International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Credit: UN women

Each year, to raise public awareness of gender-based violence across the world, the United Nations recognizes 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day also begins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which culminates with International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

The UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats.” Worldwide, 35 per cent of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives – but in some countries, that figure is as high as 70 per cent. These statistics reflect a stark reality that not only grossly hinders the rights of half the world’s population, but also impedes the global fight against poverty and hunger. Evidence from the field confirms that gender-based violence negatively affects people’s job skills, knowledge, health and ability to work; networks and relationships of trust; assets, including land, properties and resources; and available incomes.

The term “gender-based violence” is often used interchangeably with “violence against women,” reflecting the fact that a disproportionate number of gender-based crimes are committed against women. It is a global pandemic, deeply rooted in gender inequality, and is fundamentally a human rights violation. Gender-based violence has no social or economic boundaries. It is present in all countries, rich and poor, and affects all socio-economic groups.

These inequities also deeply affect the work being done by IFAD and other development agencies. For development programmes to be most effective, women need to be able to participate fully in society, as both economic and decision-making actors – both roles that gender-based violence discourages. Meanwhile, empowering rural women economically – the first objective of IFAD’s Gender Policy – can help reduce their vulnerability to abuse and strengthen their independence. This is one of many reasons that gender equality is one of the five principles of engagement underpinning IFAD’s Strategic Framework 2016–2025 – and why it has been a core part of IFAD’s work for decades.

Increasing women’s economic empowerment

Many IFAD-financed programmes support women’s livelihoods in small-scale farming, fishing, livestock-keeping and rural entrepreneurship. By enabling greater access to land, credit and other productive resources, these initiatives accelerate the economic and social empowerment of rural women. In the process, they allow women a greater degree of safety from harm.

In India, for example, the IFAD-supported Tejaswini Rural Women’s Empowerment Programme promoted 75,000 self-help groups for women. The groups offered both financial and social support, keeping capital and profits safe from male relatives (who might otherwise try to take them) whenever necessary. In some cases, the sense of confidence fostered within these groups empowered women to address domestic violence, alcoholism, and caste-related issues in the public sphere. To date, more than 1 million women have taken part in these groups.

Helping women get a seat at the table

Traditional and political leaders, local government officials and opinion leaders all play a vital role in community life. In order for any system-level change to be sustainable, it must be supported by these leaders – and women should be included amongst them. For this reason, IFAD’s efforts to prevent violence against women also include strengthening their representation in producer organizations and community decision-making bodies. IFAD also works with rural men to promote positive behaviour change.

In Burundi, for example, the IFAD-supported Value Chain Development Programme provided women leaders with the legal training necessary to help other women claim their rights in cases of land-based conflict or sexual violence.

Promoting cultural change at the household level

Even when rural women are empowered economically, they can still remain disempowered within their households and communities. Promoting cultural change at the household level is thus crucial. It usually involves all family members, especially men.

Evidence from IFAD-supported projects shows that dialogue-based approaches like the Gender Action Learning System and household methodologies can improve gender relations and reduce gender-based violence at the household and community level. Thanks to these and other gender-transformative actions, many women also gain control over the household assets and income, improving their productivity and socio-economic empowerment.

In Argentina, for instance, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has launched En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands), a comprehensive plan to support rural women. The plan, funded by the IFAD-supported PROCANOR programme, seeks to narrow the deep gender gaps in Argentina's rural areas, with a particular focus on supporting victims of gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence continues to be an issue that many people – particular women and girls – encounter in their workplaces, communities and homes, undermining their health, productivity, socio-economic inclusion and overall empowerment. At IFAD, we believe that improving gender equality and building resilience is key to preventing and stopping gender-based violence, and we remain committed to investing in the longer-term transformation of women’s status and gender roles worldwide.

Learn more about IFAD’s work to empower women.