Gender-based violence (GBV) is globally endemic. It plagues societies regardless of their wealth or poverty, or whether they are at peace or in conflict. Its global presence and prevalence are shocking!
One in three women across the world endures some form of GBV in their lifetime. Yet, it is not widely understood that GBV does not only refer to physical violence, but also includes sexual violence, emotional and psychological abuse, harmful practices, and even economic coercion. And that the perpetrators of GBV are not always strangers, but that women are often at greater risk of violence from their partners than from anyone else. Globally, on average, a girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes … 130 girls every day.
Thirty-one years since the first 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”—the annual international campaign by the United Nations to raise GBV awareness and encourage action to end it—we are still a long way from its eradication.
This year’s theme for 16 days of action is “UNiTE! Activism To End Violence Against Women and Girls!” The theme emphasises the significance of collective action and solidarity to address GBV, with a nod to the Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign, which calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the UN system to join forces to address violence against women and girls.
Indeed, as we call on all key stakeholders to work together to combat this global emergency, we must also be strategic in our approach, focusing intensely and urgently on regions that are not only the most affected by GBV but are also seeing a sharp increase in its incidence, i.e., regions with ongoing humanitarian crises.
The breakdown of social norms and support systems, the weakened capacity of law enforcement and other institutions, as well as increased poverty and insecurity during a humanitarian crisis, make women and girls more vulnerable to violence.
Risk of violence
A climate crisis such as a drought exacerbates the risk of violence against women and girls as it leads to displacement, food insecurity, and other forms of stress that can increase the likelihood of violence. Especially in situations of displacement, women and girls become more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and are at a much greater risk of violence, as they may be isolated and lack access to protection and support services.
The drought in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, continues to ravage communities and has had devastating consequences, including a sharp increase in GBV. Over 82 percent of the 7.8 million Somali people in need of humanitarian assistance are women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by not just hunger, malnutrition, and specific health and hygiene challenges but also a constant threat to their security.
Rape, IPV, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse, forced or child marriages, female genital mutilation, family abandonment, and forced abortion are all forms of GBV that are on the rise in the drought affected populations in Somalia.
The UNFPA’s GBV Information Management System (GBVIMS) data for 2022 indicate a 21 percent increase in reported rape cases in the drought-impacted communities in 2021, a 60 percent increase in reported cases of intimate partner violence, and a 20 per cent increase in the number of women and girls who accessed lifesaving GBV response services due to sexual and intimate partner violence.
UNFPA, as the lead agency of the United Nation working to respond to and reduce GBV, is prioritising the protection of women and girls affected by the drought and providing them with access to services such as safe spaces, legal and medical assistance, psychosocial support, and referrals.
In addition, we are also working to train required human resources, including humanitarian workers, on how to identify and respond to incidents of GBV, support the survivors, and engage with local communities and work with them to prevent GBV and promote gender equality.
Addressing GBV is not just a moral imperative; it is also essential for the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts. No humanitarian response can be successful without addressing the needs of women and girls, including the need to protect them from GBV.
Access to critical services
Providing support and protection for women and girls in crisis situations not only reduces their immediate vulnerability but also creates a more robust, inclusive, and effective humanitarian response with long-term social and economic advantages.
When women and girls are protected from violence, they are better able to access essential services such as healthcare, education, and food, and they are more likely to be able to participate in the recovery and rebuilding process.
Yet despite the widespread nature of GBV and its devastating impact on individuals and communities, in the face of more obvious challenges, it continues to be under-addressed and under-prioritized at many levels of humanitarian response.
The critical and life-saving need to reduce vulnerability and increase support and protection for women and girls in crisis situations is the first step toward developing a more inclusive and effective humanitarian response.
There is a need for systemic evaluation of how we collectively plan and implement humanitarian responses with a view to women and girls as a marginalised group of right-holders, with a focus on their needs and protection.
It is a no-brainer that the voices of women and girls must be heard and their rights protected. Activism beyond these 16 days means continuing to take action for gender equality and addressing violence against women throughout the year. Let us work every day towards a future where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender.
The author is Country Representative, UNFPA, Somalia