Taking strides to prevent violence against women and girls in South Asia

Prevention of violence against women and girls often takes a back seat to other efforts to address violence. But with the rollout of the RESPECT framework in India, Bangladesh and Nepal more leaders are embracing the idea that prevention is possible and are focusing future work on prevention programming.

Date: Friday, September 3, 2021

Authors: Lisa Maria Smyth and Khamsavath Chanthavysouk

A huge percentage of women in Bangladesh are a victim of domestic violence. Many of them never disclose their stories and seek for help. Domestic violence has made women more vulnerable. Other abuses such as sexual violence and abuse are rapidly increasing in greater numbers across Bangladesh. Photo: UN Women/M R Hasan
A huge percentage of women in Bangladesh are a victim of domestic violence. Many of them never disclose their stories and seek for help. Domestic violence has made women more vulnerable. Other abuses such as sexual violence and abuse are rapidly increasing in greater numbers across Bangladesh. Photo: UN Women/M R Hasan

Globally one in three women, or over 800 million worldwide, experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, or sexual violence by another perpetrator.

Which is why, earlier this year, 56 community leaders – women’s right advocates, police, health professionals, academics and senior government officials – in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, took part in a series of virtual workshop sessions over 10 weeks about the recently released RESPECT Women: Preventing Violence against Women Implementation Package, created with the support of the Australian Government. The package is a practical toolkit that outlines steps for a public health and human rights approach to scaling up prevention of violence against women programming.

The comprehensive training was a mixture of presentations, interactive Q&As, team exercises and group discussions where participants unpacked the RESPECT framework. The framework consists of a suite of practical resources and tools to support the implementation of interventions and programmes on preventing violence against women and girls. Participants learned how to integrate prevention programming into their existing work, or alongside response services such as health, police, and justice responses. The training was a joint initiative between UN Women and the World Health Organization, in partnership with the Prevention Collaborative.

“Gender-based violence is a global crisis and its existence is high in Bangladesh,” said Humayun Kabir, Project Officer with human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra, and a participant of the training. “Risk factors, causes, and consequences vary from country to country and the RESPECT workshop addressed all these issues. By bringing about a little change, this prevention strategy can be used in our country.”

Participants were asked to define their understanding of prevention of violence against women and girls before the training, and again afterwards. In the second discussion there was an increase in specific references to addressing the root causes of violence, and of prevention interventions. There was also a significant increase in participants labelling their skills and knowledge about violence against women as ‘good’ and ‘expert’ after the training compared to before.

“I have been working in this field for 10 years,” lamented Kabir. “To be honest, the level of my confidence was decreasing, and I started to believe that we will never see a society free from gender-based violence. But after the training, I have started regaining hope. Prevention is possible! I used to believe that without establishing a response mechanism, the effort of preventing gender-based violence was useless. But now I have started to believe that prevention should be the priority, and the RESPECT strategy is the right strategy.”

Shamima Begum, joint police commissioner (transport) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, was another participant who found hope in what she learned. “Preventing violence against women is possible if the responsible organizations work with proper planning, coordination and strong monitoring. It’s a continuous process to learn new approaches and it was valuable to learn through the training about how other countries work regarding violence against women cases.”

UN Women country offices led this initiative and will be supporting each of the participants as they take the next steps to design, develop or integrate prevention programming in their work.

“We know more than ever before about what works to prevent violence against women,” said Shrabana Datta, knowledge management and monitoring analyst with UN Women Bangladesh. “Successful prevention requires political commitment and leadership; implementing laws and policies that promote gender equality; investing in women’s organizations; and allocating resources to prevention. It also requires addressing the multiple forms of discrimination faced by women. The training provided participants with the means they need to put prevention work into place.”

“I recommend the training for anyone involved with such work,” said Begum. “It’s necessary to learn the good practices, theories, strategic planning, implementation and monitoring. This course is structured so you can learn everything in a systematic way and have the opportunity to share your own country’s good practices.”

The RESPECT implementation package can be found online, and you can find out more about UN Women’s work on the focusing on prevention page.