AAYLF delegate from Australia Kay Singhalath explores the role of communities in Violence against Women and Girls.
Khetsavanh, a 26-year-old coffee farmer from Sekong Province, southern Laos, came from a poor family, went to lower secondary school and soon after she got married to her husband. She experienced domestic violence for a while, and due to little knowledge she thought it was normal for a husband to mistreat and disrespect his wife. She did not report it because she did not believe it would help her and she felt it was a taboo topic to talk about.
What is Violence Against Women and Girls?
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most prevalent and devastating human rights violations. World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged that VAWG can cause major physical and mental health issues for victims. Globally, 1 in 3 women (35%) experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their life time (WHO, 2017). Forms of violence against women can start from psychological and verbal abuse from intimate partners and non-partners, making sexist jokes to a female colleague, making sexual harassment in public and/or online-stalking to acts of physical harm. UN Women (2018) suggests women in ASEAN Member States experiences of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime ranged from 6% in Singapore to 34% in Vietnam and 44% in Thailand. Acts of violence against partners, especially women and girls, are unacceptable and has long-term negative impacts towards their children, families and society.
Women and girls: the most vulnerable group
It is unarguable that education is the key to unleash knowledge and prevent Violence-Against Women and Girls. Well-educated men tend to treat their partners with respect and well-educated women know how to respond and cope with such an issue. Although many more girls are enrolling primary and secondary school, girls tend to drop out more than boys during upper secondary school (Cerdan-Infantes, et al., 2016). Women and girls are usually trapped in domestic work, family responsibilities and poverty which potentially leads to early marriage and child labour, causing women and girls to be more vulnerable to school dropout and violence. Moreover, women with disabilities, indigenous and ethnic women, refugees, elderly women, sex workers and women living with HIV/AIDs are more easily exposed to violence.
Why survivors are silent?
A Study on Violence Against Women and girls in Laos (2014) found that almost half of women who experienced VAWG did not report or tell anyone. The majority of women who were interviewed said it would be embarrassing to let neighbours or other people know because it is a family issue and it should be kept within the family. Some women said it was acceptable because it is in the nature of men, they tend to have more anger sometimes and women should obey them and listen to them as that is how it has been done in the past generations. Furthermore, many countries still lack effective laws and policies. Existing laws can be flouted with impunity so victims tend to remain silent because of social stigma and shame surrounding the issue.
ASEAN-Australian’s initiatives to combat VAWG
In the light of increasing interest on VAWG issue, reliable and accessible data sources are extremely crucial for policy makers, programme managers and community workers. In order to design interventions to tackle the issue of VAWG, they need accurate technical inputs and evidence in their papers. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), together with ASEAN and UN Women, published ASEAN Regional Guidelines on VAWG Data Collection and Use, which aims to strengthen the quality of national data, methods and systems of ASEAN Member States. Moreover, kNOwVAWdata, a regional initiative by DFAT and UNFPA, continues to give useful studies, capacity building and policy recommendations, encouraging various stakeholders in national and global level to combat with Violence Against Women and Girls.
In 2019, A Care International in Laos and its partners implement a project to raise awareness on Gender-Based Violence and VAWG at the community level. It has surprisingly good results on the behaviour changes of the participants in a more positive way. Khetsavanh also joined the activities and she went back to explain to her husband about what she learned, later he also joined. Now Khetsavanh is living happily with her family and her husband treats her with more respectful manners. If we want to see changes in individuals and in communities like Khetsavanh’s and many more, the voices of community need to be reflected in programmes and interventions, ensuring that policies and government regulations are addressing the right issues and the right groups of people. This lets the community and the people become changemakers.
- WHO. (2017). Violence Against Women. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women
- UN women. (2018). Asean regional guidelines on vawg data collection and use
- Cerdan-Infantes, P., Marshall, H, J., & Naka, E (2016). Reducing early grade dropout and low achievement in LPDR: Root causes research and possible interventions
- UN, (2019). Violence Against Women facts: For everyone you should know. https://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/index.shtml
- Unesco, (2017). Situation analysis out-of-school children in nine Southeast Asian countries.