December 19, 2016 – Each year, to raise public awareness of gender-based violence across the world, the United Nations recognizes 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day begins a 16-day period of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, which culminates with International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
The UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats.”
Worldwide, 35 per cent of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives—a figure that, in some countries, is as high as 70 per cent.
Even women in positions of power continue to be subjected to violence. A new study of women parliamentarians around the world—including Europe and North America—found that more than 40 per cent of interviewees reported receiving threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction while serving their terms.
These statistics reflect a stark reality that not only grossly hinders the rights of half the world’s population, but also impedes the fight against poverty and hunger worldwide. For development programmes to be most effective, women need to participate fully as economic and decision-making actors—both roles that gender-based violence discourages.
Gender equality is one of five principles of engagement for IFAD’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025 and has been key to IFAD’s work for many decades. Empowering rural women economically – the first objective of IFAD’s Gender Policy – can help reduce their vulnerability to abuse and strengthen their independence. Improving intra-household relationships – through approaches such as the Household Methodologies, which IFAD developed with partners – can also be an effective way of reducing the incidence of domestic violence.
In India, the IFAD-supported Tejaswini Rural Women’s Empowerment Programme (2005-2015) promoted 75,000 self-help groups for women. The groups offered both financial and social support, where necessary keeping capital and profits safe from male relatives who might otherwise try to take them. In some cases, confidence fostered within the groups empowered women to address domestic violence, alcoholism, and caste-related issues in the public sphere. More than 1 million women have taken part in these groups.
IFAD’s publication Trail Blazers: Lighting the Way Ahead recounts the stories of just a few of these groups’ members. Samundri Bai Bhanware, for example, is a market vendor and single mother. She used to work in agriculture with her husband, but they experienced financial difficulties because her husband spent their money on liquor.
“He used to pick a fight with me every night and it would always end in him beating me,” Bhanware said. “It started becoming worse and I couldn’t handle the abuse any longer, so I left him, took my daughter and came to live in my mother’s house in Piparpani village.”
In Piparpani, she began to buy small amounts of vegetables from farmers to sell in the village. The Tejaswini project offered her multiple small loans to scale up her operation, thus helping Bhanware make a living and retain her independence.
“I had no savings until then and since I earned so little, I didn’t think I could put away some money. But I did,” she said. “I will have my own home soon.”
Meanwhile, in Burundi, the IFAD-supported Value Chain Development Programme (2010-2019) known as PRODEFI is providing woman leaders with the legal training necessary to help other women claim their rights in cases of land conflict or sexual violence.
Two of the women helped by PRODEFI are sisters Sylvane Ntigacika and Gertrude Cimpaye. When Ntigacika got married, Cimpaye joined her to help with the household chores. And when Ntigacika learned that her sister was carrying her husband’s child, she confronted him. In response, he beat her and threw her and their nine children out of the house and off the land they shared.
Ntigacika, now working as a poor labourer to feed her children, went to court to try to secure half of the property she jointly owned with her husband. She was unsuccessful until she turned to a Centre for Family and Community Development (CFCD) for legal advice, which helped her procure 50 per cent of their holdings.
“With my condition today, my husband cannot have the courage to beat me, shout at me or treat me badly as he used to do,” Ntigacika said.
“Many women are still subject of violence in our communities. I urge them to approach the CFCD to seek support. We must speak out. It is the only way we can eliminate violence against us, women.”
Sylvestre Ndayziga, Area Chief of Burana, has been struck by the progress the legal training has achieved. “Thanks to the family development centres, we have seen a huge change in households,” she said.
“Now, if wives are treated unfairly by their husbands, they tell their husband that women also have rights.”