Poverty and Gender-Based Violence
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee defines gender-based violence as any harmful act that a person perpetrates against another’s will and that occurs due to socially ascribed differences between females and males. This includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty inflicted both in private and publicly. More than 700 million underage marriages occurred in 2020. Furthermore, approximately 137 women die at the hands of a partner or member of their family each day. Moreover, poverty and gender-based violence intertwine.

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence

Poverty exacerbates gender-based violence in many ways. This violence interrupts opportunities for education and employment. In addition, women and girls are more prone to experiencing poverty and exploitation. Children who are a product of child marriages are less likely to receive an education. Also, these children have a higher chance of living in extreme poverty. Moreover, women and girls living in poverty are more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it. Research that the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative conducted suggests that interventions targeting gender norms are some of the most effective in addressing gender-based violence.

Social and Gender Norms

Many social norms exist that perpetuate gender-based violence. These norms often vary by region, religion and other factors. Thus, the norms are very difficult to influence.

Families emphasize the sexual purity of women. As a result, female genital mutilation is prevalent. The value of family honor is above the safety of women. This can lead to honor killings. Domestic violence can stem from the disproportionate authority of men in disciplining women and children.

Gender-Based Violence Scale

A collaborative team from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, UNICEF and other organizations developed a scale for analyzing changes in beliefs and social norms. Researchers wanted to provide a way to measure the impacts of primary prevention programs in humanitarian settings. About 30 items exist across three categories. Researchers administer this scale to communities to help them understand attitudes towards acts of sexual violence, the importance of family honor and the authority men employ.

Addressing Child Marriage

A collaborative team from Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality found benefits in enforcing interventions focused on precipitators to child marriage, such as poverty and a lack of legal protections. The researchers proposed the tailoring of interventions to the varying attitudes and beliefs within a community. This team learned that men attributed an increase in rates of child marriage to poverty. However, women attributed it to an increase in a lack of security through laws and social services. This research contradicts a one-size-fits-all program design that suggests adaptive interventions to be the most impactful.

Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Peru

Community engagement and gender-based violence interventions are an invaluable aspect of humanitarian development. Peruvian community health workers employed participatory methods to gather community insights and found seven key aspects of engagement: community leaders’ support, conversations with community members, bystander intervention data for gender-based violence, shared ownership among health workers and leaders, connections with broader stakeholders such as government officials, understanding of what encourages and causes gender-based violence and support from trusted and influential people outside the community.

Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill in Iran

The Iranian government passed the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence bill to provide support for survivors of gender-based violence. This bill includes provisions for educational programs on vulnerability detection, expanding mental health support for victims of gender-based violence, an evidence-based plan for advancing gender equity and offers an important acknowledgment of this step on behalf of Iranian women.

Poverty undeniably intertwines with gender-based violence. Its connection can be complex and difficult to influence, but research and programs such as these demonstrate successful approaches and the invaluable nature of their effects.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Pakistan
A lot of progress has occurred to achieve women’s rights in Pakistan. However, gender inequality still remains a prominent issue. According to the World Economic Forum, the Global Gender Index Report ranks Pakistan second to last in domestic violence.

Fortunately, the government has taken significant action. In December 2020, Pakistan instilled a new anti-rape law to speed up convictions and toughen sentences. According to White Ribbon Pakistan, an estimated 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Furthermore, there were over 15,000 cases of registered honor crimes and more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence. However, conviction rates remain low. Only 2.5% of all cases result in convictions. The new law requires sex offenders to be nationally registered. Additionally, the courts will protect the identity of victims.

Domestic Abuse

Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country for women in regards to domestic violence. Patriarchal and cultural norms greatly impact women’s rights in Pakistan.

Honor killings and violence within the home are prevalent. Recently, social media model and activist Qandeel Baloch’s brother strangled her to death. According to her brother, she had ruined the family’s image and honor. Fortunately, Pakistan has made progress to prevent violence within the household. For instance, the court denied Baloch’s parents’ wishes and convicted Baloch’s brother of murder. Additionally, more than 1,000 domestic violence cases appeared in court in June 2019.

Furthermore, Ms. Quandeel wrote, “I wonder how long it will take us to recognize that we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook, that our social structure is rotten and works against people like #Qandeel who wish to make something of themselves on their own terms.” The death of Qandeel Baloch generated a movement for gender equality in Pakistan.

The Good News

The good news is that Pakistani women are fighting back. Since 2018, women have demanded economic and environmental justice, reproductive rights and better access to public spaces. On International Women’s Day, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate their commitment to bettering women’s rights in Pakistan. However, conservative groups criticized the movement and labeled it as a “western campaign.”

