I have a question for you – can development activities significantly contribute to ending violence against women and girls in rural communities?
The link between the work of development organisations like ours and the fight to end gender-based violence may not be immediately obvious, but it’s there. In fact, development has a vital part to play in the elimination of this kind of violence. Let’s explore why the answer to my question is a big “Yes”.
“Sexual and gender-based violence refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It encompasses threats of violence and coercion. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual in nature, and can take the form of a denial of resources or access to services.” –United Nations
Empowerment through independence
At Practical Action, we know that development programmes are an effective tool for empowering women, giving them a voice and freeing them from poverty, dependency and abusive relationships.
Economic independence is a vital ingredient in empowering women to combat violence. Others are awareness of their situation and a network of support. Our experience has shown us that helping women to form community groups helps them build the social support and self-confidence they need to confront violence, however that violence manifests itself.
Sisterhood and support in Sudan
In the 25 years that Practical Action has been working in Sudan, we’ve supported thousands of women and girls to learn new skills, get their voices heard in their communities and participate on an equal footing. When this happens, everyone benefits. For example, in post-conflict Darfur, women’s engagement in our peace committees not only gave them a voice, it helped build and sustain our peace-building activities.
By addressing women’s basic needs through our projects, we’ve helped them transform their lives. Water and sanitation services mean they have somewhere private near their homes to go to the toilet. Clean cooking stoves remove the need to walk for miles to collect firewood. Electric lights turn dark streets into safe places at night. All these developments free women and girls from threats to their physical and emotional safety.
An ongoing challenge
A third of Sudanese girls under 16 years old are victims of female genital mutilation and more than 11% of them endure forced child marriage (UNFPA, 2017). We face these statistics head-on in our role combatting gender-based violence.
Our work in Sudan includes community group activities, promoting awareness and training – all geared towards raising issues relating to women’s health and safety. For example, our award-winning energy programme to introduce low-smoke stoves into households in North Darfur also delivered awareness packages around female genital mutilation and early marriage. Work that is still taking place after the original project has ended.
Walking the talk
Our team in Sudan have developed internal policies that reflect the same empowerment and independence we aim to inspire through our projects. We’ve introduced a package of safeguarding and gender policies that ensure a humane and gender-sensitive work environment.
We’ve also established a gender-complaint system to maintain safety, privacy and justice for vulnerable individuals and to make clear our zero tolerance of all forms of gender-based violence in the workplace, including harassment and sexual exploitation. With this set of policies, we all feel safe, dignified and respected.
From award-winning development work with remote communities to everyday office life, our team in Sudan is dedicated to combatting gender-based violence.