“Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls” is the theme chosen by the United Nations and the World Food Programme for tomorrow’s International Women’s Day.
WFP is actively helping to reduce gender violence, its impact on the vulnerable and the impunity of its perpetrators
Sheila Sisulu, WFP’s Deputy Executive Director
Through its operations to relieve hunger around the world, WFP sees first hand how a lack of adequate food often creates situations in which women and girls are vulnerable to all forms of violence. That violence may be an isolated episode, but more often it is sustained and severe abuse.
Weapon of choice
“When we work towards a world free from hunger, we must also work to eliminate the terrible problems alongside it – poverty, illiteracy, conflict, fear, and of course, gender violence,” says Sheila Sisulu, WFP’s Deputy Executive Director.
“It is unacceptable that women and girls are the victims of violence which, while not a new problem, has become a new weapon of choice because it alienates and injures, debases, demoralises, dehumanises – and yes, kills. Not only women and girls, but entire communities,” Sisulu added.
Projects and programming that help reduce women’s exposure to violence and assist in their recovery are already in place and continue to be improved at WFP offices worldwide.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WFP provides food aid to women hospitalised due to sexual assault; this allows them sufficient time to make a medical and psychological recovery.
The success of such programmes can be seen in the full reintegration of women and girls into the life of their communities, despite pregnancies caused by rape and sexual enslavement by armed groups.
Globally, WFP’s Food-for-Training programmes are designed specifically to include women; many report having started small businesses after participating in such projects.
WFP training and food aid have given these women the requisite skills to become self-supporting, which helps reduce their vulnerability to violence.
“All WFP’s efforts will, however, achieve no lasting impact without the awareness, cooperation and support of men,” Sisulu said. “Eliminating violence against women is not the responsibility of one gender, it is the responsibility of both, and WFP is committed to incorporating both men and women in its programmes towards that goal.”
WFP has found that while men are more often the perpetrators of violence against women and girls, other men frequently suffer the effects of violent behaviour -- male refugees have expressed feelings of helplessness and humiliation at the repeated attacks against their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers.
These men can be vital participants in helping to change attitudes towards gender discrimination and violence.
In Bangladesh, male encouragement for women in WFP’s small business training programme has led to the establishment of husbands’ support groups.
In this situation, both genders have gained – the men have created a resource that not only helps them, but also advocates for the protection of women and prevention of violence.
“WFP is actively helping to reduce gender violence, its impact on the vulnerable and the impunity of its perpetrators,” Sisulu says. “We still have a long way to go, but I firmly believe that violence against women and girls will eventually be consigned to history.”
For several years, WFP has marked International Women’s Day as a means of drawing attention to the plight of the organisation’s prime beneficiaries.
This year, a variety of events are being staged in WFP regional bureaux and country offices, including a panel discussion in WFP’s Rome headquarters.