Guest contributor Carrie Ross Welch is senior vice president of external relations for the International Rescue Committee. The IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. gyro is the IRC’s creative agency and a long-time collaborator with Hyper Island.
Today nearly 450 of the brightest minds in advertising are expected to come together in Sweden at Hyper Island. They have four days to address a neglected humanitarian crisis: domestic violence in developing countries. During this “think-in,” the students are tasked with generating ideas to raise awareness and donations for the important and often overlooked issue. gyro, the global ideas shop, is slated to lead the session.
We are hoping that the world joins the conversation by visiting Ircthinkin.com. Students plan to use Twitter (hashtag #ircthinkin), Facebook.com/ircthinkin and the video-sharing application Viddy.com to share what they learned and solicit feedback.
It promises to be a powerful conversation. Why? Because domestic violence in developing nations is an often overlooked atrocity.
Consider this: Today a young girl prepares to meet her future husband in Sierra Leone. During this time of celebration, her parents give her advice for a successful marriage: Be obedient, work hard for your family, have many children and be a good mother to them. They also impart words of wisdom to her husband: Discipline your wife. They then give him a stick with which to beat their daughter—anytime she fails to meet his expectations.
This and other brutal crimes against women are occurring in homes across West Africa and little is being done to address it. Late last month, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched a report documenting the pervasive domestic abuse that women experience in the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This report finds that in these war-ravaged countries, one of the primary threats to a woman’s health and well-being is not a stranger or a man with a gun, but rather her own husband.
Recently, the humanitarian community and international donors have advanced on this issue. This year, the United States launched a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, a historic accomplishment for the Obama Administration in solidifying U.S. commitment to women. Since 2008, the United Nations Security Council has adopted three separate resolutions recognizing conflict-related sexual violence as a threat to international peace and security.
Domestic violence is not only a primary threat to women’s protection, but it is also one of the biggest barriers to women’s empowerment. The numbers speak for themselves. When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. When an investment is made in a girl or woman, she invests 90 percent into her families, as opposed to the 30 to 40 percent that a boy or a man would invest. Violence is a disinvestment in women, choking off the vast potential they offer.
An IRC commission on domestic violence recently traveled to Liberia and Sierra Leone, to further understand the impact of domestic violence and the viewpoint of leaders tasked with addressing it. In conversations, whether with government ministers, UN officials or tribal chiefs, we posed the question: Is domestic violence a priority? In each case, the response was a resounding “no.” Yet the reasons for inaction varied: It’s a private matter, too cultural, too complicated, and frankly while dealing with the aftermath of all the other atrocities of war, many said there had been too little time to take on this cause. Despite concern, much goodwill and acknowledgment of the need to do more, more simply hadn’t happened yet.
The humanitarian community—donors, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies—must put money where their mouths are. Though we know that women are smart investments, pitifully little funding actually flows into their hands. Strategies and plans provide key frameworks for action, but without money to back them up, they are just words on paper. If we are to make a dent in improving women’s lives and ending the violence that restricts their potential and ambitions, resources must match rhetoric.
Join the conversation and help us put a stop to domestic violence. Visit ircthinkin.com