As the International Center for the Research on Women (ICRW) presented its studies that show ingrained attitudes trivialize and normalize many forms of sexual harassment in public spaces, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged nations to “write a new norm” to end the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war.
Remarks by ICRW and the nation’s senior cabinet official were made during a widely-attended London conference in early June that also brought Angelina Jolie, actress and special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague to speak about ending sexual violence in conflict.
For the 38-year-old global research and evaluation group, the UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was an opportunity to speak again about the need to develop empirical data on what drives sexual violence in public spaces and how to change behaviors and improve social services that protect women’s rights in all areas of life.
Forming the crux of its presentations to an audience of thought leaders, journalists, and other NGOs engaged in addressing sexual violence in armed conflict were overviews of ICRW’s current efforts to build awareness of gender-equitable, healthy, and non-violent lifestyles among youth in formerly conflict-ridden Balkan countries and in India’s major cities. ICRW also spoke about the need to conduct follow-up efforts to its widely-regarded “Safe City Delhi Programme,” a 2012 survey of more than 2,000 households in India’s capital about their experience with sexual violence.
ICRW operates on the principle that evidence-based research should inform policy and drive the investment of scarce resources to deliver efforts that improve lives and safeguard human dignity.
Years of extensive study on gender-based violence have shown that programs that present positive role models to deliver messages about respecting women, lessen abusive and disrespectful behavior, promote non-violent attitudes, and teach skills to speak and intervene when witnessing harmful conduct.
As evidence, ICRW’s Parivartran (“transformation” in Hindi) program directed at school age cricket players in Mumbai, India offers promising indications of attitudinal shifts leading to behavioral change. Here, coaches and peer mentors guide players through lessons to control aggression and to understand that violence never equals strength.
Evidence-based recommendations are at the heart of ICRW’s work. Among the group’s recent studies is a five-country survey of “How Does a Boy Grow Up to Commit Rape?” The effort gathers household-level data on men’s attitudes and practices related to gender and violence, along with women’s opinions and reports of men’s behavior. The aim is to provide recommendations to prevent rape and promote broader gender equality through engaging men and boys as key stakeholders in the process.A key finding from the study: Men can influence other men to reject violence and set a nonviolent life course.
In response to this and other studies, ICRW in partnership with other organizations, has developed elementary and secondary school-based programs in Mumbai, India, and the Balkans, that use role play and games to deepen students’ understanding of gender equality. Issues covered here include expectations and responsibilities in a relationship, defining forms of violence, including sharp language that labels and demeans, and ways to form a collective response to violence when it is witnessed.
ICW aims to continue its 2012 study, which sought to understand how safe or unsafe Delhi’s women and girls felt in the city’s public spaces. That effort studied responses from 3,000 men, women, boys and girls within the city’s wards about sexual violence they have experienced or observed. The results were eye-opening.
Fully 90% of women and girls reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault. And, about 50% of males admitted to perpetrating at least one form of sexually aggressive behavior ranging in severity from sexual comments or obscene gestures, to touching or groping, to sexual attacks in Delhi’s public spaces.
In a follow-up study proposed for this year, ICRW will re-visit the same areas to learn whether programs adopted since the study have allowed Delhi’s women and girls to feel safer.