Lyn Messner and Priya Dhanani contributed to this post.

This is the story of Lerato, whose name means love.

Lerato lived with her mother in an agricultural community in northern Lesotho. At age 17, Lerato was raped on her way home from school.

She told her mother what happened, but neither one knew where to start. A trusted community leader sent them to the health clinic, where the nurse turned them away, saying they needed official documentation of the assault. By the time she returned, Lerato no longer qualified for post-exposure prophylaxis or emergency contraception because it has been more than 72 hours since the rape. Still, Lerato and her mother carried on, navigating a web of lawyers, health clinics, and other service providers, before finally losing the thread because their social worker didn’t have the capacity to follow up with their case.

A web of inefficiency bars many GBV survivors from receiving the care they need and deserve.
Image source: EnCompass LLC

In our project implementation, learning, and capacity-building work on preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV), we use stories like Lerato’s to help participants immerse themselves in the lived experiences of others in their community. Such stories are all too common, reflecting a key barrier facing survivors. Acting out Lerato’s story brings that barrier to life, and the response can be visceral. One participant said, in tears, “I never could understand how my friend couldn’t get help until this moment.”

Lerato’s story also helps participants begin imagining a new reality—in this case, a transparent, well-organized system of referrals to help GBV survivors access the care and support they need, as soon as possible. Doing so also helps reveal the centrality of GBV as an issue that requires solutions that cut across sectors, from community health to the rule of law.

A well-functioning referral system is one part of ensuring access to timely and compassionate services for survivors of GBV.
Image source: EnCompass LLC

Leading Intersectional Thinking around GBV Prevention and Response

Within the last two decades, development practitioners have begun thinking more holistically about GBV, first by acknowledging its relationship to HIV. EnCompass has been a leader since its founding, playing a pivotal role in reframing programs and carrying out research and evaluation to demonstrate the centrality of GBV in our work. We established frameworks for GBV prevention and response in HIV programs and reviewed GBV programs in three countries for PEPFAR.

Today, EnCompass is helping USAID’s teams around the world understand that every project is a gender project, through toolkits for preventing and responding to GBV in education and energy and infrastructure, blended learning programs for GBV and gender integration through the ADVANTAGE IDIQ, and our work as the gender analysis partner for Transform: Primary Health Care project.

In Lesotho, EnCompass is the gender partner for AIDSFree, working with the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation to establish a referral and case management system to improve responses to GBV and ensure compassionate, respectful, and ethical standards of care for people like Lerato.

Pressing for (More) Progress

Activities like “Lerato’s Story” place participants at the center of the action, from identifying a challenge and envisioning the solution to enacting it in their communities. Our work prioritizes inclusion of the voices of those who are affected by our GBV prevention and response work, from concept to implementation and evaluation. In so doing, we help shift the conversation around GBV, resulting in more inclusive, compassionate programs that involve participants at every stage—from identifying the need to realizing the solution—and in every sector.

To mark International Women’s Day 2018, EnCompass joins colleagues around the world to #PressforProgress in giving all survivors of GBV a voice and providing safe access to the compassionate, respectful, and ethical care they need and deserve.

How is your organization helping to centralize this crucial issue in development programs? Tell us in the comments below, or by sharing your thoughts along with this post on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.

Lerato’s story describes one girl’s experience, reflecting the fact that globally, one in three women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence, and marking International Women’s Day 2018. It is important to understand, however, that GBV affects people of all gender identities, and that prevention and response require action from all corners of society. It is with this holistic perspective that we carry out our work. 

Photo: U.S. Government Works.