Eliminating violence against rural women begins with empowerment

Rome, 22 November 2013 – The United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, observed each year on 25 November, raises public awareness of gender-based violence worldwide. For IFAD and its partners, gender-based violence is both a fundamental human rights issue and a serious impediment to food and nutrition security.

In rural areas of the developing world, the triggers for violence are closely related to the agricultural cycle. For example, conflicts often arise over access to land for cultivation, frequently leading to physical violence – particularly against single, widowed or divorced women. And violence against women has a strong negative impact on crop production, food security and family well-being.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, most victims of gender-based violence are between the ages of 15 and 45, the age group that does much of the agricultural labour. In addition, injuries and illnesses that result from violence may reduce work capacity over the long term, cutting productivity and depleting household assets. In many countries, the victims of gender-based violence are also stigmatized and excluded from community activities, including access to knowledge and training.

Christian Ocran, carpenter, 33 years old. "The Rural Enterprise Project helped me ... acquire a planing machine. Now, I get all the business of planing wood in these parts. It's very, very, good business." ©IFAD/Nana Kofi Acqua

Women thatch roofs in Viet Nam. Violence reduces the productivity of rural women. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Economic and social empowerment
Eliminating violence against women and girls in rural communities begins with empowering them through improved livelihoods, access to education and opportunities for safer, more dignified lives. Indeed, the end of violence against women is at the heart of IFAD's work to create a better world for rural women and girls around the globe.

Many IFAD-financed programmes and projects help to prevent gender-based violence through support for women's livelihoods in smallholder farming, fishing, livestock-keeping and rural entrepreneurship. (Several of them have been recognized by the first-everIFAD Gender Awards, announced in October.) 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.

Christian Ocran, carpenter, 33 years old. "The Rural Enterprise Project helped me ... acquire a planing machine. Now, I get all the business of planing wood in these parts. It's very, very, good business." ©IFAD/Nana Kofi Acqua

Mother and child in Bolivia. Putting assets in women's hands increases family well-being. ©IFAD/Cristóbal Corral

Because violence against poor rural women often involves access to land and resources, their safety can also hinge upon learning and asserting their rights. As a result, some IFAD-supported initiatives help to prevent violence directly through the enforcement of women's legal rights. A legal aid project established with financing from IFAD in rural Burundi is one example of an initiative designed to help them do just that.

Justice for Maura
"If it were not for these people who know the law," says Maura Ntukamazina, "I would not be in my own home, and I would already be dead."

Ntukamazina is one of more than 1,000 women in Burundi who have benefited from the Legal Empowerment of Women Programme, an IFAD initiative supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. The programme, which ran from 2010 to 2012, gave legal training to administrators and facilitators at family development centres in the provinces of Kayanza and Gitega.

Christian Ocran, carpenter, 33 years old. "The Rural Enterprise Project helped me ... acquire a planing machine. Now, I get all the business of planing wood in these parts. It's very, very, good business." ©IFAD/Nana Kofi Acqua

Farmer field school in Burundi. Access to training helps protect women from violence. ©IFAD/Sarah Morgan

Facilitators share their newly acquired knowledge with women leaders, who in turn spread awareness of women's rights within the population. As a result, it is becoming easier to advocate more effectively for vulnerable women and girls.

"There has been a distinct improvement in our collaboration with judicial police officers," said Fabiola Girokwigomba, Kayanza's communal facilitator. "Previously, these officers maltreated victims. They did not wish to hear their complaints. Now victims are treated well."

Legal protections enforced
The family development centre in Kayanza intervened on behalf of Maura Ntukamazina after a land dispute left her severely beaten. After her sister died, Ntukamazina's relations – including a cousin who was a judge – tried to force her out of her family home.

"I was completely alone in the house," she recalled. "My cousin, accompanied by others, would come to my house and assault me violently." The cousin told Ntukamazina that, as a magistrate, he could not be sentenced.

"We found Maura in a dire state with fractures in almost every part of her body," said Desirée Bizimana, Kayanza's legal aid officer. With help from the centre, Ntukamazina regained possession of her property. With her farm back, she can once again feed her entire family and send her children to school.

"The law has gained in strength because women are starting to break free from customs," said Bizimana. "Husbands and family circles also understand that women are protected and have support."

‘Agents of change'
Legal aid is only the first step towards greater autonomy and equality in society. But for the women in Burundi who have benefited so far, it has meant the start of a new life.

Beyond the Burundi example and many other projects supporting rural women's economic opportunities and legal rights, IFAD's efforts to prevent gender-based violence include strengthening women's representation in producers' organizations and community decision-making bodies. IFAD also works to engage with rural men and change gender-biased mindsets in order to end violence against women.

"I welcome the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects an estimated one in three women in her lifetime," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. "I applaud leaders who are helping to enact and enforce laws and change mindsets. And I pay tribute to all those heroes around the world who help victims to heal and to become agents of change."

Watch an IFAD video about the impact of the Legal Empowerment of Women Programme in Burundi.

Closing remarks by Josefina Stubbs, Director, Latin America and The Caribbean Division, at the event at IFAD's Headquarters.