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The shadow pandemic: MEDA's response to the rise of gender-based violence in our programming

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Sexual abuse. Human trafficking. Domestic violence. Rape. Harassment. Female genital mutilation.

Even the words feel violent. And yet, they are reality for over a billion people around the world. If this number is too hard to wrap your mind around, consider the fact that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In a recent survey, nearly three in four women had experienced sexual harassment in the previous month. Almost half of these women were under the age of 18, and 11% were under the age of 10.

Sexual and gender-based violence and harassment (SGBVH) includes sexual, physical, emotional/psychological and socio-economic violence, and is directed at an individual due to their real or perceived gender and/or sex.


SGBVH's socio-economic impact

SGBVH is truly a global epidemic of unimaginable proportions and causes deep and lasting damage to our communities, our countries, and our world. Violence not only has an impact on families, it also influences our economies. The World Bank estimates that violence against women costs up to 3.7% of some countries’ GDP, which is more than double what most governments spend on education. SGBVH has a negative impact on agricultural market systems, where MEDA’s work is focused. It reduces work capacity, increases household expenditures, and undermines the community relationships that are needed for the exchange of information, knowledge, goods, and services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of SGBVH have increased alarmingly across the globe. Although nation-wide lockdowns are necessary to control the spread of the virus, these restrictions on movement are intensifying anxiety over health, finances, and security. In April, the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia said that all crime statistics decreased in the first weeks of lockdown – except one: calls to the police’s hotline to report violence against women rose 225%. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of U.N. Women, has described a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women. SGBVH is sometimes described as the most widespread human rights violation in the world, and presents an obstacle to peace and prosperity.

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and this is followed by 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, ending on 10 December, or Human Rights Day. Individuals and groups are mobilizing around the world to raise awareness of the urgent need to end violence against women and girls.


What is MEDA doing to fight SGBVH?


In spring and summer of 2020, MEDA teams in several countries conducted several rapid gender assessments on the impacts of COVID-19 and found that incidences of GBV among our clients were rising. This was consistent with national data. Though MEDA has not traditionally worked in this area, we found it necessary to act. Projects responded in a variety of ways.

In one such assessment, conducted in Kenya as part of the Global Affairs Canada-funded M-SAWA project, MEDA found that clients were observing increased levels of verbal disagreements/arguments, violent

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actions/physical abuse and community unrest, particularly among women, suggesting an increase in SGBV. Recognizing that MEDA does not specialize in responding to SGBV, the Kenya decided to provide information and guidance to client businesses, sending a detailed letter to project partners with information on available services. The letter noted that in April 2020, the national gender helpline saw a 300% increase in calls over the previous month. The letter listed several toll-free, 24-hour helplines that provide counselling, support and referral services, shelters where survivors can seek safety, medical services, and legal aid.

In addition, the team continues to provide gender equality training to partners and companies receiving project support.

With high literacy rates and widespread mobile and internet connectivity, MEDA’s Ukraine Horticulture Business Development (UHBDP) project team was able to use its project website and gender equality-specific landing page to provide information and resources on SGBV, including hotline numbers to organizations able to respond and provide services to those experiencing violence. The project gender equality and social inclusion team has also been in discussions around implementing additional community-driven gender equality workshops with an SGBV component for partner organizations which could then be shared with clients through a training of trainer program.

An important part of combatting SGBV is engaging men as gender equality champions. Although men are often the perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence (at 90 to 93%), they are also integral to the solution. With training and reflection, men can understand their role in preventing and combatting SGBVH and helping to create a more gender equitable society. On the Strengthening Small Business Value Chains project (SSBVC) in Tanzania, MEDA is engaging men as gender equality champions, to counter high levels of SGBV among project clients as revealed through a mid-project gender equality analysis. For sustainability of the activity and to increase awareness of such gender-transformative methodologies, MEDA is engaging with a business development service provider partner of the project to administer the program.

Our Ethiopians Motivating Enterprises to Rise in Trade and Agri-business (EMERTA) team in Ethiopia conducted interviews with local government authorities as part of the rapid gender analysis which indicated that both early marriage and divorce rates are on the rise. The former is attributed to school closures and further declining economic opportunities while the latter was attributed, in part, to instances of economic abuse. The majority of respondents noted that they did not know of local support services (41%) or indicated that they thought there were no services (15%) available for women experiencing violence. The remaining 44% noted that there are services available from the local government office of women and children’s affairs and from police.

To address increases in early child marriage and economic violence from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EMERTA project will be engaging with a women’s rights organization to provide training on rights issues including SGBVH and economic rights to woreda, or district-level gender specialists. These specialists will then cascade these trainings to producers. The project will also continue its activity of exposure visits for producers and business-owners to visit Awra Amba, a gender-equitable and socially inclusive community in northern Ethiopia to raise awareness of gender equality and social inclusion in Ethiopian society.

To raise awareness of gender-based violence in Jordan, our Jordan Valley Links team is releasing a series of videos during the 16 Days of Activism, sharing how project partners are contributing to the reduction of gender-based violence. For example, our community-based tourism partner BookAgri is encouraging equitable division of household chores among homestay hosts, and technology company BilForon is promoting women’s financial independence by linking home-based women chefs to clients through a digital application. Stay tuned by following the JVL Facebook page.

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