When I first visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007 as a public health researcher, I was trying to understand the complex issue of how young men get recruited into rebel groups in war-torn regions of central Africa. What I learned was both surprising and heartbreaking: a person who experienced war violence as a child could be more likely to engage in conflict as a young adult. Young men who had experienced extreme war violence in their past would often state this as a reason to take up arms. Even more tragically, these same young men would often struggle to reintegrate peacefully into their communities when hostilities ended. The violence they had experienced their whole lives through war persisted within their homes and communities even when formal peace was declared.
The simple answer is yes. Now, let’s discuss in more depth why gender equality is a key ally in the prevention of violent conflict.
Gender equality is an essential factor in a country’s security and stability. Excluding women from actively participating in society can increase the risk of instability. Gender equality is not only about doing what is right or about social justice; it is also an important element in economic development and a critical predictor of stability and security, which can inform and improve work on conflict prevention.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ~ Albert Einstein
Today, conflicts have become more complex and last longer. About 2 billion people —about a third of the world’s population —now live in countries affected by conflict. This conflict is often linked to global challenges from climate change to human trafficking. Violent conflicts are no longer defined by national borders. They cost about $13.6 trillion every year and pose a significant threat to the 2030 agenda, which is why governments around the world are interested in taking more effective measures to prevent them.
Globally, 30% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner (IPV) during their lifetime. IPV prevalence is likely higher during humanitarian crises, when women and girls, men and boys, are more vulnerable to violence in the family and community, and during displacement. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggest that IPV is the most common form of violence in humanitarian settings but that it often receives less attention than non-partner sexual violence during conflict or humanitarian crisis.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign also allows us to reflect on the important role of research in activism. Without rigorous research, activism against gender-based violence may be misguided or misaligned with individual or community perceptions and needs.
What is meant by rigorous research?
Rigorous research has been defined as research that applies the appropriate research tools to investigate a set of stated objectives. While some researchers may argue that quantitative research methodologies generate more rigorous data, using this definition we can see that qualitative research methodologies can also generate rigorous data to inform programming, policy and activism.
Our project, funded by the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence, aims to do just that—generate rigorous data using qualitative research methodologies to better understand the gender, social, and cultural norms that contribute to intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees. Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) International in collaboration with academic and organizational partners in Turkey and Greece will collect data using focus group discussions and participatory action learning activities in order to inform future interventions targeting intimate partner violence among displaced populations.
Global Impact of Child Marriage
Child marriage is a global issue of enormous importance. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 142 million girls will marry young worldwide between 2011 and 2020 and an additional 151 million girls will marry young in the following decade, equating to 39,000 girls marrying prematurely each day. Infants born to young mothers are also at greater risk of low birth weight, stillbirth, and neonatal death. In fact, this form of gender-based violence (GBV) is thought to have contributed to the lack of progress towards meeting UN Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, calling for a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality and a three-fourths reduction in maternal deaths, respectively.
The impact of marrying young extends well beyond health consequences. As child brides assume the responsibilities of wives, they are most often unable to continue their formal education thus limiting their literacy and future earning potential. Additionally, young girls are often married to older men and this age discrepancy contributes to unhealthy inequalities within the marriage, often compounding gender inequalities that impair women’s ability to negotiate shared decision making. Thus, experiences of physical, psychological, and sexual violence are more prevalent among girls who marry as children than among those who enter into marriage as consenting adults.
Child Marriage and the Syrian Crisis
Evidence suggests that rates of child marriage have increased in the Middle East due to the Syrian conflict and the resultant displacement. Increased child marriage during conflict and displacement is not unique to the Syrian crisis as prior evidence suggests that vulnerability to early marriage is heightened during conflicts and natural disasters. Economic necessity and a desire to protect girls from harassment and sexual violence at the hands of strangers are thought to be underlying contributors to child marriage but there are undoubtedly other unrecognized factors related to cultural and social norms which have been impacted from experiences of trauma and loss due to the conflict.
To provide new insight into the societal, economic, security, religious and psychosocial factors contributing to child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, we used an innovative mixed qualitative/quantitative data capture instrument, Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker. With electronic data entry on tablets, SenseMaker offers the capability to efficiently collect and analyze large quantities of data in the form of self-interpreted micro-narratives. Because participants interpret their own narratives, researcher interpretation bias is reduced and the stories can be directly accessed to contextualize the quantitative data, which derives from participants’ interpretation of the experiences shared in their narratives.
