Gender-based violence is personal. Global estimates published by the World Health Organization indicate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide (35 percent) have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetimes. That means that in your workplace, more than one-third of your co-workers have experienced violence, and some may be perpetrators.
What do these numbers mean when we are leading discussions, activities, or training related to gender-based violence?
At EnCompass, it means our work need to traverse the personal and professional. We need to acknowledge the personal, intimate nature of gender-based violence in our engagements with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders.
This year, I was involved in designing and facilitating training programs on gender-based violence prevention and response in three countries—Guatemala, Lesotho, and Nigeria—with program staff, implementer partners, and USAID staff. In all three countries, several people disclosed throughout the training that they had experienced gender-based violence or had a close friend or relative who had. Some of these disclosures were from activists and advocates who have become accustomed to relaying their stories; some were spontaneous, triggered by the training; and others were newfound realizations that they had experienced some form of gender-based violence.
This called on me, my co-facilitators, and other participants to be personal—compassionate, respectful, and confidential—in a professional moment, and take care to “do no harm” and respond to the individual in an intimate way.
In one training, we facilitated a session that explored the types of gender-based violence and provided a handout with definitions of 27 of them. After the session, our client asked each person in the room, individually and on their own time, to review the types of gender-based violence and highlight two things: the types of violence they had experienced and the types of violence they had perpetrated.
When I had some quiet time, I highlighted in one color the types of violence I had experienced, which was easy and not surprising. Then I went through a second time to see what types of violence I had perpetrated. That was harder, and surprising. As I reflected, I realized there were times in my life when I had been a perpetrator, indirectly, by not intervening when I was witness to gender-based violence. This discovery struck me hard, and made me reflect on what am I doing to ensure the safety, security, and comfort of others. How can I be more cognizant of my behavior and actions in the workplace—whether it’s in the office, facilitating training, collecting data, mentoring, or engaging with clients and colleagues—in a way that is more aware and conscious of both my behavior and the experiences of others?
During this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, focused on the “world of work,” I invite all of us to think about what we can do to ensure we remain open to the personal in our professional work, increase our awareness and sensitivity to the reality that those around us are carrying personal experiences that inform their professional interactions, be more deliberate in bringing compassion and respect to those interactions, and be mindful of our own self-care when working in the gender-based violence space.
Image c/o Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG), “Infographic: Violence Against Women” (Washington, D.C.: IGWG, 2018). To see the full infographic, please visit www.igwg.org/2018/12/infographic-violence-against-women. Reproduced by permission.