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The impacts of crises are never gender neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception. In a recent town hall, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of UN, cautioned against the “reversal effect” COVID-19 has on the “limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights” that the society made in the last decade. “Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains,” said António.
To dive deeper into the issues of violence against women and girls and the impacts and implications of the COVID environment, we had a Q&A with Mendy, the founder of VOICE, a non-profit organization that partners with women and girls in conflict and disaster settings, to learn about her experiences and perspectives.
Many of our members already know about you and VOICE, what are some challenges you faced when trying to create this platform or even in your everyday fight against violence against women and girlsbroadly?
At VOICE, we want to create a new narrative for women and girls. There is a wide range of violence that women and girls face and we often can’t see that reality immediately. However, the more we talk about it, the more we can unearth the problems within our current status quo. As an organization, we’ve seen an increasing amount of calls and requests for support from women and girls in relation to the COVID emergency, yet it’s frustrating that the amount of investments dedicated to violence against women and girls and female-led organizations haven’t grown in proportions to increasing demands because the decision-makers are usually unaware of the problems or issues that impact women and girls uniquely are not proritized.
For people less familiar with VAWG, are there any stats or stories you can share with us?
At least 130 women each day are killed by their partners. At least 2 out of 5 women experience workplace violence or discrimination simply because of their gender. Girls are much more likely to experience sexual assaults on campuses, and even on a global scale, we continue to see human trafficking cases that leave girls and women in extremely vulnerable positions. Violence happens to women even when they are just going about their everyday life, and this is why it’s crucial to raise awareness, have coordinated efforts and increase resources dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls.
What do you think is at the root of violence against women and girls? And what are the first few steps we as a society need to take to erase violence against women and girls?
Gender inequality and violence against women and girls are closely connected. The root causes of violence against women and girls are gender inequality and discrimination, influenced by the historical and structural power imbalances between women and men, and what is often the lack of recognition and appreciation for women’s rights. Most of us are quarantining at home right now, but the burden to take care of the family still falls on women, and many don’t realize that. Tackling the core and the roots of violence against women and girls is a long-term process, but we can start by listening to women and girls, giving them the power to lead the change, and trusting that their experiences are valid and important. It’s crucial that we start seeing more women take space and be recognized as leaders.
With COVID and shelter-in-place practices, there is an increasing concern for women who now have to remain in violent or harmful environments. How are women uniquely impacted by COVID?
Aside from the fact that many women are now forced to stay in dangerous domestic settings and quarantine with their abusers, it’s also increasingly difficult to deliver resources and supplies to women and girls due to lockdown policies. We see gaps in services in the United States and other high-income countries, but we need to also bear in mind that in some other parts of the world, there are even fewer services and no indication that there will be more investments going to organizations providing frontline service responses to women.
Based on your experiences raising funding and resources for women-led organizations, what are some common biases that people tend to have with female leaders?
We often hear from organizations we work with, whether they’re large formal organizations or smaller grassroots organizations, that they need to be trusted. They should be trusted to know what their communities need and be trusted to allocate funding and resources properly. There often is a bias towards organizations in countries experiencing humanitarian crises that they are corrupt or not able to deliver what they promised. There’s also a misunderstanding about women’s movements and the importance of funding them — movements need financial fuels to sustain themselves. Women’s movements are at the heart of real progress to address violence against women and girls, but these movements also need to be maintained.
One quote that I love from your website is “for too long, people not directly affected by violence have been the decision makers”. For those of us that want to have personal impacts on violence against women and girls issues, where and how can we get started?
Going back to VOICE’s thesis that power comes from shared experiences, all of us can start building solidarity by listening to women and girls on their experiences and understanding the roadblocks women face at different phases of their lives. We’ve seen a lot of data on how confidence levels between boys and girls start to diverge at around age12 or even younger, and our society needs to start giving voices back to girls and women. We can show our support through actions in everyday life — advocating for a female colleague when someone is trying to steal her idea at a meeting, or sitting down with a female friend to talk about difficulties she’s facing at home. When we all start doing this, we will start chipping away the biases or roadblocks that lead to inequality and violence against girls and women.
Next month, VOICE will be facilitating a panel to bring together service providers across different parts of the world to speak about the real-time challenges that they’ve faced in relation to COVID-19. Please sign up for VOICE’s newsletter, LOUDER, and stay tuned for future events!
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Declare is a leadership accelerator that empowers leaders to ascend by helping companies get underrepresented talent to the top. With Declare’s help, any leader can thrive on their own terms, and any company can avoid leaving talent on the table. Declare Search, an executive search firm, places underrepresented candidates into high impact roles. Declare Lead, a members-only platform, accelerates women to the top of companies through leadership training and networking.