Local Women’s Rights Organisations are the Key to Ending Domestic Violence Across the World

Rosey Ellum | Dec 01, 2015

Our Policy and Communications Manager Claire Hickson explains how local women’s rights organisations like the ones we partner with are best placed to end domestic violence worldwide.

A World Bank report published last week found that in the past 25 years, over a hundred countries have enacted laws on domestic violence though many have not. The authors attribute much of this progress to international instruments and agreements. In reality, it is the work of local women’s rights organisations that makes the most difference and that’s why they need our support.

Violence against women affects one in three women globally. As the World Bank’s report notes, the most common form of violence is intimate partner violence. The fact that in countries where there is no law against domestic violence, as is the case in 46 countries, women’s life expectancy is likely to be shorter is chilling illustration of the horrific impact this has on women’s lives and their most basic rights. As the World Bank also points out, violence also has a negative impact on individual women’s livelihoods: the earnings of women in formal wage work who are exposed to severe partner violence are 60% lower than women who are not – and women’s lack of access to economic power and resources has a negative impact on the broader economy.

As the report states, there has been progress – 25 years ago only seven countries out of the 173 studied had laws against domestic violence, whereas now, 127 do. The author of the report cites the importance of international agreements such as the Beijing Platform for Action in creating such change. They certainly are important, but even more vital is the work of local women’s organisations.
As the World Bank report makes clear, legislation in itself is not enough. A large scale study across 70 countries covering the period 1975-2005 backs this up. It found that the mobilisation of women’s rights organisations and movements was more significant in creating policy change on violence against women than the wealth of nations, the presence of left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.

Womankind’s own partners demonstrate this. For instance, the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre played a central role in the coalition that campaigned for Ghana to adopt legislation on domestic violence in 2007.

Women’s rights organisations also play a vital role in pushing for the implementation of legislation, for improvements in the treatment of women affected by violence by the police and courts, and in changing the attitudes that underpin violence against women. As recent Lancet research confirmed, societal attitudes to violence against women determine levels of violence and changing these attitudes is key to prevention.

These organisations are also the front line in responding to the needs of survivors, providing hostels and other services that help those women get back on their feet. Saathi, our partners in Nepal, set up the country’s first women’s refuge in 1995.

Sadly, the vital role these organisations play is rarely recognised and is often belittled. Where there is recognition, it often remains at the level of rhetoric. Despite the increasing focus given to gender and women and girls by donors, a global survey of 1119 women’s organisations from over 140 countries in 2011 found that only 10% of those organisations received any international aid. Many do not have anywhere close to the budget they need and this results in closures – for example, this week saw a Twitter campaign to keep open the Mirabel rape referral centre in Lagos, one of very few in that city, after its funding was cut.

If we want the final 46 countries that do not have laws protecting women against domestic violence to have them, and for them to mean something, and if we want the new Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality that will be agreed in a few weeks time to be achieved, we need to invest in those front line organisations, who will take international agreements and convert them into real change. That is why we are calling on donors to set up a fund to support them to do that and that is why we will continue to call for recognition of the work they do.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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