“Violence and abuse can destroy a woman’s life! She cannot get back easily as there is no support. Most have to live with it as they depend on others for sustenance”, these words from a young mother, we met recently in rural Uttar Pradesh continue to echo in our conversations as we observe the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign that takes place every year from November 25 to December 10 is a reminder that gender-based violence is an everyday reality across the world. Girls and women continue to face violence at their homes, community, and workplaces as one in three women globally has experienced some form of gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence has serious consequences, including immediate injuries and long-term physical and psychosocial harm. Children who witness violence are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, perform poorly in school and be at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence in the future.
Indirect impacts on individual and community productivity can lead to increased poverty and undermine potential economic and social development, creating a cycle of underdevelopment, poverty, and violence.
Women Are Feeling Unsafe
Women’s feelings of safety have been eroded leading to a devastating impact on their mental and emotional well-being, according to a new report released on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25). Seven in ten women surveyed have said that violence has increased since the pandemic.
“Measuring the shadow pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19”, based on survey data from 13 countries, shows that almost one in two women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report kicked off the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, from 25 November to 10 December, under the global theme set by the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign, “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”
Multiple Crises Exasperating Gender-based Violence And Hunger
Climate crisis, conflicts, pandemics, economic distress, and spiralling food prices are worsening gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence can increase levels of hunger and malnutrition by affecting people’s degree of access to and control over food. For example, poor families may sacrifice girl child’s nutrition to meet the needs of male children. Additionally, people who have been exposed to Gender-Based Violence, owing to the trauma, stigma, and exclusion, may not be able to generate income and care for their dependents. In many contexts, women’s lack of access to and control of assets, services, and income increases their economic dependence as well as vulnerability to abusive and exploitative situations. These factors can lead to food insecurity.
While these factors are known and have been discussed, one of the lesser-discussed factors that has a direct bearing on gender-based violence is climate change. With the recent events of the Food Systems Summit and COP-26 stirring up the global debate on the impacts of climate change and the obligation of nations to act on it, it is pertinent to also focus on climate change’s impact on gender-based violence.
Climate-induced extreme events are already increasing in numbers and intensity. Frequent hurricanes, droughts, and massive floods have resulted in several casualties, loss of land and livelihoods, displacement of vulnerable population which has long-lasting, devastating impacts. Such situations considerably increase women and children’s vulnerability to violence, including gender-based violence.
Climate change has also threatened women and men’s access to natural resources and stable livelihoods. All these factors ultimately impact the sustainable food security of communities, leading to impoverishment and hunger, spurring social ills like crime or alcoholism, and precipitating gender-based violence.
The growing scarcity of food and water, and fuel in climate-challenged areas make women particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as they must intensify efforts to provide for their families. A vulnerability assessment of the tribal population in Rajasthan by WFP found that often women and girls had to walk long distances to fetch water for their families. Migration of men from the region was also high, leaving behind women and children, making them vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation.
Women’s Leadership In Ensuring Sustainable Livelihoods
One of the key strategies adopted by WFP is to strengthen women’s livelihoods, enhance women’s access to resources and their economic empowerment. In Uttar Pradesh, WFP is supporting women-led micro-enterprises to establish units to produce fortified nutritious take-home rations for women and children under the Integrated Child Development Services scheme.
In Odisha, WFP is partnering with Mission Shakti, the department of women empowerment, to enhance the incomes of women’s self-help groups in the state. WFP is documenting some of the unique successes achieved by the Odisha Millet Mission, particularly in empowering tribal women through the cultivation and processing of millets- as a climate-responsive nutritious crop and supporting efforts towards the reduction of drudgery. WFP is also initiating work on anticipatory action for improved equitable access to Climate adaptation through alternate strategies for smallholder farmers in particular women farmers.
The vision of the world without hunger cannot be realized unless the efforts towards gender equality and prevention of gender-based violence and all factors that exacerbate it including climate change are addressed.
A gendered approach to building resilience climate adaptation capacities among communities, by strengthening climate-responsive livelihoods led by women, increasing food security, and equitable access to resources and opportunities to reduce gender inequality and gender-based violence.
(The authors work with United Nations World Food Programme in India.)
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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.