feminism in driving action on violence against women in the latest issue of Gender and Development (ungated versions on Oxfam policy and practice website, please note).
Authors Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun have painstakingly constructed the mother of all databases, covering 70 countries over four decades (1975 to 2005). It includes various kinds of state action (legal and administrative reforms, protection and prevention, training for officials), and a number of other relevant factors, such as the presence of women legislators, GDP per capita, the nature of the political regime etc.
This allows them both to chart steady improvements in VaW policy (see maps at bottom of this piece) and to use stats techniques to try and identify those factors most closely correlated with state action. Here’s what they find:
“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.
With roughly 70% of women the world over experiencing physical or sexual violence from men at one time of their lives or another, according to United Nations research, it is quite clear that violence against women is a global pandemic that is currently being cured at a snail’s pace.