From Ideas to Solutions: Campaigning for Change to Combat Violence Against Women

August 21, 2013

  • Around the world, more than one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence.
  • The World Bank responded to the recent brutal rape and murder in India with a campaign of “Breaking the Silence“ and “Joining Forces“ to help end violence against women.
  • Together, we can overcome gender based violence and create a better world for ourselves, our loved ones, and future generations.

Born into Kamaiyas, a community of Nepali bonded laborers, Urmila Chaudhary was beaten and forced to work from the age of six without pay for eleven years. She walks with a limp as a result of years of abuse. Since being rescued in 2007, Urmila has resolved to fight for the rights of Kamalari women.

“Human rights are not just for the privileged who sit in rooms like this one. It is for people like me who face violence every day,” said Urmila at a recent conference in Nepal titled Joining Forces to End Violence against Women.

Despite being banned, the practice of forced slavery quietly continues in Nepal. But in December 2012, when a 23-year old female student in New Delhi was beaten and gang raped in a bus, citizens across India and the world spoke out.

The woman died from her injuries but the incident drew widespread attention and led to massive protests in India calling on the government to provide security for women and for public institutions to be accountable to citizens.

" We could not keep silent in the face of horrific acts, together, we wanted to understand the complexity, scale and gravity of Violence against Women, so that we could make a step forward to overcome it.  "

Isabel Guerrero

Former World Bank South Asia Vice President

Breaking the Silence

The India case sent shock waves across staff and personally touched many working on South Asia, including then South Asia Vice President, Isabel Guerrero.

“We could not keep silent in the face of horrific acts, together, we wanted to understand the complexity, scale and gravity of Violence against Women, so that we could make a step forward to overcome it,” Guerrero said.

The region has since been on a quest to define the Bank’s role on addressing this important human rights issue.

The region started by asking young people across South Asia to share their ideas on what it will take to end violence in their countries. Over a thousand young men and women shared their ideas.

At a session called Breaking the Silence at this year’s Spring Meetings, prominent South Asian women spoke provocatively on whether we had finally “reached a breaking point” on gender inequality and violence.

Joining Forces

To turn the crowdsourcing of ideas generated by youth into innovative solutions for change, the Bank Group joined forces with a Nepalese firm, Young Innovations, and the Computer Association of Nepal to host a Hackathon in Nepal on June 16 to find IT-based solutions. Braving monsoon rains and a strike preventing any type of transport, over 100 youth joined the one-day session to design innovative applications aimed at preventing and reporting violence against women.

“We realize that engaging youth and tapping into their passion and creativity is critical for breaking out of the cycle of gender violence. Young people have the greatest potential to change their society and the future,” said Maria Correia, the World Bank’s South Asia Social Development Manager

From triggering an alert system by sending a text message to sharing testimonies to provide support, young people worked on their laptops through the day to develop prototypes of mobile applications to assist victims, shame offenders, map out safe zones and danger zones, and more.

Joining forces to overcome gender based violence

The regional conference on June 17-18, Joining Forces to Overcome Violence against Women, followed the hackathon. Organized by the Bank in partnership with Oxfam International, over 200 participants from South Asia with diverse backgrounds shared research, discussed issues, and sought solutions to inform and heighten the Bank’s response to gender violence. On social media, the two days of live coverage reached hundreds of thousands of engaged citizens.

Conference sessions covered legal perspectives, evidence on what works, the challenge of changing social attitudes in South Asia, and engaging the public and private sectors, including policy makers and opinion leaders, to address the complexity of gender violence. Participants affirmed that the gravity of the issue calls for collective regional action focused on comprehensive approach.

Rahul Bose, Oxfam’s South Asian global ambassador and film actor motivated participants when he spoke passionately about what men must do to end the practice of violence against women. He emphasized the need to “redefine what it means to be macho” and called on all of us, especially men, to model the behavior we want to see and change. Bose went on to appeal to a more effective approach to gender violence that includes a movement to work with men:

“Behind every rape, there’s an angry husband, there is a puzzled son, there is even an ashamed father—who reaches out to these men?”

Clearly, we must convene all actors to match the complexity, interconnectivity, scale and gravity of violence against women in South Asia—and this means also men who are the secondary victims.

Call to action

In her opening remarks, Oxfam India’s Nisha Agarwal asked whether it is time for a development goal that sets a target for ending violence against women.

On June 20, 2013, the WHO released new global and regional estimates of violence against women following the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence. Worldwide, some 35 percent of all women will experience violence—that adds up to 900,000,000 million women globally.

Almost one billion women and girls hope for a world free of violence at home, in their communities, and at their workplaces. The time has come for us break the silence and through example as well as program and policy levers, to act on this central human rights issue.