Celicia Serenata, Programme Manager, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.

Looking back on 2015, and the violence that dominated our headlines, from Kenya and Nigeria to Beirut and Paris, the end of year offers a welcome moment of respite to pause and enjoy moments of peace with our loved ones, and to reflect on how we can all contribute to building a broader culture of peace for the future.

Across 2015, the reminders of mass violence – insurgency, war, shootings, bombings – seemed constant and heart-breaking. And yet, largely left out of those headlines were the more constant expressions of violence against women and girls that happen every day, in every part of the world. The silent struggles of women and girls who never garner any headlines, unless there is a famous celebrity involved. As we mark the end of the year, we at What Works would like to remember the thousands of women around the world who did not make the headlines, but were killed, hurt, violated or harassed, and express our hope and commitment to doing all we can to prevent this from happening to others.

One step towards ending that violence, involves recognising that the issues of broader state violence and violence against women and girls are not separate matters to be addressed independently of one another – one by global leaders, and the other by individuals and response services – but are indeed linked.

Violence against women and girls is more likely to happen when the use of violence, in general, is seen as normal or acceptable. To prevent this violence, we must work to build cultures of peace.

But what does that mean? It sounds overly utopian, but is in fact a process of education and community-building that we in the prevention sphere take people through to provide alternative narratives around the use of violence, and equip them with the skills to resolve conflict in different ways.

For example, the What Works-supported project, Right to Play, in Pakistan, works with children to counter the multiple messages they may have received that make violence seem normal. Children are offered a programme of sport and play, accompanied with a broader education campaign that teaches them practical skills to resolve conflict, and wider messages on the equal value of girls and boys. As a result, we hope these children grow up with the skills to counter aggression, and valuing peace within their relationships and society.

Beyond this though, successful prevention programmes work to build coalitions across the strata of society, to create a wide base of support for peace and non-aggression. Help the Afghan Children, another What Works-supported programme, offers just one example of this work. Similar to Right to Play, it also works with children in schools. In conjunction with this, it develops ties with politicians, community leaders and religious leaders in Afghanistan to advocate at a wider level for a shift in perspectives on violence and the status of women. They are creating an environment that openly values peace, and condemns the use of violence in any situation.

These programmes, and the many others like them around the world, offer us a glimmer of hope, as we move into the New Year. It is possible to build cultures that value peace over violence. A better future is possible. And, as What Works continues to collect the lessons from these programmes to share with the wider world, we can hope to see a future where violence is not the default response, but respect is.


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