How a Syrian mother learned to ‘love life’ after surviving violence and oppression
Find out how Concern’s Protection Team in Turkey helped a Syrian woman who suffered Gender-Based Violence look after her children and rebuild her life
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While some progress has been made in the fight for gender equality, gender-based violence (GBV) continues to be a major human rights issue around the world - predominantly affecting girls and women, regardless of class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability status or culture.
Every year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign takes place on 25 November and challenges violence against women and girls. To mark this year’s event, here are some key insights you need to know about GBV and what Concern is doing to protect the most vulnerable.
In fact, one in every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Concern works with the poorest communities in 23 countries worldwide and protecting women is at the centre of everything we do.
For example, Pakistan has been ranked as having one of the lowest levels of gender equality and a survey showed that 32% of women in Pakistan have experienced physical violence while 40% of married women are victims of spousal abuse.
"GBV, in general, is a very sensitive topic to discuss in the context of Pakistan as it is considered as an internal issue of family and largely underreported. Women are expected to live with it as they did not think they had an option."
These can include domestic violence, sexual harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, online violence, and emotional, verbal, psychological, and economic abuse.
Physical and sexual violence towards women is often perpetrated by their partners or husbands and those living in poverty are at increased risk of GBV. In the urban slums of Dhaka in Bangladesh, around 66% of women experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands. To tackle this, Concern engages with men and women in order to influence a change in traditional gender norms and practices. This can result in behaviour change and promotes respectful and non-violent attitudes by men and boys.
As a result of the conflict in Syria, women and children face increased risks of multiple forms of GBV, including forced and early marriage, domestic violence and sexual violence. In Lebanon, the national average for child marriage among girls 15-19 is 28% and is 13% for the 14-17 age group. An increase in GBV in many countries has also been observed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cycle of violence can often be stopped by engaging with families and training men in alternative coping strategies such as non-violent communication and conflict resolution. In Lebanon, the Concern team uses these techniques to encourage more equitable roles in the family and motivate men to promote their roles as caregivers and agents of change.
He hears more, understands the feelings of children, is less violent, and has become aware of the damages of violence on child development.
Just as empowering women can help eliminate hunger, food scarcity also leads to increased gender-based violence. Women and girls face more early and forced marriages as families seek dowry payments and try to reduce their food bill. Women may have to sell sex to survive, and money shortages increase tensions within families, which can lead to violence.
Women who have experienced violence are 50% more likely to be living with HIV and, in sub-Saharan Africa, four in five new HIV infections among 10 to 19-year-olds are among girls.
From January to July 2019, 2,264 sexual violence cases were recorded across five education centres in Sierra Leone. Of these, 1,185 cases were aged between 11 and 15, while 332 became pregnant as a consequence. Too often, girls experience GBV in and around schools in forms of sexual harassment or ‘sex for grades’ - only a fraction of cases are reported. Concern has developed a Safe Learning Module in Sierra Leone, which includes training teachers on prevention and response to school-related GBV and facilitating community conversations in order to challenge the pervasive system of discrimination and violence.
I want Concern to continue with my school, because I feel safe for my school now. When I am in school, I feel happy and good. I have a good teacher. I don’t like the thing with having a boyfriend or to have a teacher as a boyfriend
GBV is often treated as a secondary concern in humanitarian action but it can save lives. Our Protection work includes prevention, mitigation and response strategies, such as linking survivors to specialist services, case management, provision of psychosocial support services, distribution of dignity kits and cash assistance and transforming social norms.
No one deserves to be abused. Perpetrators use tactics of control and abuse that make it very difficult for women to escape the violence. It is also important to understand that women who experience violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, and seek to leave the relationship in order to ensure their own and their children's safety, face an increased risk of ongoing and even escalating violence. Women are also prevented from leaving violent relationships because of shame and guilt, lack of safe housing, or the stigma of divorce.
The myth that forced sex within a marrage is acceptable is still present in many countries but rape is defined by an action - not by the identity of the perpetrator or the survivor. In Malawi, the most prevalent form of sexual violence is marital rape so Concern has established a programme called Umodzi, meaning ‘united’. Umodzi engages couples to reflect upon issues such as gender norms, power relations, and healthy relationships in order to reduce intimate partner violence.
People who experience gender-based violence are often depicted as fragile and distraught. In fact, this expectation of helplessness is harmful to survivors.
People who endure violence react in an endless variety of ways. Some are angry, others distressed. Some have no obvious external reaction. Concern considers those who endure gender-based violence to be survivors rather than victims, capable of not just recovery but also action and leadership.
It is rooted in gender inequality and a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power and control that continue to create a social environment in which violence is pervasive and normalised.
GBV is a learned behaviour and, because of this, it can be unlearned. Through our work in partnership with Sonke Gender Justice, we are implementing approaches to prevent GBV through Engaging Men on Gender Equality in 10 countries. The approach supports couples in transforming their attitudes and behaviours with the aim to move towards more positive and equal relationships and reduce gender-based violence in homes and communities.