Ethics: Preventing Violence against Women and Girls (PVAWG)

This Blog Post has been written by Help The Afghan Children (HTAC).

Afghanistan has experienced more than four decades of war and conflict, leading to extremely negative impacts on development, including lack of access to children’s education, worsened by continuing insecurity. Jawzjan is one of the provinces of Afghanistan affected by conflict, leading to large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), migration to other countries, poor economic conditions, drug addiction and girls’ poor access to education. This has led to a situation in which conflict and violence is common in everyday life, particularly affecting women and children.

As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women And Girls Global Programme, funded by UKAID, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) is mitigating this situation of violence and conflict by implementing a peace education project in Jawzan province, with a range of projects.

Important objectives of the PVAWG project include reducing fighting and aggressive behaviour among boys by educating them to reject violence against women and girls and adopt the principles of peaceful everyday living, and increase the use of non-violent conflict-resolution methods in the home and at school.

HTAC is also conducting research in schools to build evidence on the effectiveness of the project, particularly the peace education programme. In order to conduct the baseline research in schools, HTAC received permission from the Provincial Education Directorate and consent forms from school principals, parents and students, who received information sheets and a verbal description of the research. In one of the schools where all the students agreed and gave their consent to participate in the research, most of them could not be found at school on the day of data collection. HTAC’s team tried to find out why students were not available for interviews and during their discussions with peace education teachers and the principal of the school, they found that a rumour had been circulating that students were concerned about participating in the research and were absent from school.

The students’ absence from school raised ethical concerns among HTAC staff that the students may have a problem with the peace education or the research. Ethical concerns included the possibility that the research or peace education may cause some form of harm, e.g. threats from families or schools.

HTAC was determined to ensure that the students were not harmed by the peace education or research, and that no harm would come to the implementation of the project. Consequently, they contacted the What Works secretariat to brief them and seek advice on how to resolve the issue. The secretariat suggested mobilizing the community, including the school principal and teachers, parents and children, to find out more about the problem and the extent of the harm, and how to address it.

The outcome of the community mobilization was that the students were unaware of this rumour, and were fine and happily attending the school classes and peace education programme as usual. It turned out that the school had shared incorrect information with HTAC, including administrative problems e.g. enrolment lists, leading surveyors to search for students in the wrong classes.

HTAC learned a number of lessons from this experience. HTAC’s team was initially unsure of how to tackle the problem, as this was a new experience. However, HTAC learned that it is their responsibility to understand and address any problems arising from the project, and that asking for support and advice from the What Works secretariat can help to build capacity in troubleshooting ethical challenges. HTAC also learned that before starting research it is very important to ensure that participants understand the objectives and the context of the study before consenting to participate. Finally, learning from this experience included that sometimes, miscommunication can lead to a misconception of perceived problems and that any information coming from schools needs to be confirmed and verified.

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HERproject at 10: Celebrating HERsuccess, Inspiring HERfuture

By Christine Svarer

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day 2017—a good time to take stock of our collective progress toward gender equality. And such a moment of reflection is particularly relevant for HERproject this year, as we are hitting a big milestone: It’s our 10th birthday! On our anniversary, we’re taking a moment to think about what we have achieved and what we have left to do.

The short answer is: We have come far and have much to be proud of. But we cannot (and will not) stop here.

HERproject originated from a piece of research in 2006 into the general and reproductive health of women workers in toy, garment, and electronics factories across six focus countries. The findings were clear: Women often lacked crucial information on health topics, including sexually transmitted infections, nutrition, and pregnancy. Factory managers were well aware that this lack of information—and lack of access to related services—increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, but they didn’t know what to do. And so, HERhealth was born to address this clear need for workplace programs on women’s health.

Since then, much has happened. HERhealth took root, grew rapidly, and spread to 12 countries. But we—as brands, suppliers, NGOs, funders, and HERproject staff—kept going. We realized that we could support women to make the most out of their income by addressing unmet needs around financial knowledge and access to services. We developed HERfinance to provide guidance on financial literacy, planning, budgeting, and savings. This would improve women and families’ resilience to economic shocks, while also helping shift cash payroll to digital wages and raising awareness of the advantages of formal financial services.

Over the course of the last 10 years, we are proud of what we have achieved through our collaboration. Among other things, data from our programs shows:

  • A 50 percent increase in the number of women using family planning products.
  • A 23 percent increase in the number of women making decisions on what to do with their salaries.
  • 91 percent of both men and women stating that they saved a greater portion of their salaries to mitigate future shocks.

While an important step, however, access to information and services does not in itself equal empowerment or equality for women workers. This will require a shift in perceptions around the value and roles of women. And so, to address the root causes of gender inequality, we have launched HERrespect. This piece of the HERproject program creates a space to re-evaluate the norms and structures that underpin discrimination, reset the relationship between women workers and their (often male) managers, and tackle knottier issues around sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace. This endeavor is not simple or easy, but the fact that brands, factories, and farms see the value in investing time, effort, and money in HERrespect is a great indicator of how far we’ve come.

Women’s empowerment is no longer a footnote at the bottom of the to-do list. Ten years on, we’re spending less time making the case on why to invest in women, and more on how to do it effectively. It’s why a decade of HERproject programs have brought together more than 50 global companies and more than 500 farms and factories to find solutions for women workers. Together, we firmly believe that the workplace can be a space for change, improvement, and opportunity for women—and that an empowered female workforce is critical for the long-term resilience of global supply chains.

Women’s empowerment has gained prominence on the international stage in recent years, for example with the launch of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment’s first report in 2016, which squarely emphasized the importance of business action for gender equality and the global benefits of women’s empowerment. This wider discussion (and action) is an important impetus for us to deepen and expand our work.

And yet, in all the talks of global supply chains and high-level panels, we might lose sight of the heart of HERproject. When I talk to women involved in HERproject, I am always struck by the incredible gamble they have taken and are taking. Many have left their villages and families to move to a busy and not always welcoming city, with the goal of working hard to provide a better future for themselves and—especially—for their families. That’s bold.

And when I sometimes get frustrated about the slow and incremental progress required to achieve equality and empowerment for women workers, the women we serve always keep an optimistic long-term view. When I asked Mossammat Moklesa Parvin, a HERhealth peer educator in Bangladesh, what her dreams were, she said she wants her daughter “to study well…I would like to see her as a doctor. Otherwise being a teacher is also good.” Or I think of Antara Akhter Arifa, a HERrespect Change Maker also working in Bangladesh, who wants to send her daughter “to a good college for a better education.” Just as they left their communities to build a better life for their families, they are participating in HERproject for the same reasons.

Throughout 2017 for our 10th anniversary, we’ll be “Celebrating HERsuccess and Inspiring HERfuture.” That’s the theme of our campaign. But when we talk about “HERfuture,” we’re talking less about the future of HERproject as a project, and more about someone like Parvin. It’s her future that matters, her future that is being improved through the collective commitments from businesses and all the participants in HERproject. Now, we need to ensure that she can make her future a reality.

The HERrespect project is funded by UK aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme.  The funds were managed by the South African Medical Research Council.

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