One of the main slogans of the march was “mera jism, meri marzi” (my body, my choice). Many said it was a promiscuous demand that did not empower women. Yet, women continue to defend their objectives, raise awareness against sexual harassment and gender-based violence and promote bodily autonomy.

Additionally, women began riding bikes in order to accentuate their presence in public spaces. Girls at Dhabas organized a bike ride to promote certification in all public events and fight against restrictions that prohibit women. One cyclist said, “We have an advantage with this lockdown and corona and all. The cycling has become really common among the girls in Islamabad.”

Various organizations are spreading awareness of domestic violence. Additionally, the government continues to implement new laws to protect women. Although women’s rights in Pakistan are lacking in many ways, the government and organizations continue to strive for gender equality.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Empower Indigenous WomenAt the dawn of the 21st century, women entered the world of Bolivian professional wrestling for the first time. Known as the Flying Cholitas, this group is made up entirely of indigenous women from the city of El Alto. Encapsulating the revolutionary spirit of El Alto, the Flying Cholitas act as positive role models who empower indigenous women.

The City of El Alto

El Alto is the largest city in Latin America with an indigenous majority population. Throughout Bolivia’s history, El Alto and its cholitas have been known for their revolutionary spirit. The term “cholita” is derived from “chola,” a phrase used to refer to indigenous or mixed-race women in a derogatory manner. The word “cholita” is now used in a positive light when referring to indigenous women throughout Bolivia.

El Alto, situated on a mountain overlooking Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, laid siege to it in the 1700s. It did so again in 2003, during the Bolivian Gas War, which led to the ousting of then-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Afterward, the support of El Alto’s indigenous population saw the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, elected in 2005.

The indigenous population of Bolivia has fallen victim to various forms of institutionalized racism throughout history. They have been denied various civic services, such as the right to vote and the chance at higher education. However, during his time in office, Evo Morales opened government positions to cholitas. As a result, the indigenous women were enabled to play a role in drafting the new constitution. The Flying Cholitas empower indigenous women by embodying this revolutionary spirit of the everyday cholita, making them quite popular.

What is Cholita Wrestling?

When The Flying Cholitas first formed, they served as a novelty act to increase ticket sales for the male-dominated “Titans of the Ring.” Both the male and female acts draw heavily from Mexico’s professional wrestling, known as “lucha libre.” The use of signature moves, entrance music and the hero versus villain dynamic — known as “técnicas” and “rudas,” in this case — display the influence of this format. Fans often join in the fun by jeering and splashing water on “rudas” and cheering for the “técnicas.”

The uniqueness of the cholitas helps attract sizable crowds. The wrestlers’ clothing noticeably deviates from that of “lucha libre” and other professional wrestling formats. Instead of bikinis and spandex, The Flying Cholitas wear clothes similar to ones they wear in the streets and at home. In the ring, the wrestlers will commonly wear bowler hats, long braids, shawls and pleated skirts. Cholitas display these garments to show pride in their heritage and distinguish themselves from the pants-wearing, non-indigenous women.

To become a female wrestler, candidates must undergo a year of training before receiving their certificate. In addition to allowing them to fight, the certificate is a symbol of pride: proof that they can earn money through skill and hard work.

Gender in Bolivia

Bolivia has the highest rate of domestic and sexual abuse in Latin America. In 2015, 70% of women reported having faced some form of physical or psychological abuse. The lack of financial opportunities for women often causes them to stay in these harmful relationships.

The original Flying Cholitas were abuse victims who joined the sport as an outlet for their anger. Now, these wrestlers empower indigenous women in similar situations. The wrestling matches provide a public space to witness the strength of women, especially in mixed matches where women battle men. However, the cholitas had to fight outside of the ring as well to gain more equality in the sport.

When the Flying Cholitas first started wrestling, they were unpaid and barred from using the locker room. As their popularity grew, the female wrestlers gained greater autonomy. They formed the Association for Fighting Cholitas. This allows them to organize their fights and use the facilities. Furthermore, the Flying Cholitas are now paid for their work, around $20-$25 per match. This extra income helps the wrestlers put their children through school and grants them greater freedom from their husbands.

After 20 years, the popularity of the Flying Cholitas has spread, with hotels in the area offering packages that include tickets and transit to their shows. The Flying Cholitas even travel throughout Bolivia to bring their rowdy fights to the masses and empower indigenous women across the nation.

