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It takes a village: Reducing sexual and gender-based violence in Nepal

Around the world, over 35 per cent of women have been affected by sexual and gender-based violence. While many countries aim to combat this type of violence through legislation, engaging communities is often a very effective way to promote a change in behaviour.

A recently completed program undertaken by the Nepal Red Cross Society, with support from the Canadian Red Cross, has aimed to do just that.

Women and children were identified as particularly vulnerable following the 2015 earthquake.. As the Nepal Red Cross Society worked to respond to needs after the earthquake, they saw this as an opportunity to increase equality and better protect women and children.

The Community-Based Integrated Violence Prevention Project began in May 2017 and included a variety of initiatives to combat sexual and gender-based violence, including child-safe spaces and guidelines for where to refer those impacted by violence.

The project included two aspects of community engagement – community sessions on lesson cards and violence prevention micro-projects – in five villages of Kavrepalnchowk district. These initiatives mobilized volunteers to engage with their communities to discuss different types of violence, how to respond to them and how to prevent them.

The lesson cards were first developed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and were adapted by the Nepal Red Cross Society for their context.. The purpose was to provide communities with a space to discuss problems related to violence – including sexual and gender-based violence, gender equality, physical violence, self-harm and violence against children – and identify local solutions.

Trained volunteers went into their communities and met with existing groups to use the lesson cards to educate in seven 45-60 minute sessions over a period of approximately three months. 

The violence prevention micro-projects aimed to better engage young people in the communities. Youth aged 16 to 17 were encouraged to work with leaders in their community and find a creative way to share the violence prevention information. The idea was to motivate youth to use the information already available to further prevent violence in their communities.

The arts were a powerful tool for youth to share across the participating districts. In one district, there was a folk-song competition and murals painted by students. In another, a street drama was performed with a local theatre group and a speech competition was carried out. Another district had a poetry competition.

In addition to helping their communities by spreading information about violence prevention, youth also felt they benefitted from the project. According to Dr. Sinha Wickremesekera, Canadian Red Cross protection delegate who worked with the Nepal Red Cross on the program, “the youth said it was a ‘novel experience,’ something they hadn’t done before. “They were curious to know what the messages were and how it applied to them,” says Dr. Wickremesekera. “They really enjoyed being part of the activity and felt they were contributing to their community.”

According to focus groups conducted upon the program’s conclusion, communities found both programs helped them understand types of violence, how to avoid possible violence and where to report. Communities found a greatest change regarding disciplining children. One focus-group participant noted that physically disciplining children was the norm, but the program helped make them aware that this is a type of violence and to approach discipline in a non-violent, constructive way.
There is still work to be done to reduce violence in Nepal, engaging communities and local volunteers puts ownership at the community level and can go a long way to change attitudes and actions.

The photos used in this blog were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Related stories: 
What happens to women and girls during disasters?
How does International Humanitarian Law protect women and girls during conflict?
Hear from those working to end gender-based violence
 
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