Panel: Women Integral to Ending Violence

Article Date

15 June 2011

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

To successfully prevent – and ultimately eliminate – violence against women in all its forms requires sustained investments, enforcing anti-violence laws and addressing the social norms that fuel violence, a panel convened by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) said June 13.

And, they said, it calls for a collective mind-shift, one where women are viewed not as victims, but contributors, change-makers and agents of stability.

“(Women) don’t actually need someone coming from the outside telling them how to organize themselves or what a safe community looks like,” said ICRW’s Mary Ellsberg. “They know.”

Ellsberg, ICRW’s vice president of research and programs, was one of three panelists for “When She is Safe…” a discussion on challenges to and solutions for ending violence against women. The event, held at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., was the second in ICRW’s Passports to Progress year-long discussion series.

Ellsberg was joined by filmmaker and philanthropist, Abigail Disney, and the deputy director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Donald Steinberg. The discussion was moderated by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy Program, ICRW board member and author of “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.”

The panel covered a variety of topics, from peace agreements to HIV to ongoing conflicts. Each panelist drew from experience to illustrate that violence was a symptom of underlying gender disparities, and effective solutions would require the full participation of women and men.

“The key is to follow (women’s) lead,” said Steinberg, who praised the Obama administration and U.S. State Department for their commitment to gender and women’s issues. “If you’re going to have sustainability, you’ve got to incorporate ground troops of women from the beginning.”

Women also must be “reinserted into the landscape” of how the world traditionally views conflict, said Disney, whose upcoming series, “Women, War & Peace,” which airs on PBS this fall, was previewed at the event. Women always have been a part of war throughout history, she said, but their role often is underestimated.

Disney added that the world needs to change its view of women and war – to see women not as collateral damage, but as integral to discussions about the causes and consequences of war as well as building peace.

Such a collective mind-shift may take time. Ellsberg said that despite increased awareness of violence against women and more anti-violence laws globally, the world still has “a long way to go” in combating violence.

Despite increasing calls to end violence against women, Ellsberg said that in most parts of the world, “women are just as likely to be beaten or raped as they were 15 to 20 years ago.” Anti-violence laws often are not implemented. And although there have been successful efforts to address violence against women, she said they’ve been small in scale and last a short time. Ellsberg suggested that much of this is generally due to a lack of political will and broad, sustained investments – throughout development assistance, not just for specific anti-violence projects – to expand successful programs.

“And I think the most important thing we’re not addressing are the social norms – (where) people think it’s okay to use violence if your wife doesn’t get food ready on time,” Ellsberg said. “Until we start addressing that, we’re not going to make more progress.”

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s writer and editor.