Save the women, save the world. The Gender Based Violence and the rebirth of the hope

The GBV or Gender Based Violence is one of the plague that afflict Nepali society. This social problem is the major reason that leads to suicide, the principal cause of death among Nepali women of reproductive age.
The gender based violence is a term that express any harmful act that is perpetuated against a person’s will based on socially subscribed differences between male and females.
The gender inequality is at the root of social, economic and legal problematic. These differences restricts the opportunities especially for women, hindering their ability to enjoy their rights and live the life to its full potential. Nepal, a Least Developed Country (LDC) characterized by a slow economic growth, socio-economic underdevelopment and low level of human development, is emerging from a politically and socially fragile post-conflict situation which has generated poverty and inequality deeply entrenched as form of social exclusion.
Despite political commitments and a progressive legal and policy framework, GBV has long been a challenge in Nepal. In 2010, a preliminary mapping of GBV has revealed that women of all ages are subjected to various form of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
The Nepal Demographic and Healt Survey (NDHS) done in 2011 has revealed that one in five women of reproductive age (15-49 years old) has reported once in their lifetime an experience of physical violence and more than one in ten experienced sexual violence.
However, a majority (75%) did not seek any help and only 7% of women who had experienced sexual violence had reported the assault.
These kind of assaults can unluckily happen in public spaces but even at own home.
According to a 2014 study, almost one in two adolescents believed that women should tolerate violence in order to keep harmony in the family.
The low power of women in Nepali society, their economic dependency on men, traditional power structures, the lack of family and legal support, and their subordinate social position are factors making them particulary vulnerable to GBV. A study on local security and justice perceptions in selected districts of Nepal during 2013 revealed that women’s sense of security has been declining over the past years. This trend has emerged as a result of insecurities due to intra-familiar and domestic violence perpetrated by husbands, in-laws, and extended family members. Always in 2013, UNFPA Nepal Perception Survey reported that physical abuse of women, rape, girl trafficking, polygamy, discrimination between sons and daughters, and child marriage are common forms of GBV in Nepal. One-fifth of the respondents reported that they have seen or heard of incidents of rape in their community. Only one in ten interviewed women knew that they should seek health care services following sexual violence, but a majority of women expressed that women do not visit health facilities for fear of stigma and loss of honor for the woman’s family. A study on masculinities among Nepali men in relation to son-preference, showed an high proportion acceptance of masculinity norms and violence against women. Nearly 55% of men in Nepal had witnessed gender discrimination and violence within their home while they were growing up. The principal reason why GBV is so common among Nepali women is due to the deep rooted conviction in the society that man is more important than woman. This conviction is due to a various cultural aspects that have been always existed in the Nepali society and practiced as daily habits. In alignment with traditional gender roles, women and girls are still shouldering an heavier domestic burden than men and boys in most Nepali households. This hinders their mobility, pursuit of educational or occupational opportunities, and their economic advancement. Nepali women and men are encumbered with a great deal of expectations, many of which begin at home. Females of all ages within households are expected to uphold “Ijaat”, or family’s honor, while men are expected to inherit and control property and financially support parents, wives, and children. The traditional patrilineal system put some pressure on Nepali families to give birth to at least one son. The men’s views about the importance of sons and daughters are highly influenced by traditional customs and gender roles which dictate that only boys can carry on their father’s name and continue the family lineage while girls are expected to be dutiful and provide emotional support. In a study conducted by the Office of the Prime Minister in 2012, Nepali women and men identified patriarchal norms as an underlying cause of violence against women. Norms associated with masculinity are a deep need for respect as the control over a wife by her husband or the “guardianship” of females by males. These norms are used as justification of violence against women, especially if wives do not obey husbands. Due to this thinking way, women are often relegated to the domestic sphere and consequently have a restricted mobility that hinders them from fully enjoying their rights while men enjoy more freedom of movement outside the home. A Nepali government study of 900 women in six districts of Terai Region found that 71% of women needed permission from their husbands or in-laws to visit friends or relatives, 51% for going to an health post or hospital and 63% to attend a community meeting. Once married, young women are restricted from moving around in their communities, even to socialize with neighbors. Unluckily in Nepal, a shocking 37% of girls marry before 18 years old, and 10% are married before 15 years old. The child marriage are often arranged by parents or other family members, and are based on social and economic pressures. Further, girls who marry as children have more chance to experience domestic violence than women who marry later. These kind of restrictions makes a married woman a subject with an high percentage of unability to study. While Nepal’s literacy rate has skyrocketed over the past decades of development, adult women have been left behind. The measure looks starker when we consider that 67% of illiterate adults and 60% of illiterate young people in Nepal are female. This is one of the main motives