In July, Avon Foundation For Women’s Christine Jaworsky, program director of Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, and New Delhi, India, to launch the Justice Institutes on Gender-Based Violence. This initiative aims to address gender-based violence by providing interactive training courses to improve victim protection efforts and create a new approach to addressing violence against women. Key advocates and leaders from around the globe – including judges, prosecutors, police officers, government officials and NGO advocates – gathered to share ideas, discuss best practices and provide solutions.
Following similar Institutes in Nepal, Mexico, and Brazil, this most recent series of multiple-day sessions was prompted by the ongoing work of The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women, a collaboration of Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Avon Foundation for Women and the U.S. Department of State.
Here, Jaworsky (pictured below) shares her most poignant observations learned from the experience with Beauty for a Purpose.
1. Ending gender-based violence is a global effort.
According to the World Health Organization, cultural and social norms in various societies can encourage violence. Laws and policies that make violent behavior an offense send a message that violence is not acceptable. Our sessions aim to help shape those policies. To that end, the case scenarios we discussed were culturally specific, realistically brutal and served to address local cultural issues and attitudes about sexual assault.
One of the most interesting things was to observe how each participant was so passionate about serving justice from his or her own lens. Prior to these Institutes, a police officer or a prosecutor may have only seen their way of pursuing each case as the “right” way. But by bringing together these disparate groups — local NGOs, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and government-based service providers — we encouraged the idea that we are all responsible.
2. We can all be advocates for change.
Changing social norms doesn’t happen overnight, but everyone can get involved on an individual level. When safe and appropriate, bystanders can and should step in to safely intervene when abuse is suspected or observed. Remember the four Rs: recognize the signs of abuse, respond appropriately within the context, refer victims to professionals who can assist, and reach out to community resources for partnership and support. Individuals can let those who often suffer in silence — our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues — know that we support and stand with them.
3. Unfortunately, safety is not always guaranteed.
As a New Yorker and an independent woman, I was struck on a personal level by the limitations I felt when I was strongly advised not to leave the hotel where our sessions were held on my own, in both New Delhi and Johannesburg. Being unable to safely step outside alone made me feel even more fervently that each and every person, male and female, deserves a life free from violence and oppression.
4. Justice should be for all.
Another significant learning comes from my fellow participant, Sakina Mohamed, Acting Executive Director of POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse), an NGO partner in South Africa. Mohamed (pictured below, at center) noted the importance of activists and academics working together with local judicial systems to advocate for victims. As Mohamed stated in one of our sessions, “The world has come together by empowering women and girls to take their space within society without fear, prejudice or discrimination. Strengthening the justice system would be an advantage to all. Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic that affects the health, social and economic stability of women, their families, their communities and countries.”
5. This is not just an individual fight.
On a corporate level, companies are banding together to affect change. Avon is a leading example of a handful of corporate funders that use the power of its reach and reputation to continue to help empower women globally. Through its Speak Out Domestic Violence Program, Avon has contributed nearly $60 million to support domestic violence awareness, education, and prevention programs aimed at reducing domestic and gender violence. And it doesn’t end with these recent Justice Institute sessions. Together with the United Nations, Avon is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action this month to promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women, everywhere. Learn more about the “#Beijing20” and how you can help inspire women and empower humanity.