How to Unlock Reform When Keys Are Used for Protection

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 90’s, I sometimes used to run home with my keys between my fingers, Wolverine style, in case an attacker featured on the local news appeared. I, personally, thought it was an unusual habit until I started sharing with other women who told me they had their own versions of defense armor.

The common fear is a symptom of a bigger problem: the high prevalence of violence against women. A 2013 study by the World Health Organization, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, produced this grim fact: 35.6% of women surveyed in 80+ countries reported physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV), or sexual violence by a non-partner. That’s more than 1 in 3 women worldwide.

With the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women quickly approaching on November 25th, the global community is reminded of how much work still needs to be done.

Sadly, for such complex and deeply rooted issues like gender-based violence, there’s no specific cure for which to fundraise and distribute. But, the WHO believes that public health’s direct service and cross-disciplinary approach can be used to heal those who have been affected and deter future incidents from occurring. In response to an attack, women will most likely seek medical care. As the first person she sees, the report suggests training and equipping all healthcare workers with the necessary tools to treat the patient’s physical and mental health.

The prevention part is a bit more involved and calls for comprehensive reform, including enhancing government participation in enforcing policies and laws that condemn gender-based violence, empowering women through education and financial support, and changing social norms that perpetuate violence against women, among other reforms dependent on the culture and context. The recommendation is to find and finance local approaches, such as these two UN Women endorsed programs:

A Call for Help in Samoa

The Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSP) launched a 24-hour help line as a prevention and response mechanism for the 1 out of every 2 women who have reported IPV nation-wide. The service provides counseling, accommodations in local safe houses, and reports to local police. Knowing that someone is there to listen and help has led to about 2,000 calls in since it began in April 2013.

Patrol by Street Vendors in Fiji

In Suva (whose population is almost the size of Samoa’s!), the Streetwize Project turned to the large population of street merchants to publically condemn and arrest men they witness commit violent acts against women. The selected individuals received trainings by Streetwize on how to identify and approach gender-based violence and by the Community Police Unit on how to perform citizen’s arrests. 64% of women in Fiji report IPV, a statistic that will hopefully decrease with continued efforts to change morals.

On this November 25th, I’ll be thinking about these organizations and the many others who fight for keys to be used as just that: keys.

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