that lead women to a lack of knowledge about key facts that could positively impact their lives. In order to fight this huge social problem, the Government of Nepal has carried out some positive initiatives in terms of GBV prevention and response. In 2014 the Development Cooperation Policy has underlined the need to align development cooperation with national priority on promoting social inclusion, improving the quality of life of marginalized citizens, gender equality and social development of the community. The commitment of the government in relation to GBV is also expressed in the 5 Years National Strategy and Plan of Action for Gender Empowernment and Ending Gender Based Violence (2012/2017). The Department of Women and Children (DWC) intends to mobilize women through women’s cooperative to combat domestic violence and human trafficking. A hotline exist for the purpose of making complaints, including those related to GBV. Additionally, the government has estabilished a dedicated GBV Elimination Fund both at the central and district level in order to provide immediate support to GBV survivors. The National women commission (NWC) in collaboration with eight national NGOs has initiated the Gender Based Violence Information Managment System (GBVIMS), with the aim of standardizing data collection and creating an evidence base for analysis of trends within GBV. UNFPA, under its existing program and in partnership with advertising and media experts, has developed a series of prototypes, adapted to various geographical and cultural specificity, which aim to engage people, particulary men, boys, and adolescent girls as key target audiences, on a more profound level. Rather simply providing information, this approach aims to link positive behavior with values and identities, so that people can internalize messages more coherently, leading to behaviour change. Safe houses have been set up in three districts. In each of the three districts covered by this project, district authorities have committed to setting up OCMCs (One-stop Crisis Medical Centre) or strengthening hospitals to provide quality health sevices including psychosocial support to GBV survivors. The selected organization will receive technical support from a national NGO with extensive experience in providing GBV survivors with shelter, rehabilitation and reintegration. This NGO will be also connected with Koshish, an organization providing mental health care, supporting GBV survivors for mental health rehabilitation assisting them in their transit home. One of the principal NGOs which have the longest experience on combat GBV and works in close contact with the government and other national authority about the GBV issue is Apeiron. This NGO since 2004 developed a successfull program to prevent GBV and guide the survivors towards their reintegration in the society. The program that they developed to prevent and combat the GBV follows the guidelines of a theory from them elaborated called “Theory of Change”. To help women and men overcome the barriers created by all types of GBV, Apeiron designs and runs GBV prevention and response activities based on individuals’ and communities’ needs. For example, they provide a wide range of services such as legal, medical, psychosocial and economic support to meet the needs of GBV survivors. They help communities to become aware of anti-GBV laws in Nepal, as well as broader rights awareness for individuals. Through skills training, they guide the women to develop an income-generating skills by building women’s economic independence and decreasing their financial reliance on male family members, which lessens their vulnerability to abuse. Since many of the benefeciaries are illiterate or semi-literate, they lack the academic credentials for formal workplaces. With custom-made skills trainings, they gain immediate knowledge about the market needs and by means of the access to this market they can start earning their own income, often for the first time. In order to help the GBV survivors, in 2007 Apeiron founded a Safe House called “Casa Nepal”.The Safe House is a place which provide temporary shelter to survivors of GBV and link them with police, psychosocial services, legal aid and economic aid if required. Since “Casa Nepal” has been founded, women began arriving from far-flung districts of Nepal. In this Safe House the women will receive a personal treatment based on their past experience with the final goal to their reintegration in the society. Here the GBV survivors will partecipate to awareness programs, literacy classes and even work courses until they will be able to deal again with society life. The most successful training course for these women it has been the tailoring. Once finished the training and got back to their community, the most of the women acquired the necessary skills to run their own business making them economically independent. In some cases, when the survivors cannot afford to buy the necessary instruments to begin their activity, Apeiron provides them a sewing machine, helping them to begin to earn their first income. After the conclusion of Apeiron’s program, the assimilation of the implications of gender norms lead women to understand their rights and to increasingly report their problems to community groups, service providers, authorities, inviting the women in need to seek the right help. The initial surge in reported cases indicates that the victims are ready to break the silence. The number of cases will reduce over time as violence against women becomes socially less acceptable. The joined work done by NGO like Apeiron, the international authorities and the decision of the government to intervene on large scale to fight GBV, is giving a signal to the society. Of course the path for eliminate the GBV is still long and complicated but compared to the past seems that something is improving, not only for the women condition but also in the mentality of the people that are more aware about this plague. An equal world where women and men are on the same level will guarantee a better future for humanity, and it will contribute to develop an aware society with same rights and same opportunities for everyone. As long as in the heart of a woman will shine the light of love the world will be safe.