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Presentation aims to end sexual-based violence

By Christine Haggerty
On April 25, 2012

  • Vigaud--Walsh connected Kony’s video to this cause. COURTESY OF VILLANOVA.EDU


"Gender and Justice: a Global Humanitarian and Development Perspective" was the title of a colloquium held on Wed, April 18. The event focused on poverty reduction and disaster relief through the lens of gender. Speakers discussed efforts to prevent sexual-based violence and promote gender equality in order to meet the physical, emotional and economic needs of all survivors. 

In May 2005, the University entered into an institutional partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Suzanne Toton, associate professor of theology and religious studies, and coordinator of the partnership with CRS, worked with a planning committee to organize the colloquium. with the gender and women's studies program.  

Catholic Relief Services is the official overseas humanitarian agency of US Catholics. The organization performs its work without regard to race, religion or nationality. 

According to Toton, the goal of the workshop was to expose students and faculty to the ways CRS and other organizations are integrating gender response into their relief programming. The program was broken into two sessions, both held in the Villanova Room of Connelly Center. 

The afternoon session entitled, "Responding to Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises," addressed the complex solutions needed to achieve gender equality in disaster-stricken areas around the world. 

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, CRS' technical adviser in Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), shared what she has learned from her decade-long experience in grassroots methods of addressing SGBV in humanitarian crises. 

Vigaud-Walsh began the talk by defining the idea. "[SGBV is] violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex," she said. "It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations."

 Vigaud-Walsh listed examples including rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, genital cutting, as well as "STGs"-an elementary school saying in Ghana meaning "sexually transmitted grades." 

She emphasized the range of people, including men and boys, and the wide variety of countries affected by SGBV following disasters. To illustrate these points, Vigaud-Walsh presented two case studies of SGBV which occured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Haiti. 

The lecture then addressed what CRS has done to provide humanitarian aid to these countries. Vigaud-Walsh noted that in Catholic countries, oftentimes CRS aid workers are given increased access to those in suffering. CRS uses this opportunity to reach more survivors, giving those in more isolated areas access to aid relief.

 In the DRC, gender-responsive programming emphasized sensitization of SGBV perpetrators and advocacy for SGBV victims. Sensitization is the slow, often frustrating, process of addressing the violent mentality of perpetrators. In Haiti, CRS worked to provide direct services and referral networks for displaced persons, safe houses, capacity building of government and sensitization. 

Panelists Tim Horner, Lawrence C. Gallen, teaching fellow for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Michelle Dempsey, associate professor of law, joined Vigaud-Walsh on stage.  Following the talk, Horner and Dempsey offered their perspective on the information presented.

Dempsey highlighted the importance of supporting local governments post-disaster, and the misconception of SGBV as a problem that only happens "over there." Horner discussed the need to understand why SGBV happens in the first place, questioning what drives men to commit sexual violence. 

After their comments, the audience was broken into groups of eight to discuss the forces and factors shaping SGBV situations and what is needed to change these situations. Audience members had the opportunity to share their group discussions during a question and answer session with Vigaud-Walsh and the panelists.

 "Regarding SGBV, [some think] it may be cultural-it's not,"  Vigaud-Walsh said. "The absolute value and respect that is placed on women is often far beyond the value and respect placed on women in western there's a whole economy for [SGBV] to happen. There are bad apples in every society and the problem is, when things break down, those bad apples seem to flourish." 

The evening session, "Global Poverty Reduction and the Gender Lens," featured CRS representative Carrie Miller. Miller is currently the senior technical adviser for Health and HIV at CRS. She began the talk by calling on the words of Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, Sheryl WuDunn, who has named gender inequality "our century's greatest injustice." Miller then presented the ways CRS is working to bring human dignity, peace and justice to the struggle for gender equality. 

Rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, CRS seeks to promote right relationships, help people realize their full potential and address the unique roles, relationships and opportunities of men, women, girls and boys. 

Miller emphasized the tendency for gender roles to change over time and vary between cultures while discussing some of the different strategies CRS uses to cater to that tendency. 

 "CRS is making a positive contribution to addressing inequality linked to gender," she said. "Gender is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach. There is no one silver bullet."

After Miller's lecture, Vigaud-Walsh addressed a student's question regarding what college students can do to help.

"We need to figure out what's happening here," she said. "We need to be an example. If anybody doubts that a 18,19 or 21-year-old American does not have the capacity to affect change overseas, just look at the Kony 2012 video. I am not a huge fan of the video myself, but wow. That's amazing. People were screaming bloody murder about [Kony] for 20 years but youth was not involved. This is the first time that youth was involved and boom, we saw changes in [only] days."

Toton emphasized that she wanted to give greater visibility to the issue. "I think our purpose was to make this issue an issue, because so many people see it as 'that just happens' or 'we know about it but there's nothing we can do.' It is intolerable that SGBV happens in our society and the global society. It is a crime against humanity and it must be stopped."

Toton reinforced the idea of student aid. "I want them to know that the more we bring this issue to the surface and look at it in its ugly face and say no to it, [the more] women will feel freer to resist and not to cooperate."

"Let the conversation begin," she added. "Let the conversation continue."

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