Young women, some still girls, await long-haul truck drivers that stop by a gas station in the State of Tocantins, located in the North region of Brazil. Here, impoverished women and girls look to get extra cash in exchange for sex, a phenomenon seen on a daily basis in small towns along the federal highway BR-153. The high dropout rate of girls and gender-based violence are commonplace there. While better road infrastructure brings more economic opportunities to the region, higher road traffic and activity can also increase social risks like gender-based violence.
A World Bank’s multisectoral project in Tocantins seeks to improve efficiency of road transport, in particular, state and rural road network, and to support institutional strengthening in the following five sectors: public administration, agriculture, tourism, environment, and education. While the project does not include any roadwork specifically on the highway BR-153, it aims at reducing existing risk of gender-based violence along the highway as part of the education component of the project.
Schools play an important role in building respectful relations between girls and boys, challenging gender-based stereotypes and combatting discrimination that contributes to violence against women and girls. Accordingly, based on the level of the dropout rate and violence statistics, six high schools along BR-153 were selected to host a pilot initiative to improve awareness of gender-based violence and in the area.
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.
Child marriage has emerged as a negative coping strategy among Syrian families who have been forcibly displaced to Lebanon as a result of Syria’s ongoing conflict. Child marriage has profound implications, not just for the girl and for her physical, psychological and socioeconomic well-being, but also for her children, her family, her community, and for global development more broadly. To date, there has been very little research to identify effective interventions for addressing child marriage in humanitarian settings. With the support of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) and the World Bank Group, Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality are investigating factors that contribute to child marriage in the Syrian refugee crises. Participatory approaches will be used to identify community-based strategies that would offer Syrian families options other than to marry their young daughters prematurely.
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.
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.
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.
Along with partners across the globe, today we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This UN observance has since 2011 called attention to the often invisible abuse, violence, and neglect experienced by older people—mostly women—around the world.
“As a young woman, I feel powerless and exposed when a man harasses me in the bus. One feels more vulnerable because people don’t react to the situation. No one helps… NADIE ME HACE EL PARO.”
The above-mentioned quote comes from a sixteen-year-old girl who participated in one of the focus groups organized by the World Bank for a pilot project to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Mexico City’s public transport. What she and other women described about their experience was clear: when we are harassed no one does anything. The name of this pilot project reflects that: “Hazme el Paro” which is a colloquial expression in Mexico to say “have my back.”
The focus group discussion, part of an exercise to design a communication campaign, allowed us to discover that bystanders refrain from intervening not because of lack of will, but because they do not know what to do without putting themselves at risk. That’s when the project team saw a unique opportunity to try to give public transport users tools to enable them to become active interveners without violent confrontation.