The Challenges of Working (and Living) with Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Natasha Leite
Posted November 19, 2016 from Brazil

This was first posted for Women Deliver Blog.

You could be in Brazil, the United States, the Maldives, Thailand, France, Jordan, or, in my case right now, Kenya and talk to someone about their experiences on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Chances are, most girls and women will have a story – from being objectified and harassed in the street, to being raped or forced to marry as a child.

Working with gender and violence is not an objective work because there isn’t a separation; those conversations about SGBV are experiences we share as women and girls. In both my personal and work experience, the biggest difference between countries from the Global South with the reality of the Global North is not that violence necessary occurs less, but that victims and survivors have more supporting services on which they can rely.

I make the distinction between survivors and victims because some people are never really given the opportunity to overcome the violence they have suffered. They could be re-victimized by the very same actors that are supposed to be helping them and shunned by families and communities. Overall, between34% and 59% of womenwho were physically assaulted by their partners reported that no one had tried to help them.

When I was working in Belize coordinating aproject on prevention of violence against women and human trafficking, there were no public shelters for women who had experienced sexual or gender-based violence. This means that if someone was a victim of domestic violence, they would have to rely on their own funds or find a community-based initiative. The Belize government has one specific department within the Ministry of Human Development for gender-related issues, which is the Women’s Department. The Women’s Department has eight social workers trying to cover the entire country’s sexual and gender-based violence cases and it has very limited human and financial resources. This experience is not unique; in many places that I have worked, women and girls would be glad to have what Belize has because too many don’t even have one assigned social worker for their district.

There is the added fact that violence and patriarchy are so pervasive that people don’t realize when they are replicating it. Talking with a police commissioner about changes in the domestic violence legislation, giving it a harsher sentence to perpetrators, I received the following reply: “Yes, it is challenging. For us even more so now that we have to put those guys alongside dangerous criminals like murderers and robbers.” I couldn’t believe my ears -- a crime against property was considered “more dangerous” than a crime against another human being.

But the reality is, they can change, but not until we make that change mandatory Impunity is a major driving force for why sexual and gender-based violence is a worldwide epidemic. 119 countries already have laws on domestic violence; 125 have laws on sexual harassment; 52 have laws on marital rape. This proves that as a society we know, at least conceptually, that SGBV is wrong. We now need law enforcement and justice to give due attention to those cases. We need institutions to address sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. We need people to stand up for each other when someone is being harassed in a public space.

Most importantly, we need countries to make psycho-social support and attention to victims a priority. Government domestic violence units are sorely underfunded, often lacking training, social workers, or even private rooms. It is not a matter of lack of resources, because combating drug trafficking or border control programs usually have funding throughout the year. It’s a matter of prioritization.

We can eradicate sexual and gender-based violence within our lifetime; we just have to dedicate enough resources and act together. It is not too much to hope. In the end, we just want to live a world where violence is not such an integral part of our lives as women.

Comments 5

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allie shep
Nov 21, 2016
Nov 21, 2016

Hi Natasha - loved your piece, great insight.

Yes "most girls and women will have a story" re SGBV - I would go so far as to say "almost every girl has a story...".

I don't just mean my clients, but friends and acquaintances who suddenly reveal things about their past. For a girl or women it is still a horrible world out there and more preparation for it needs to be done in schools and colleges.

Allie x

Natasha Leite
Nov 21, 2016
Nov 21, 2016

Hi Allie,

Thanks for commenting! Sadly you are right. We have many stories on VAWG... And we have to stand up for each other in schools, in the streets, in public transportation, at the workplace, at our homes... It's such a pervasive phenomena and we keep finding new and more horrible ways to make women and girls feel unsafe.  It does not have to be like this! And you are also right, it is the States responsibility and the international cooperation responsibility to do more, so we can take more serious steps towards the elimination of violence against women and girls in the next 15 years.

allie shep
Nov 22, 2016
Nov 22, 2016

Hi Natasha, Yes there has to be a responsibility taken by the state for gender violence. Education of boys at all levels has to be a necessity (along with the banning of images portraying girls as inferior) until it becomes natural for boys to see girls as equal not lesser poeple.

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 21, 2016
Nov 21, 2016

Hi Natasha,

This is the kind of news that is so important and helpful in paying attention to all that still needs to be done, and to be done better, and to be done despite solutions seemingly being in place but without the follow through of governments, courts, police. I appreciate your reporting of how many countries have laws in place, and of the barriers still in place with resistant courts and rampant impunity still too much the norm. Your call for attention to the need for real support and a change in attitude is put in the right light: yes, prioritization. This is my favourite part "We can eradicate sexual and gender-based violence within our lifetime; we just have to dedicate enough resources and act together. It is not too much to hope". It is because of sisters like you who continue to believe that we can do this, that my own optimism stays strong. Yes, we are here to do this, and I am so glad to find you here within World Pulse.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Natasha Leite
Nov 21, 2016
Nov 21, 2016

Thank you, Tam, for the kind words!

Best wishes,

Natasha