Written by Godfrey Siu and Carolyn Namutebi (Makerere University).
The SVRI Forum 2019 has just ended in Cape Town. We were privileged to be among the over 700 delegates who participated in the highly interesting and sometimes emotional 5-day program that had been carefully curated for us.
We have gone to the Forum 3 times before, but this was like no other! While the research presentations continue to maintain their high quality, the personal stories of some key speakers, particularly the survivors of intimate partner violence, were the highlight.
The personal reflections from some program implementers also cannot go unmentioned. Not only were the stories of the survivors emotional, they were great examples of resilience, hope, and how to start afresh. The stories told during the Forum provided a strong rationale for the need to humanize the numbers often reported in the statistics. The cruelty suffered by the survivors was sometimes unimaginable. Women suffered rape, physical violence and even gun violence. The physical consequences were there for all to see and in some cases to cry with the survivors as they stories were being told, and the psychological impact is lifelong particularly if one does not get appropriate support. We cannot agree more with one survivor who described the violence suffered as a ‘war against women’.
In fact, violence against women and children in many settings in sub-Saharan Africa should be seen and described in the same way as war since the impact suffered by the victims is the same as the impact soldiers suffer during war. Only then might we see some urgency attached to this phenomenon. The question therefore is how do we humanize the numbers?
Today, more and more people are dedicating their lives to fighting violence and there is growing leadership in civil society organizations and research institutions to tackle violence more. Our own Parenting for Respectability is one such evidence-based programs to reduce violence. The program offers parental participants the opportunity to discuss their stories and experience of violence in a reflective manner in a supportive group environment. Women appreciate the space they have found to discuss their plight and to clarify conflictual perspectives with male participants. Both male and female participants greatly appreciate the need to stop violence against women and children. Such programs need harnessed and scale-up.
Feminist Movements are Key
“…the autonomous mobilization of feminists in domestic and transnational contexts—not leftist parties, women in government, or national wealth—is the critical factor accounting for policy change on VAW….”[i]
Women’s rights movements and feminist mobilisation are essential to shifting social norms around the rights of women to health and reproductive care, agency, education, work, safety and lives free from violence. Have feminist movements lost ground? Feminist mobilizing and women’s right activists help position survivors and their stories at the centre stage. There is no doubt from the stories told during the Forum that research on violence against women must be feminist and women centred.
Call to action
The world remains unsafe for women and children. We must act, and with women and survivors at the fore. Time is now!