In July and August 2016, a team of 12 trained Syrian/Lebanese interviewers electronically collected 1,422 self-interpreted micro-narratives from 1,346 unique participants on the experiences of Syrian girls in Lebanon. The SenseMaker interviews were conducted with married and unmarried Syrian girls, Syrian mothers and fathers, as well as married and unmarried Syrian/Lebanese men and a variety of community leaders in Beirut, Beqaa, and Tripoli. Data management and preliminary analysis were performed by QED Insight and results will be further analyzed in Tableau, which facilitates pattern recognition across the various subgroups through disaggregation of the data by various demographic characteristics as well as other contextualizing factors such as length of time spent in Lebanon, emotional tone of the story, etc. In doing so, researchers can ascertains patterns in stories to obtain insights that present alternative and diverse points of view.
This SenseMaker data will be presented back to Syrian community members in January and their interpretation of the results will be solicited. Importantly, these facilitated focus group discussions will also serve as a medium through which Syrian communities can self-identify local strategies that are feasible and culturally appropriate to address the issue of child marriage at the local level. This approach fosters community resilience and will help to empower affected families to identify elements of change, which will ultimately be more sustainable and more effective. Through our partnership with the World Bank and SVRI, the community data analysis and local strategies will be brought to the attention of a wide range of policy makers and donors who are increasing their investment and commitment in GBV prevention, response and mitigation based on solid, participatory and innovative analytical work.
For more information, contact [email protected] or [email protected]
Why is gender important for development in environments affected by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV), in the context of your work?
Even though we know that or sexual violence at the hand of a non-partner, we have yet to fully understand the complexity and different manifestations of gender-based violence (GBV) experienced by women and girls in conflict.
We do know that women and girls experience increased violence, because of the breakdown in social fabric that regulates the use of violence, the lack of security and services, and the reality of being forcibly displaced and living in areas where there is no protection. UNHCR estimates that globally, women and girls comprise about half of internally displaced or stateless populations.
We are learning that the Syrian crisis has led to increases in early marriage, and has severely limited women’s mobility. Girls are not given access to education because they are not allowed to leave their homes. Women in Iraq who are widowed enter into temporary marriages to collect dowry and provide food and shelter for their families. While in these temporary marriages, they are often sexually and physically assaulted.
The increased vulnerability of women and girls in FCV and the entrenchment of norms and attitudes that contribute to violence and eat away at women’s autonomy are reasons why it is especially important to always bear in mind how FCV affects women and men, girls and boys differently.
Tell us about your experience working in this area.
I led the creation of the Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide which was developed and launched in partnership with the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at George Washington University, and the Inter-American Development Bank in 2014. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) joined the partnership in June 2015.
The guide was created to provide basic information on the characteristics and consequences of violence against women and girls, including operational implications. It offers guidance on how to integrate prevention and the provision of quality services to violence survivors within a range of sectoral projects. The guide highlights potential entry points and partners to engage with, while recommending strategies for integrating violence against women and girls into policies and legislation, sector programs and projects. The guide gathers existing global evidence and emerging promising practices, including those implemented by several teams across the World Bank.
In addition, we are partnering with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative out of the Medical Research Council of South Africa to address the dearth of evidence. The Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence is funding innovation in GBV prevention and response around the world -- including in FCV countries. Two of the nine projects we funded last year are working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. The funding in Lebanon, for example, will help us better understand the drivers of early marriage and how men, women, boys and girls understand this phenomenon. This information will give us the data we need to design an intervention to address the root causes of early marriage.
How can we take this agenda forward?
The new World Bank Group Gender Strategy and commitments under the International Development Association (IDA) give us the opportunity to continue our research and improve our understanding of the different ways in which FCV affects women and men. We can also integrate into our operations measures to address GBV and increase economic opportunities as well as access to labor markets for women, while also increasing access to assets and services.
I hope to use my experiences of working for almost a decade in humanitarian settings and GBV to provide technical support and share examples of evidence-based interventions that we can use across the World Bank’s programs in FCV to help women and girls in these environments.
- gender equality
- Fragility Conflict and Violence
- International Development Association (IDA)
- Syrian Crisis
- refugee crisis
- VAWG Resource Guide
- violence against women and girls
- Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Communities
- #16Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
In preparing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa, which supports Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, consultations with local representatives brought out the critical need to help host communities cope and build resilience. An important challenge posed was how to develop activities that improve the productivity of both traditional and non-traditional livelihoods, including through diversification and income generation in these difficult locales.
