All the United Nations’ agencies are marking 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV). The program began on November 25th, the International day of the elimination of abuse against women and will end on December 10th which marks human rights day.
This is an annual international campaign that is implemented in accordance with the particularities of each country under the overarching umbrella of the UN.
In Egypt the articulation and implementation of the set goal of ending GBV is orchestrated with various governmental institutes, and through close cooperation with the National Council for Women (NCW). The organization has spearheaded efforts to protect and empower Egyptian women.
What I find most promising about this year’s campaign is that there is a genuine understanding that violence against women isn’t simply a female issue, but has diverse repercussions that impacts society as a whole.
Accordingly, a strategy to end GBV and establish gender equality must be a holistic one with the involvement of multiple stakeholders. They can provide support and restitution for the abused victim.
These organizations can also provide opportunities for abused women to take back control of their lives robbed from the toll of abuse. This is evident in the direction of the plethora of activities happening across the country over the 16 days.
I’ve spoken to members of the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative Office in Egypt who iterated their enthusiasm to provide solutions along with other UN agencies in addressing existing abuse. This includes offering a network of medical support.
The involvement of the WHO in addressing GBV stems from the understanding that along with social problems that exacerbate abuse, there needs to be comprehensive legislative amendments and cultural attunement about the many disparities affecting women.
In the case of physical violence, whether it is inflicted by a partner or sadly through the pervasive and illegal procedure of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), medical staff are on the frontline dealing with cases of abuse. These workers are in the perfect position to recognize the abuse and provide suitable support for the victim.
The fact that COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated GBV is well-documented globally. The situation limited women’s access to support networks that could have otherwise offered assistance. While successfully reducing the spread of the virus it increased the level of isolation for abused women leaving them with few viable options for support.
Yet one specifically vulnerable group of women who were subjected to compounded violence were medical staff.
“Seventy percent of health workers are women and almost 90 percent of those 70 percent are nurses and midwives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of health workers, especially women, have been exposed not only to infection but also to violence while doing their job.” Representative of WHO in Egypt and Head of Mission, Dr. Naema Al Gasseer said to me.
Health workers, and predominantly women in Egypt are best suited to identify signs of abuse because in many cases they have suffered themselves and can empathize with the victims.
Dr. Naema added “WHO Country Office in Egypt has been working with student professional health associations in close collaboration with nursing and medical students to raise awareness on gender-based violence through trainings and dialogues in different governorates. Let’s work together and unite to end violence against women and girls.”
It is through this spirit of togetherness that GBV is being tackled in Egypt with awareness campaigns, legislative improvements and the provision of essential medical assistance that women and girls are receiving the support needed to get their lives back on track.
Gender-based violence is an abhorrent violation of human right’s violation that doesn’t get the same public attention that other social issues receive. A factor for this is due to the fact that it mostly occurs privately behind closed doors. When it happens in public such as in cases with health workers, women fail to either report the abuse or find satisfactory measures that can ensure that it doesn’t occur again.
Some women don’t wish to relive the violence or feel the dread of humiliation or fear from speaking up. It might aggravate the abuse and jeopardize their lives in the process.
Training first line respondents to detect signs of abuse and offer physical, emotional and legal support by referring victims to adequate services is a step in the right direction that can help eliminate violence against women and give them the opportunity to speak up without being shackled with fear.