Panel: Preventing Violence against Young Women Requires Layered Approach

Article Date

11 March 2013

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

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Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Preventing – and ultimately eliminating – violence against young women and girls worldwide requires a layered approach that simultaneously tackles everything from the root causes of violence to how it intersects with health complications such as maternal mortality, an International Center for Research on Women’s (ICRW) panel said on March 7.

The diverse group came together for ICRW’s first Passports to Progress event in honor of ICRW’s new Turning Point campaign, which aims to change the course adolescent girls’ lives globally. Some 300 gathered at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club on the eve of International Women’s Day to take part in the wide-ranging discussion.

Moderated by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, panelists were Michael Elliott, president and chief executive officer of One; Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts; Stella Mukasa, director of ICRW research and programs on gender-based violence; and Ravi Verma, who directs ICRW’s Asia Regional Office in New Delhi, India. Kavita Ramdas, the Ford Foundation’s Delhi representative, shared her perspective in a pre-recorded video.

The gathering took place just days after 15-year-old Pakistani girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai – who survived a shooting by the Taliban – was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, the day after Passports to Progress, the U.S. State Department posthumously honored with its Women of Courage Award the young woman who was fatally raped last December in Delhi. The 23-year-old has become known as Nirbhaya, which means “fearless” in Hindi.

These and other recent incidents of violence that captured the global spotlight helped to frame the March 7 conversation. Verma stressed that the Delhi rape represents a common occurrence in India’s capital and emphasized the need to address not only such public reflections of violence against young women, but also those that play out quietly, such as child marriage. “This is a manifestation of violence that happens in terms of restricting [girls’] choices and denying their rights,” Verma said about the practice of early marriage.

Turlington-Burns agreed, stating that girls ages 15 to 19 are most at risk of dying from complications during childbirth. “Girls, because they’re not fully developed and they’re malnourished, are in an incredibly vulnerable position when they’re put in the position of being married and impregnated prematurely,” she said. “It’s an incredibly cruel way for them to be in the world.”

HIV also is “the leading killer” of young women of reproductive age in developing countries, Elliott said. Many face numerous obstacles, including violence, to accessing treatment and prevention services. “The nexus, the connections between HIV infections and violence against women are deep, significant and impenetrable,” he said. “Sexual violence and HIV infection reinforce each other.”

Panelists said that successfully preventing gender-based violence requires a multifaceted approach that targets the “cross-cutting” nature of violence – or rather, the way in which it intersects with other facets of women’s lives, such as their health, their livelihood and their relationships. Working with men’s organizations is critical. Evaluating whether prevention efforts are effective and replicable needs to be a priority. And, panelists said, creating national policies that protect and support women and that hold perpetrators accountable are key.

Mukasa suggested that the “next frontier” on this issue also requires beginning to treat women’s economic empowerment programs worldwide “as a strategy for protecting women against violence.” “We also recognize that women’s political influence and participation in political processes is very empowering,” Mukasa said.

However, it is essential that every type of violence-prevention program addresses the root causes of gender-based violence. Experts said the origins of violence start early, with how girls and boys are socialized at home and in school.

“How you value the other gender,” Mukasa said, “begins there.”