Overall, the Flying Cholitas are a powerful influence in changing the perception of indigenous women in Bolivia. Hopefully, this group will continue to have a significant impact in the coming years.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in TongaDomestic violence in Tonga, specifically against women, has become the leading type of law infringement. The most prevalent instance occurs in the home, which is especially alarming during a pandemic forcing everyone inside. However, Tonga is taking measures to fight this issue. One way is through the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC).

Domestic Violence in Tonga

The amount of reported cases of domestic violence in Tonga has risen over the past five years. Between January and June of 2020, there were about 537 domestic violence reports and 117 issued police safety orders. Out of those, only 99 assaulters faced prosecution.

Tongan women report experiencing physical coercion and control, sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical assault. Police officials state that the chief problem is related to a cultural belief. Tongan men believe they are in a position of power at home and can act however they please because of this entitlement. As a result, women are often scared to report their abuse cases. This is particularly true when husbands, brothers or sons are the perpetrators, as is typical.

Pacific Women reports that three out of four women in Tonga have experienced physical and sexual violence. Relationships can involve abuse as early as day one and continue on for decades, which women often endure. Furthermore, about 85% of women who have suffered from domestic violence are likely to return to the same environments as their attacks. To combat this, the WCCC in Tonga offers an escape for the abused to ensure women are given the protection they need from abusers.

The Women and Children Crisis Center in Tonga

The WCCC was established in 2009 by Director Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki with a group of women and male supporters. The aim was to help those who have suffered from violence. In turn, they gave free counseling and support to victims of domestic violence in Tonga. Further, the WCCC provides 24 hours of free housing to both women and children in the Mo’ui Fiefia Safe House.

When a woman reports her case to WCCC, the volunteers at the organization help guide the victim through the legal process. They explain the amount of time it will take for the victim’s case to reach court and provide information about how and when the police will contact the victim for testimonies. They also educate the victim on the importance of having a medical record when reporting cases like rape. If the woman is willing, the WCCC offers her a platform to voice her experience. The organization focuses on sharing the stories of victims who have used WCCC’s services and how they have benefitted from those services.

Male Advocacy Training

Violence prevention was another main reason for WCCC’s founding. In 2017, the WCCC launched male advocacy training to end violence against women and children and encourage gender equality. The purpose of the training is to educate men on three key ideas: men have control over how they behave in a sexual manner, all sexual activity can only be performed after there is consent on both sides and men are equally responsible for the transmission of sexually active diseases.

The men receive many lessons from knowledgeable speakers to help end the domestic violence in Tonga. Director Guttenbeil-Likiliki said, “In a situation where a woman does not want to have sex but you continue to persist and persuade her to have sex, this is a high-risk situation, as it is considered to be sexual assault or rape.” Melkie Anton, a lead trainer, explains proper relationship roles to male participants. Anton states, “Women are often used as sexual objects,” and when a woman is in a relationship, she must follow all of her partner’s orders. As a result, the man ends up controlling the relationship and may treat the woman’s feelings with disregard. Another learning directive is toxic masculinity. WCCC members detail how issues, such as proving masculinity and competing with other men encourage domestic violence.

Looking to the Future

WCCC members are working toward expanding their organization’s influence throughout Tonga,  particularly through collaboration. The WCCC has partnered with other organizations, such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Vanuatu Women’s Crisis Centre. The organization even reaches out to Tongan government agencies, including the Ministry of Education. The work of the WCCC, from aiding victims to education to advocacy, is a step in the right direction. With continued efforts, there can be an end to domestic violence in Tonga.

Sudiksha Kochi
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic’s Effects On Women
As COVID-19 forces the world into lockdown, people are scrambling to provide medical services and save toppling economies. The pandemic affects schools and workplaces, and everyone is struggling to adjust to this new way of life. In the midst of all the chaos, some problems are forgotten. The pandemic’s effects on women, which are especially bad, are buried underneath the plethora of other challenges. Two of the greatest issues they are facing are period poverty and domestic violence, both of which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Period Poverty

Period poverty manifests in a lack of access to restrooms, sanitary products, education on menstrual hygiene and improper waste management. Now, with disrupted supply chains of period products, increased financial strain and lockdowns making it difficult to go out and purchase basic amenities, women are having a harder time than ever accessing these necessities. Forced to make do with what they have, they put themselves at risk of infections and diseases, including cervical cancer.