While the team explored options for support, we were confronted with some realities. These included: (i) a high dependence on traditional and low productivity livelihoods, including agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism; (ii) degraded natural resources base due to greater susceptibility to climate related events especially flash floods and droughts; (iii) lack of or limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, including rural finance and market infrastructure; (iv) inadequate presence and/or limited capacity of the public sector; and (v) near absence of and/or non-vibrant private sector.
Based on experience with supporting traditional livelihoods and livelihood diversification in a range of settings, including fragile and conflict affected contexts, the team and partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti arrived at the following key considerations to promote livelihoods:
- Ensuring a focus on women and youth for livelihoods support given they are among the most vulnerable both among host and refugee communities.
- Putting in place an inclusive and participatory planning process for livelihoods promotion and diversification is necessary to ensure community ownership.
- Establishing and/or strengthening community institutions focused on livelihoods is critical not only for training, capacity building, and livelihoods development; but also for promoting social cohesion and peace building between host and refugee communities thus creating an enabling environment for livelihoods promotion.
- Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets could serve to be a good starting point for supporting livelihoods in target communities, although designing livelihood programs and promoting livelihoods diversification requires careful assessment.
- Understanding existing streams of livelihoods and livelihood diversification options is essential to better explore (i) existing traditional forms of livelihoods - stabilizing, expanding, and making them productive and sustainable; (ii) alternative forms of livelihoods (livelihoods diversification), including self-employment - micro-enterprise development, targeting micro-entrepreneurs; (iii) skilled wage employment - opportunities for youth and women in growing sectors of the economy; and (iv) technical, behavioral, and market-performance assessment for determining viable options.
- Access to finance should look at savings and credit groups and their saving mobilization and internal lending activities alongside the formal and non-formal financial institutions within and outside the target communities.
- Collectives of producers would need to be built on small scale livelihoods undertaken by individuals, community groups or institutions. The aggregation and/or upscaling will require access to larger markets, infrastructure for storage, transport facilities and appropriate technology for value addition and value chains; and importantly partnerships with the private sector.
- Leveraging on initiatives that are existing, innovative and working in target communities and then adding value, including scaling up is more helpful. Given the challenging circumstances, transplanting models from more stable and developed environments may have limited chances of taking root.
- Capacities and strengths of implementing agencies, local governments and communities should determine the scope and scale of livelihood activities while also paying attention to addressing the skills deficit and building sustainable capacity for planning, implementation and management of livelihood programs at all levels.
- Phasing and sequencing of livelihood interventions will help manage the trade-off of a short-term versus a long-term planning horizon innovatively. Piloting and scaling up based on experience is a useful strategy to pursue.
- Linkages and partnerships for greater impact need to be actively explored and established. Regular coordination meetings help encourage collaboration and partnerships, and provide feedback on implementation, share key learning and discuss challenges.
We are happy to share our perspectives as we work to help the people living in the Horn of Africa and look forward to hearing your views.
This year’s Fragility Forum themed Take Action for Peaceful and Inclusive Societies was held at a time when the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people and growing violent extremism shows real urgency. The 70 plus sessions touched on so many intersections of development, peacebuilding and governance and recurring themes from how to strengthen the global response to forced displacement; to exploring next generation technology; to ending poverty in fragile settings. The following are my key takeaways.
1. Partnerships are the cornerstone of greater success.
The panelists emphasized strongly the idea of partnerships to tackle fragility, conflict and violence. Particularly, the development community and humanitarian groups have long worked separately but with the growing development challenge of the Syrian refugee crisis, a new approach is required. President Kim stressed that “it’s time to work together”. Better cooperation also requires avoiding overlapping goals as Ali Sindi, Minister of Planning, Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq noted during the first plenary.
The buzz around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is changing, as reality kicks in and countries now have to figure out how to integrate the thinking of the goals into plans, set priorities and commit to targets.
Up to now global interest groups and constituencies have rallied around MY goal – one of the 17 SDGs that they supported. This is understandable, as their first achievement has been to see their goal included. With that done the hard work is starting, to implement the ambitious agenda.
No doubt this will be challenging and the crosscutting goals that have several sector “homes” are likely to face particular difficulties. Constituencies need to team up and mobilize joint resources and strategies especially around Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies. This is sensible and smart: Reducing sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and increasing women’s roles in peace and statebuilding are core objectives of both constituencies.