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Why Do Implementers of Development Programs Need to Be Concerned about Gender-Based Violence?

This post was written by Mara Russell, director of food security at CARE USA

We often do not focus attention on gender-based violence (GBV) when designing and implementing agriculture, economic development, food security, livelihoods, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and other development projects. We may feel that GBV is as outside of our scope, beyond the capabilities of our staff, or not our organizational competency. So why should we be concerned about GBV?

CARE’s new Guidance for Gender Based Violence (GBV) Monitoring and Mitigation within Non-GBV Focused Sectoral Programming provides some very compelling reasons why development practitioners should be concerned about GBV: 

  • According tothe World Health Organization, “35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either sexual and/or intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.”
  • Men and boys are also affected by GBV, “especially if they have deviated from specific definitions and cultural expectations of masculinity.”
  • GBV is ubiquitous and should be seen as a given when implementing development programs. “That GBV takes place everywhere has been supported by decades of research … ideally all programs should consider possible unintended consequences related to GBV.”

Also, GBV impacts projects in the following ways:

  • GBV can be a barrier to achieving goals. It can interfere with women’s willingness to participate in gender transformative development activities. GBV “is negatively correlated …with predictors of gender equity, including a woman’s decision-making power, her representation within the community, and her control over household assets.”
  • GBV can be an unintended program effect. When a program is working to alter societal or structural gender roles and norms, GBV can emerge as an unintentional consequence. For instance, when programs empower women to improve their access to and control over resources, this may challenge normative power dynamics and increase the incidence of GBV.
  • GBV can affect personal safety and the health of project staff. Project staff may encounter GBV victims and may themselves experience personal trauma. Their personal safety could be threatened if they are viewed as “interfering” with sensitive issues. Staff can also experience GBV when traveling to remote communities.

Given these problems, what should our responses be? The Guide offers practical advice to implementers on how to build awareness of, monitor, and address GBV issues among staff and stakeholders.

  • Design Phase: Learn about GBV and gender norms in the local context. Also, create or identify a referral list of local services for people experiencing GBV. During planning, orient communities and partners —especially male gatekeepers—to the potential for GBV and discuss ways to mitigate it. Include indicators to monitor GBV and determine the degree to which there are program effects, both positive and negative. Consider integrating specific activities that address GBV and budget funds for GBV inquiries and trainings.
  • Implementation Phase: Staff should be trained to understand GBV and learn to monitor its incidence. They should also learn to provide front-line support to survivors, refer them to appropriate services, and help them develop a plan to keep themselves (and their children) safe. The project monitoring and evaluation plan should include indicators to monitor GBV. Finally, a protocol should be developed for addressing GBV incidents during the life of the project.

The Guide does not advise that we avoid mainstreaming gender or female empowerment but rather that we build mitigation and support systems into project designs.

Finally, the Guide recommends organizational policies that explicitly address GBV within and outside the workplace, such as zero tolerance of workplace sexual harassment and support for GBV survivors.

The U.S. Agency for International Development's recent Toolkit for Integrating GBV Prevention and Response Into Economic Growth Projects similarly provides excellent guidance specific to economic growth projects. So perhaps we should ask ourselves why we aren’t more concerned about GBV!

Mara Russell recently joined CARE USA as the director of food security. She works with CARE’s USAID-funded food and nutrition security programs and is based in Washington, DC.

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