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Story and Perspective

How We Address Gender-Based Violence: Moving Beyond the 16 Days of Activism

Rebecca Herman

In their lives, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse. Yet less than one percent—one percent! —of global humanitarian funding is spent on sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response activities. That’s why a global international campaign, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), exists. The campaign is a yearly call around the world for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls, and Pathfinders across the globe participate.

We sat down with Rebecca Herman, senior technical advisor on GBV, to discuss how Pathfinder is working, every day, to address GBV in its programs.

Q: Why is addressing GBV such an integral part of advancing SRHR?

A: In our work, we help public health systems to integrate numerous services—for example, integration of maternal and newborn health care with contraceptive services ensures that women receive counseling and options for immediate postpartum contraception. We recognize that without the ability to plan, space, and choose when to have a child, maternal and newborn health will suffer. Preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) is no different.

Living free from GBV, achieving gender equity in societies, and advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are inextricably linked. Without gender equity, the power imbalances that drive GBV will persist. While people live in fear of violence, or suffer from it, they will not be able to exercise true choice and access to SRHR services. Reproductive coercion in which a person is threatened, harmed, or pressured into having or not having a child, an abortion, or trying to conceive is one of the most common forms of GBV. Pathfinder is working toward a world where people of all gender identities can lead lives free from violence, discrimination, and coercion—enjoying their right to full bodily autonomy and reproductive agency.

Q: How is Pathfinder’s work gender transformative and why is that so important in supporting GBV services for women and girls?

A: Through our programs, we are working to mainstream “gender-transformative” approaches—ones that seek to transform harmful gender norms; reduce the impact of GBV on SRHR; and change the policies, structures, and systems that hold individuals of all genders back. We have a clear commitment, as an organization, to mainstream gender into everything we do. Addressing GBV is one critical aspect of this work. We currently implement gender-transformative projects, including GBV prevention and response, in 10 countries.

In Mozambique, our Impacto project advances gender equality, in part, by addressing violence against women and girls.

Before joining the Impacto program, I had not been respectful towards my wife and kids. I was violent. I have now learned to never use violence.”

Jordão Cumbucane

Jordão participated in Impacto’s group sessions  for men and boys. During the sessions, participants are sensitized on the prevention of GBV, the importance of shared decision-making, contraception, ensuring education for girls, and the risks of early pregnancy and early marriage, among other issues. Read Jordão’s story >>

An Impacto facilitating agent (center) visits Jordão Cumbucane (far left), his wife (second to the left), and some of his children in Chimoio, Mozambique. Photo credit: Impacto

Q: Can you give another example of what this work looks like?

A: One of the ways that Pathfinder integrates gender-transformative approaches into our SRHR programs is to promote and build capacity among health workers to offer person-centered care and survivor-centered GBV services. This means health workers provide services that center the priorities and preference of the client. This is particularly important for people who are experiencing or have experienced GBV.

In Burundi, Pathfinder engages health workers to help them navigate client interactions in a way that protects survivors and challenges the traditional gender expectations that leave survivors of violence to handle the consequences of violence alone. As in many countries where we work, Burundi places a high priority on police reports and judicial response to GBV.  While the intention might seem good—to hold perpetrators accountable—in practice this often results in health workers pressuring survivors to file for legal action, which in turns creates a deterrent and barrier to survivors accessing essential medical care. The training and supportive supervision taking place under the USAID-funded Tubiteiho activity are teaching providers active listening and open-ended counseling skills to better identify when clients are in need of GBV care and to better support clients to choose the package of services that will help them.  This may include seeking legal action or police protection, medical care to prevent unintended pregnancy, or psychosocial support to manage a volatile home situation.

At the end of the day, in simple terms, gender-based violence takes power away from the person being affected. If then, in our attempt to respond or provide services for gender-based violence, we aren’t putting power back into the hands of the survivor—then we are extending the violence experienced.

Pathfinder programs offer coaching, mentorship, and job aids to health workers at all levels of the health system to ensure survivor-centered care across SRHR services. Ultimately, survivor-centered care puts power and choice back in the hands of the survivor and challenges the perception that survivors of violence need saving.

Q: What’s next?

A: Over the next five years, Pathfinder will be addressing gendered barriers to SRHR by examining, identifying, and transforming gender norms. The broad approaches we will focus on include:

  • Strengthening health systems’ capacity to integrate GBV services at primary health service points and ensure survivor-centered care.
    Example: Pathfinder’s Impact2/Liptako project in Niger examines, challenges, and changes rigid gender norms and power imbalances that ultimately lead to improved SRHR, with a focus on adolescent girls and young women.
  • Conducting activities that engage formal, cultural, and religious leaders to support community dialogues on gender.
    Example: In Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pathfinder’s Empowering Young People to Lead Healthy Sexual and Reproductive lives in Kinshasa mobilizes communities to transform harmful gender norms that make young women, including those living with disabilities, vulnerable to violence, unsafe sex, unwanted pregnancy, and unsafe abortion. Edith Matondo, a 23-year-old born with albinism, is a participant in the program.
  • Engaging boys and men in SRHR programs to promote positive norms of masculinity, adoption of equitable gender norms, and healthy outcomes for themselves, their partners, and their children.
    Example: Pathinder’s Impacto project involves men and boys, who are often left out of SRHR messaging campaigns and lack knowledge about contraceptive methods, which can negatively impact their partner’s health. One way we do this is by creating spaces for men and boys to discuss SRHR.

Ultimately, we will continue to work toward a world where people of all gender identities have equitable access and agency to use resources and make decisions that impact their sexual and reproductive lives.

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