Life in Dadaab

Life in Dabaad PicComponent 2 is conducting research in Dadaab refugee camp, assessing a comprehensive case management model where tasks are shared between national staff and refugee community workers to provide services for women who have experienced violence.

Here a young researcher provides us with a glimpse into what it’s really like to live and work in Dadaab refugee camp and on the realities of women and girls who have made it their home.

Not everyone fully comprehends gender-based violence (GBV) and the adversity that comes with it. It is a topic I myself had little knowledge of. GBV is a term for harmful acts against another on the basis of their sex, and includes threats or acts of physical, sexual, or mental harm. Because of the systemic inequalities between men and women, the term GBV is often used interchangeably as referring to violence against women and girls. Deciding to carry out research on women and girls who experience GBV in Dadaab refugee camp was an eye opener.

I was nervous and excited at the same time. I remember having a “manufactured” image of Dadaab. Living in Nairobi and never seeing a refugee camp made me somehow oblivious to the hardships refugees go through. Dadaab is known around the world as being the world’s largest refugee camp, but many people do not really know what life is like in Dadaab. When I got here the first thing I noticed was the weather and the landscape. It was hot and very humid, and the land was very dry and populated by small thorny shrubs. That aside, my biggest concern was security and my own safety – as the mention of Dadaab often goes hand in hand with discussions of terrorism.

Throughout the course of my research, however, I have come to understand the realities of those who have had to seek refuge in Dadaab. Refugees are vulnerable people who are easily exploited, more so for women and girls who are seen as holding less value in society and who have limited opportunities in education, employment, and accessing services. Talking to these women and hearing of their stories is agonizing. The things they have been through and still go through are unimaginable, as though I’m watching them through a movie.

That is when I realized the magnitude of the problems that women and girls face. My first encounters with them were heavy on me and at times I would feel as though my mind was “paralyzed”. I kept on asking myself how another human could carry out vicious acts on another. It was hard to swallow and understand. One needs a lot of emotional intelligence in a situation like this.

Irrespective of all their problems refugees are optimistic and do not like to be viewed as weak, hopeless people who have given up. Many of the women here are the providers for their families and strive to educate their children. They have dreams of giving their children a better life than theirs. The refugees in Dadaab had a “life” before civil war broke out in Somalia. They had businesses and houses that were theirs. They were valued and respected by their neighbors. The people I have met did not give up everything to get “free materials” as some outsiders think. Most of them would love to go back to their country and rebuild their lives, but Somalia is still unstable and traumatizing for them and they are afraid – afraid for their children this time around. The repatriation debate has awakened painful memories for some of the women and girls here. Many also worry about their sons being radicalized if they are forced to go back due to the limited options for food, stability, and protection.

The refugees I meet and work alongside in Dadaab are very friendly and welcoming; they are hospitable and invite you to their homes to share a meal. Dadaab is the only home for many refugees who have been here as long as 25 years or who were born here. Being a refugee requires a lot of resilience and working with them has made me humble and appreciate my own blessings. Life in Dadaab is far from being glittery but is a “safe haven” for more than half a million people.

Fatuma Yussuf is conducting research as part of a study co-led by the African Population and Health Research Center (Kenya) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK). This project will contribute evidence to a larger research program called What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and managed by the International Rescue Committee. For further information please visit



Shedding Light on Violence against Older Women

By Jennifer McCleary-Sills (ICRW) and Cailin Crockett (Administration for Community Living, US Department of Health and Human Services)

The 15th of June 2016 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, an important opportunity to recognize the interpersonal violence impacting nearly one in 20 older adults worldwide. Nearly one quarter of the world’s women are age 50 and older and they account for more than half of the global population age 60 and older. Yet we know very little about what happens in their lives after age 49. This is due to the fact that globally comparable data sets, such as the Demographic Health Surveys (DHS), collect data only from women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years-old). As a result, we have limited information about older women’s sexual health, their economic activity and their experiences of violence.

As a result of this evidence gap, the development community is missing an opportunity to bring more attention to the lived experiences of older women, and to the specific forms of abuse and violence they face. It also means older women are not often given proper credit for being the change agents and drivers of development that they truly are.

Most of this violence occurs in people’s homes and in their communities, and can have serious consequences for their physical and mental health. What is known as “elder abuse” doesn’t distinguish between the differing forms of violence experienced by older men and women, nor does it recognize that older women are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, including intimate partner and sexual violence from non-partners. As women enter older age, they can become vulnerable to acts of violence from a wider range of possible perpetrators, including intimate partners or spouses, family members and caregivers. Without measuring this violence as a distinct development challenge, we cannot understand the full magnitude of its effects on the individual women who experience it or on their families and communities.

