In-depth: Our Bodies - Their Battle Ground: Gender-based Violence in Conflict Zones
AFRICA: Jeanne Ward, GBV Research Officer, Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium
NAIROBI, 1 September 2004 (IRIN) - Jeanne Ward is one of the few experts in the relatively new sector of Gender-Based Violence. Here she discusses with IRIN some of the central concerns facing survivors of rape and those who seek to assist them. These include confidentiality, difficulties surrounding data collection, inadequacies in legal systems, and the need to ensure that GBV interventions in war-affected areas are sustainable, that they do not simply fold up once the respective humanitarian agencies pack up and leave.
QUESTION: What are the key issues of confidentiality when talking about GBV in war areas?
ANSWER: The international community is advocating a multi-sectoral response and reporting mechanisms to GBV. What this means is that you engage all sectors (health, psycho-social, legal justice and police security sectors)…in providing services to survivors. But one of the challenges in promoting this model is how do we establish systems that promote confidentiality and that don't increase the level of victimization for the survivor? … all sectors that respond have to have confidential reporting systems themselves and they have to have a way of sharing information confidentially.
In conflict settings the only services you have are usually health and sometimes psycho-social … if it's health providers taking down names of survivors and perpetrators (because in many cases women know the perpetrators) where does that information go? Do you keep it in a locked file? Are such things even available? What happens if there's an incursion and all of the files are taken? The challenge is figuring out what kinds of systems to put in place to ensure confidentiality. We're talking about coding information so you're not revealing things about the survivor…
You have to be sure to impress upon people the need for confidentiality, not only for the survivor but [also] for the service provider…We're even trying to get institutions to create release of information authorization forms…This should be standard, but it's not. In conflict settings it is even more important to keep confidentiality.
Q: What do you need to say to the victims to make them feel secure?
A: It depends on the setting. In a lot of cases women will share the information if services are available. Many women are not as afraid in conflict areas, but are more afraid to do so if it is domestic violence. It really depends on where you are. Promoting confidentiality is more about promoting respect for the victim and the rights of the victim. The key issue is to provide concrete support, something that she needs, like medical care in a non-stigmatizing and supportive way. Services have to be free for survivors. This is really critical for them. If they have to pay for it no amount of emotional support will make them come forward.
Q: What about data collection - what are the issues?
A: One of the keys is getting good data. There are a few very good GBV specific programmes that collect data in a systematic manner and then monitor that data to try to inform programming. But there are very few agencies that collect data in a systematic way. What does happens is that most data is based on anecdotes and one of the challenges is that you have to define what you want to collect data on so people have to have fairly sophisticated training on what the definitions of GBV are, what the critical components of the data collection are and how to put that all together and then how do you monitor that.
After the monitoring, how do you use the information to consider how to adjust programming? Service statistics are not representative. They don't tell you what the entire population is seeing. You have a biased sample. The prevalence data would give more accurate information but it can be very expensive. It's my feeling that that kind of data leads to policy changes so it needs to be done…People need to commit the resources so it can be done in a technically sophisticated way.
I've been involved over the last couple of years in designing such methodologies in Kosovo and Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Colombia so I know it can be done but it's expensive and there are lots of challenges. Good data packs a huge wallop with policy makers and the public…
Q: How can the judicial system be used?
A: Theoretically the legal justice sector has an obligation to respond to the cases reported and ensure safe prosecution. In these settings the statutory and civil laws are not necessarily supportive of women's rights so there may be no protections in the law or they are quite limited. There might be remuneration to the family involved rather than prosecution of the perpetrator or the perpetrator might be required to marry the victim and that exists in many cases in traditional laws…even if you had the resources to go through the process you might not have the laws in place to protect them. If you try to prosecute during conflict the system won't be working, right? And you have all the safety concerns for the victim.
Some countries have special courts like Sri Lanka and Rwanda that try sexual violence. You have the international courts that try cases. In refugee camps there might be host country systems - if they are available. What the GBV community has done is provide training and sensitization courses for the judiciary, for lawyers and police. They've initiated an investigation into what the existing laws are and what protections exist. They've also investigated how the laws are working - like in Kosovo, cases of survivors not being tried in private. There's lots of stigmatization of victims, but after those kinds of investigations they could make recommendations for change to the official bodies - like setting up advocates, and protocols for protection. It's a place to start.
What needs to happen is to have an emergency response protocol that involves reviewing legislation in countries like Sudan, the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]. There have to be free legal services…in Brazzaville the women had to pay for legal services so there was no real gain to prosecution. There need to be lawyers who are well trained in helping the survivor to make an informed decision. Often elders gave advice to survivors that could be dangerous.
Q: Who's doing what?
A: The UNFPA and the WHO have convened a special task force on GBV which is great and the idea is that it will define what is required within each. In that task force there are ICRC, MSF, UNHCR, UN OCHA, RHRC (a consortium which includes IRC, ARC, CARE, Marie Stopes in the UK, John Snow from D.C., Colombia University and The Women's Commission for Refugee Women). I basically work for all of these organizations.
Outside of these there is CCF [Christian Children's Fund], which is taking a lot of initiative, IMC [International Medical Corp]. There are a number of NGOs that have one or two programmes on the ground. Of all of the NGOs I would say that the IRC has the most programs on the ground. And they only have 10 or 11 programmes in humanitarian settings. MSF is making an effort to train their medical providers on how to deal with GBV survivors, ICRC has a whole women-in-war project, ARC has three programmes.
In Guinea they've created a legal clinic and they've trained local lawyers, but they have a whole case-management process and follow-up and they monitor decisions. That is a very new model but it's something that has promise for the future. Similarly, in Sierra Leone the sexual assault centre has close connections with the police and they monitor cases that they send to court very closely so you have real statistics. Umm, other NGOs are trying to improve their capacity to respond but…
Q: What about all these small NGOs that are trying to help but lack the resources and are making it up as they go along?
A: One of the issues is that women who can't provide the resources needed simply take reports from victims…about levels of violence, but they aren't trained and not necessarily reliable…One of the challenges of the GBV community is to provide services that are sustainable after the big humanitarian crisis is over and the big agencies have left the area.
One of the problems is that these big agencies move into a conflict area, set up their own programs and they don't have the luxury of providing local organizations with the training needed to sustain them or do their own response. The problem is that humanitarian funding is not linked to development funding so when their funding ends, typically the humanitarian programmes shut down. We saw this in Bosnia and East Timor…if you're capacity building in one region and then another but there is no connection between them then you don't get that multi-sectoral response system set up…they never meet.
As far as I know there are no humanitarian NGOs operating in conflict-affected settings that have GBV as a standard component of response. Even for organizations that try, their interventions are so limited.
Q: In terms of conventions or laws that exist, what's happening?
A: We have enough evidence from around the globe to anticipate that GBV will be a component of all the conflicts. We don't need more proof that it exists. We need more support for programming that addresses it in terms of response, but more importantly in terms of prevention.
The point is that there's been lots of coverage of GBV. It's as if every time we get one of these reports, it's like something new. How can this atrocity be happening? Well it can because of impunity, because of lack of programming, lack of standards for intervention and so on … stop asking the question how can this happen and start asking how can we address this issue? Mostly it's about commitment- UN, donor, government, and international NGOs.