African network uses information to fight gender-based violence
Many programmes addressing sexual and gender-based violence focus on prevention. Fewer are dedicated to meeting the needs of actual victims. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we recognise the work of Africa Regional SGBV Network, which strives to do both.
The Sida funded network makes use of the vast experience and knowledge that exists in the East and Southern Africa region of how to work against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and how to help victims when it happens.
The information generated from network projects is disseminated among members of the network as well as other relevant actors, such as policymakers. The network also uses different methods to assess which SGBV interventions are effective.
"The network helps to promote the exchange of knowledge. Problems relating to sexual and gender-based violence are complex and our ability to address these problems has improved thanks to the network, which includes actors as varied as the Zambian police and health providers at Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya. Working across sectors is effective, and also a learning experience," explains Harriet Birungi, country director of the Population Council in Kenya.
Countries and organisations learning from each other
The network currently consists of seven projects in Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia. The challenges in the different countries are often similar, and the network provides an opportunity to work together to find comprehensive and sustainable solutions to stop sexual and gender-based violence while also caring for the victims.
"Working with SGBV is stressful and it can sometimes lead to a feeling of hopelessness. The network organises in-person and remote exchanges between partners so that we can learn from each other, discover different ways of working and get feedback on our work", says Mike Mbizvo, country director of the Population Council in Zambia.
In 2012 the network developed a fresh approach to the training of health professionals in order to introduce screening protocols for domestic violence. The method has now been taken up and promoted among health professionals by the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community. The network has also helped develop national guidelines for attending to SGBV victims in Kenya and Zambia.
"Our partner in Swaziland (the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse) has been inspired by Kenya and Zambia, and has now developed draft guidelines for Swaziland in collaboration with other partners," says Chi-Chi Undie, senior associate at the Population Council in Kenya, and project leader of the network.
Coordination between police and health care providers
The police and health care providers are often the first responders that come into contact with victims of sexual and gender-based violence, which is why such services need to be coordinated. Through the network, Zambian police have been trained to provide pregnancy prevention and HIV prevention services to victims, and to refer them to health providers for further care.
Sida has been a driving force behind the network's efforts to develop research on SGBV. In addition to generating knowledge, the research has contributed to getting people to talk about a taboo subject.
"The social perspective, the health perspective and the respect for human rights are cornerstones of our SGBV work. The victims often suffer in silence and the stigma is very high. There didn't use to be much discussion on this subject. But as we carry out studies and surveys and talk to those who have been affected, people have started to talk more. They appreciate the concern.", Mike Mbizvo explains.
The research is put to use in the different projects of the network.
"An advantage of our collaboration with Sida, in comparison with many others, is that we can customize on-going programmes and develop and test actions based on the information obtained through our studies", explains Chi-Chi Undie.