Survivors of gender-based violence and their role in mitigating the effects of violence

Article Date

08 December 2015

Article Author

Stella Mukasa

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

“I am so glad I joined Kewoda* Women’s Development Association. Look at my beautiful skin” she declared.

She was beautiful indeed. Stunning as she radiated beauty with her bright eyes so full of life.

This was a powerful moment particularly given the setting – a self-support group meeting for survivors of intimate partner violence, women who have suffered so much abuse, they hardly ever speak up. *Ritah Akullo was one of these survivors. But now, Akullo was giving testimony to the other women attending the community meeting in eastern Uganda about the benefits of her membership to Kewoda Women’s Development Association and how the group has helped her regain her voice and gradually heal.

I was there on location to witness the work of Mifumi, an organization that implements programs for the response and prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG) within this community. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) partnered with Mifumi to strengthen programming, monitoring and evaluation, and documentation of processes, outcomes and learning. As I watched Akullo invigorate the room, I thought about what a treasure trove of knowledge exists in this community initiative that is of tremendous value in helping mitigate the effects of VAWG, the hidden effects of which impact every single aspect of a woman/girl’s life.

While we are seeing growing awareness on the issue of VAWG, not enough is being done to prevent and eliminate it. Globally, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence – most often by an intimate partner. Violence has devastating affects on their physical and mental health. In addition to physical injuries, VAWG impacts their educational opportunities and their ability to strengthen their skills and to grow within the workforce. The costs of VAWG extend beyond the victim and have significant ripple effects throughout society.

Evidence on economic and social costs is important for understanding the far-reaching consequences of violence at all levels and for developing effective interventions to prevent it. ICRW is expanding such evidence through a study that is investigating the social and economic costs of VAWG in developing countries. Through this study, ICRW and Ipsos-Mori – part of the University of Ireland, Galway-led consortium funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), will gather evidence in three countries – Ghana, Pakistan and South Sudan – and will survey women, carrying out in-depth interviews with survivors of VAWG.

This project is particularly important as it is the first of its kind to gather evidence on a large scale on the social and economic costs of VAWG. This work is crucial in underscoring the fact that violence is preventable and the costs of inaction are too high to bear. And in our efforts to develop effective interventions to prevent violence, we must not forget survivors like Akullo.

Akullo’s anecdote points to the importance of community-led groups in addressing the invisible yet significant impacts of violence on their self-esteem, their agency and well-being. The testimonies of survivors such as Akullo are not only important in revealing the survivors’ first-hand account of their experiences of positive change, they also create the basis for further research to understand how such change occurs. That way other areas in Uganda and beyond would be able to adapt the intervention for the benefit of other women.

Back at the Town Council we met with another self-support group. Following a lively performance of song and dance with members singing, dancing and drumming, we witnessed other powerful testimonies from survivors. Each and every woman exuded confidence and a deep sense of pride having overcome the pain and abuse – and having regained her voice.

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, I think of people like Akullo and she inspires me to use my voice to continue raising awareness and help others understand they are not alone. To sisters like Akullo everywhere, you are survivors – and your voice is key in helping prevent violence.

*Not the real name.