High costs and taxation are also major contributors to period poverty. In the U.S., menstrual products are subject to tax in many states. Though every bit as important, they are eligible to be taxed while other essentials, like food and medicine, are not. Only nine out of 50 states in the U.S. have policies against taxing menstrual products. Even without tax, the cost is too much for those living in poverty to afford. Approximately 12 million women between the ages of 12 and 52 in the U.S. are living below the poverty line and unable to purchase the products they need.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations dedicated to making period products more affordable. Under the CARES Act, menstrual products are covered under health savings and flexible spending accounts, which set aside pre-tax income that can be spent on important health services. However, where legislation and policies fall short, nonprofit organizations and charities are stepping in. Groups distributing products to women in need include I Support the Girls and PERIOD. They are also helping to raise awareness about the pandemic’s effects on women.

Domestic Violence

Increased domestic violence is another appalling result of the pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders, many women and children are stuck with their abusers. An estimation by the United Nations Population Fund predicts that six months of lockdowns will cause 31 million more cases of gender-based violence. According to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence, calls increased by 25% during the first two weeks of quarantine. Lockdowns also make it difficult for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to receive the treatment and consolation they need.

Luckily, people have begun to take note of these issues. Actress Charlize Theron’s campaign, Together For Her, is working to address the additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from the lockdowns around the globe. In an interview with Vogue, Charlize stated that she is distributing funds from the Together For Her campaign to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence.”

More than 50 prominent female celebrities in the fields of film, sports, music and more have shown support to Charlize’s campaign. Fellow actress Mariska Hargitay has contributed to Together for Her and says about the movement, “As someone who has worked on gender-based violence issues for two decades, I am proud to join such a powerful group of women to shine a light on the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence–not just during this pandemic but every day.” Together for Her is giving women a voice and uniting them in the face of difficulty.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 has affected lives around the world but has hit some groups harder than others, especially women. Global lockdowns have greatly amplified the issues of period poverty and domestic violence, and women and children are more vulnerable than ever. Fortunately, organizations are working to address the pandemic’s effects on women, supplying menstrual products and giving support to those who need it. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts continue. Though times are hard, the persistence and dedication of the people behind these movements can prevail.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in SerbiaSerbia is a country located in southeastern Europe that has a population of close to seven million people. Additionally, around half of the population consists of women. They often receive unequal rights and treatment. However, women’s rights in Serbia are improving. Acknowledgment and representation of women are increasing significantly.

Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence is one of the main issues that women in Serbia face. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) find that violence against women is not uncommon. Research reveals the 76% of Serbian women in secondary school are victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, a survey reveals that about 20% of Serbian men believe that women “sometimes deserve to be hit.” In particular, domestic violence often occurs in the privacy of homes. Furthermore, women often do not report this violence.

Domestic Violence in Serbia

Serbia also has a history of overlooking incidents of domestic violence incidents. Domestic violence goes unaddressed due to an inadequate police response, minimal prosecutions and judges who are reluctant to issue protective orders against abusive partners. Feminist movements in Serbia started in the late 1970s, fighting for the protection and rights of Serbian women. The first domestic violence hotline came about as early as 1990. This hotline improved the data on domestic violence and supported abused and at-risk women. Several similar hotlines have since been developed in Serbia.

The UNFPA Serbia and the Government of Serbia are working to improve domestic violence information channels for rural women. In addition, healthcare professionals are receiving training to improve their ability to recognize and address incidents of domestic violence.

Women With Disabilities

In a report, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that women with disabilities in institutions are insufficiently protected from violence and abuse. The Committee further states that Serbian legislation infringes the rights of women with disabilities. These violations occur concerning legal capacity, the right to make decisions and the right to access justice.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch reported “that when women with disabilities are deprived of legal capacity and held in closed institutions in Serbia, violations of their right not to receive treatment without consent and to be free from violence occur.” The  Committee recommends that Serbia repeal all laws infringing upon the rights of women with disabilities.

Progress and Improvements

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) emphasizes that focusing on ending domestic violence and discrimination is crucial in fighting for women’s rights in Serbia. Thus, additional legislation for the prevention of domestic violence has been implemented. As a result, Serbia’s Council of Suppression of Domestic Violence received a report of around 76,000 cases of domestic violence in 2018. In response, Serbia implemented 18,000 plans for the protection and support of domestic violence victims. Serbia hopes to see an increase in acknowledgment and access to services for women who suffer from gender-based violence.

The political representation of women in Serbia is also significantly improving. There is an increasing amount of female representation in parliament. Currently, around 40% of the National Assembly are women. Women’s rights in Serbia continue to improve and gain traction within the nation. With the help of organizations and the government, the future looks bright for Serbian women.

Jennifer Long
Photo: Flickr