In 2017, the world is marking the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in perhaps the most politically charged atmosphere the campaign has ever seen.
But as the fallout from accusations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein spreads across different sectors and around the world, the United Nations is asking the international community to focus on the most marginalized women and girls, not just those who are able to give testimony about abuse in the public domain.
As part of our series of coverage to mark the 16 days of action, Women & Girls spoke to Dina Deligiorgis, knowledge management specialist at U.N. Women, about why reaching marginalized women matters, and the organization’s ongoing efforts to end violence against women and girls.
Women & Girls: Why do we have to reach the most marginalized women and how are you defining them?
Dina Deligiorgis: The reason we’ve chosen this theme is that it speaks to the sustainable development goals (SDG) framework and the Agenda 2030. Within that framework, every individual everywhere is entitled to human rights, to fundamental freedom and access to the opportunities enshrined within those adopted SDGs.
That means that everyone, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, caste, religion, income level, ability, sexual orientation, HIV status or any other defining characteristic of a person’s identity, or the context within which they live, is entitled to these opportunities and freedoms. I think that’s an important context for our discussion on violence against women.
All women and girls are subject to a range of harmful practices and violations that are physical and sexual in nature, and it’s from the time they’re infants, sometimes even pre-birth, through to adulthood, and older age. This happens at the hands of family members, or intimate partners, mostly. And those are the very people that you should be trusting and be most loved by.
But it also happens, as we know, especially with the recent #MeToo hashtag and the global outcry, at work, at school, on the way to and from work and school in transit. It happens in politics and elections, and it happens, obviously, through social media. One out of every three women has experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence in her life. So the pervasiveness is astounding.
And so, while no one is exempt, there are risks and experiences that are greater for some portions of the population based on their identities, or context. The statistics on marginalized populations will vary country by country, of course, and we have to recognize that the data available on marginalized populations, in the context of violence against women, is also very limited.
Adolescents are a huge gap area, as are older women. The reason is that often, surveys that collect data on the prevalence, the incidence and the consequences are looking at women of reproductive age. So you’ll have portions of the population that are not even accounted for in statistics.
Migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are another group that, on the whole, we know are often marginalized and left behind because they do not have their traditional support structures that might serve as a protective mechanism against certain abuses. Where they’re currently living they may not have formal recognition by the state, which means they don’t have recognized rights. They might be rendered completely invisible in planning processes and not then be considered, either in the prevention work that’s being undertaken, and certainly not in the services that are being provided.
Women & Girls: How does U.N. Women plan to address this?
Deligiorgis: There are two interconnected streams to addressing violence against women and girls. Traditionally the strong voices of the women’s movement in civil society have been in supporting survivors. And that’s critical to ending the cycle of abuse. [Then] preventing it from happening in the first place requires a whole host of other interventions.
For example, male migrant status might be a risk factor for perpetration, because as a male, he’s facing dislocation as well; that, coupled with the masculine norm of needing to be the provider. Not that violence is ever excusable under any circumstance, but understanding nuances then helps you design your prevention effort.
Alcohol abuse might be an issue in one country or context, but is not actually an issue in another country or context. So, we put together a prevention framework that guides countries on how to disentangle the risk factors and protective factors for different segments of the population.
Boys who complete secondary education are less likely to perpetrate, girls who complete secondary education are less likely to experience. So, when you’re talking about marginalized groups, you’re not just talking about the violence, but you’re looking at it through the health sector angle, through the education sector angle.
One example of how you bring marginalized populations into direct programming is our Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces program. This was developed because it was recognized that sexual harassment in a public space was a huge gap area. So the program works in 27 cities across the world.
In Winnipeg, Canada, for example, the data collection was done with Aboriginal women because the general services were not equipped to be able to address their needs. And dedicated Aboriginal-led services were established.
Women & Girls: Are there any spaces that the U.N. is not really able to fill, that perhaps another actor could, in order to really end violence against women and girls?
Deligiorgis: I think that the international norms and standards are pretty clear on what needs to happen and they have been for quite some time. With the SDGs, there’s commitment to implement those.
But the challenge is really the resources that are available to do this work. Financially speaking, this issue has been marginalized in itself for years. The European Union commitment with the U.N. to this issue to the tune of 500 million euros is an amount that’s unprecedented to work on this issue. But when you look at the scale of the problem, it’s still a drop in the ocean.
We also work with private sector [through] the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which is a set of guidelines that private sector companies commit to. Within that, addressing violence against women in the workplace is specifically spelled out.
We have a very strong knowledge and evidence base of what works, especially to support survivors. I think that side of the work is very well articulated. In prevention, we’ve got an amazing amount of new and emerging evidence on what works, and thus, our prevention framework
But with limited funding, we can only reach so many entities or so many countries. Our hope is that other partners will join the European Union in funding comprehensive programming. So it’s basically about taking this work to scale.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
This is part of a series of articles to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.