If we began to measure this violence, what would we find? The limited research on violence against older women that is currently available comes predominantly from developed countries, but still offers some useful insights. A recent study in five European Union countries found that 28 percent of women 60 years of age and older reported experiencing some form of abuse in the previous year- this included sexual and physical violence as well as other forms of abuse. As is the case with younger women, the most common perpetrator of this violence is a spouse or intimate partner. Recent research from the United States revealed that aging does not protect women against sexual violence and that these crimes are almost never reported to the police- non-partner sexual assaults committed against women age 65 and older are reported 15.5 percent less frequently than sexual assaults committed against younger women (between the age of 25 and 49). There is also an unfortunate array of harmful practices that disproportionately affect older women, such as widow burning, wife inheritance and forms of violence and stigma related to accusations of witchcraft.

All these forms of violence stem jointly from strict gender norms and culturally embedded values that place a premium on youth and women’s role as child-bearers—in some cases, making harmful assumptions that older women are “useless” once they are past reproductive age. This creates an overlapping vulnerability to violence fueled by both ageism and sexism.

In recognition of the significant gaps in development policy and practice with regard to violence experienced by older women, we wrote a brief examining the evidence base, data needs and key entry points for addressing this issue. The brief underscores that integrating the prevention of and response to violence against older women into development projects requires an understanding of the legal, social and epidemiological context of this violence as it relates to development programming. This brief is the latest in a series for the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide, which provides guidance to help development professionals initiate, integrate and innovate effective solutions to prevent and respond to VAWG across all sectors.

Fortunately, the new era of global development policies ushered in with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shows promise for greater inclusion of older women in the movement to end VAWG, through a commitment to “leave no one behind”. Moving beyond the age-limited sampling of the DHS and similar models, SDG 5 indicators on VAWG will measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence among those aged 15 and older, thus continuing to measure experiences of violence for women beyond the age of 49. This is a huge step forward, because we know what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get counted.

Now it’s time for the global development community to capitalize on the momentum offered by the SDGs by: 1) investing in expanded data collection and building the capacity of national statistical commissions to collect data on women older than 49; 2) including older women’s voices and needs in national plans of action on VAWG and strategies to remedy gender disparities; and 3) training providers to break down ageist biases that can impede older survivors’ access to essential services.

The very first step, however, is raising awareness about this under-researched issue and bringing greater visibility to older women and their influential role in global development, as well as the unique risks they face. Help us start this conversation now, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

 Download the brief on violence against LBT women. For the entire series on Violence Against Women and Girls, visit the VAWG Resource Guide website. This series is a joint venture between the World Bank Group, the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Research on Women. Follow the authors on Twitter @jmcsills and @C_A_Crockett. Follow the Resource Guide at #VAWGuide.

Building Respect through garment factories in Bangladesh

I’ve just returned from one of my favourite cities where it is loud, vibrant, friendly, pouring with rain and the food is always delicious – Dhaka, Bangladesh. Of course it is not all amazing, it also has very high poverty and 53% of women (who have ever been married and are of reproductive age) report having been physically and/or sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. Women in the Ready Made Garment (RMG) factories work long hours, for little pay and often experience violence at work and home. The industry represents 81% of the national exports in Bangladesh, and approximately 80% of the workers are female.

I was there to work with our partners on the What Works Global Programme who are developing an innovative intervention to reduce violence in the workplace and in intimate relationships. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) an international organisation building on over seven years of experience creating workplace-based women’s empowerment programs is the lead partner, and Change Associates is the local implementing partner who brings a long history of working in factories in Dhaka.

This intervention, HERrespect, is a part of the global programme, funded by DFID, What Works to prevent violence against women and girls, and we are very excited as the RMG sector is the biggest employer of women in Bangladesh and so a success, and lessons, here will be truly powerful. As a programme What Works is commitment to generating new knowledge and innovative, evidence-based responses to preventing violence. And it was for this reason that HERrespect was selected mas a What Works partner, it promises to provide cutting edge knowledge around working in factory settings to challenge social norms and reduce violence against women. In order to realise this rigour the intervention was subject to extensive external review during development, and will be refined once again following implementation. We will also be running a quasi-experimental evaluation to assess the impact of the intervention. The evaluation will be undertaken by icddr,b, who also undertook the Formative Research which was used to inform the intervention design. We look forward to reviewing the end line results 18 months after baseline, these results will provide us with further critical insight into the effectiveness of a social norms plus economic empowerment intervention for preventing violence.

The Change Associates team are currently training facilitators to roll out HERrespect. The sessions will be held with female and male workers and with middle management, and will take them through a six-week gender consciousness raising module. The modules will use participatory methods to generate reflection and discussion on social and gendered norms, violence, and communication and relationship skills. They are building on evaluated and tested methods such as Stepping Stones, and other approaches to working effectively to engage with men and masculinities.

The intervention is run as 6 sessions of 3 hours each, with separate sessions (and modules) for female and male workers and middle management. They will also hold three joint sessions bringing female and male workers and middle management together in workshops. This work will be complemented by small factory wide campaigns.

As with all innovative work this project has not always been easy! I was last in Dhaka in August 2015, where we were revising the Theory of Change, debating what could realistically be implemented in the RMG factories and worrying that we would not get access to any factories. Factory access has been particularly worrying for two reasons: firstly, while Bangladesh is awash with NGO interventions, addressing violence through the factories is not common and we wondered if we would experience resistance. Secondly, due to the rigorous nature of the evaluation we need to recruit control factories, and we were concerned that they would not necessarily see the benefit of being a control factory, given their very immediate demands around productivity and targets. Fortunately, we have a very strong team and they managed to overcome these challenges, largely thanks to the fact that BSR and Change Associates are very well networked across the Brands and factories, which facilitated access.

Well, we are very pleased to report that on my last day in Dhaka we held a kick-of meeting with the first HERrespect factory!! The project has launched, and we are excited! Moving forward we will continue with training the facilitators and then following Eid we will pilot the baseline questionnaires and undertake the baseline; thereafter the sessions in the first factory will begin. Watch this space…

Samantha Willan,

What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, Global Programme

Capacity Development Manager and Technical Advisor



Masculinities research – at an impasse?

At the end of May 2016 some 300 participants descended on Durban, South Africa to attend the International Conference on Community Psychology (ICCP). Organised by the South African Medical Research Council, UNISA and the Psychological Society of South Africa, the ICCP brought together psychologists committed to working with marginalized communities to alleviate suffering and social exclusion.

Masculinities, particularly in South Africa, was a key theme running throughout the conference. This included a round-table organized by Kopano Ratele (SA MRC, UNISA) and an oral abstract session on men and boys. However, despite the emphasis on masculinities in the conference, Malose Langa, a Professor at Witwatersrand University, who has worked extensively on masculinities and public life for the past 15 years or more, described feeling at an impasse in the masculinities research field and despondent about the potential for the field to effect change around masculinities. He described how over more than 10 years of work he had seen little shift in masculinities circulating in South Africa. Indeed, all the presenters tended towards emphasising continuity rather than change. Rebecca Helman, a researcher at the Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit of the SA MRC, who is currently working on her PhD similarly described how despite families often speaking about doing gender differently, they often fell back on traditional gender structures and forms. This it was noted, parallels the concept that Raewyn Connell first developed in her book Masculinities, through her notion of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ as the ethnographic moment, where we are learning a lot through describing masculinities but not a lot about how masculinities can be changed.

Yet there was hope within the field. First, there is a wealth of innovative research exploring masculinities in South Africa, ranging from attempts to connect experiences of colonialism and slavery to current masculinities, to in-depth ethnographic studies of sub-groups of young men navigating identities, through to research exploring the potential of masculinities to change through intervention, and research exploring the production of gender in families. Making strategic connections to the complexities of masculinities as historical and the disruptions within the production of masculinities provides opportunities to understand how change can happen to make more gender equitable masculinities.

Second, there was also a lively discussion about what we can hope to achieve around changing masculinities. There was a discussion of the need to ‘study upwards’ and understand how a focus on marginalized men and interventions working with these men ignores the huge structural barriers these men face to changing and for our research to actively explore how these barriers are perpetuated. There was also a debate about what we hope to achieve through interventions – small, but significant, material improvements in men’s and women’s lives or something more radical. While we may hope to change the world through our work, the reality is that if we can reduce violence against women, reduce depression and improve material well-being we are certainly succeeding.

Article written by Andrew Gibbs, Researcher at the Gender Equality and Health Programme at HEARD at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the PI on the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures evaluation funded by What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women.