Ending violence against women

November 13, 2012
IDRC Communications
In their own words

As the world observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada on December 6th, IDRC asked researchers and staff:

How do we put an end to violence against women?

The opinions expressed here reflect those of the speaker alone, and not necessarily those of the International Development Research Centre.

Bringing violence out from behind closed doors

To end violence you first have to name it, know it, and recognize its many forms as an unacceptable assault upon the dignity of women and all society. Communities need to bring violence against women and girls out from behind closed doors and the protection of 'culture' or 'tradition,' and collectively refuse to condone or disregard these acts of domination and oppression.

Rebecca SmithRebecca Smith
Girl Hub

A former program management officer at IDRC, Smith now works at Girl Hub in Ethiopia.

Investigating the construction of power

We shouldn’t think that violence against women is only pervasive in the developing or conflict-ridden pockets of the world. Sexual violence happens in our own homes, and in our institutions. Investigating and understanding gender power structures is an important element that can lead to combatting violence against women. That, and the absolute need for all of us to stop avoiding the reality and start helping each other.

Eileen AlmaEileen Alma

Alma is a program officer with IDRC. Her work has focused on how to ensure poor and marginalized women achieve their full participation in government and decision-making. 

Photo: Toban Black

Breaking the cycle of impunity

One victim of sexual slavery who spoke at a truth commission was very bitter about how she was acknowledged, and then abandoned by the system. When her disabled daughter was abused by a teacher, she said, "What happened to me has now happened to my daughter." In the clamour for reconstruction and power in post-conflict settings, women victims become invisible. Getting it right can break the cycle of impunity and provide hope for re-imagining a new society free from violence. For victims, it can be a matter of life and death.

Galuh Wandita
Asia Justice and Rights


An IDRC-supported researcher, Wandita is working on drawing lessons about how communities, particularly women, from Indonesia and Timor-Leste deal with post-conflict traumatic memories.

Photo: Ronny Fauzy da Silva, AJAR  

Women, bearers of knowledge

Viewing women as knowledge bearers, rather than as victims, shifts perspectives on action for this type of violence.

Seynabou BadianeMarie-Hélène Mottin-SyllaSeynabou Badiane and
Marie-Hélène Mottin-Sylla
Association Afriques Créatives 

With IDRC support, Badiane and Mottin-Sylla are working on young women’s political participation in francophone West Africa. Mottin-Sylla is also co-author of Confronting Female Genital Mutilation: The Role of Youth and ICTs in Changing Africa, co-published by IDRC, ENDA, and Pambazuka Press.

Photo: Africa Renewal

Moving beyond victims and villains

Violence against women is not a single act. It’s part of a pernicious culture of gender violence. Many perpetrators have themselves been victims of violence. This matters in a culture of gender violence and perhaps a first step to reducing violence against women is to recognize this.

Neil AnderssonNeil Andersson 
Centro de Investigación de Enfermedades Tropicales (CIET)

IDRC has previously supported Andersson's work on sexual violence, HIV, and the legacy of apartheid. His current research focuses on the links between gender violence and HIV in Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland. 

Photo: Peter Bennett

Zero tolerance

The most important way to end violence against women is to take a firm public stand of zero tolerance. And while it will need all sections of society, particularly those who form public opinion, to build this public stand, it is essential that the state provides the firm leadership necessary to make this happen.

Naila KabeerNaila Kabeer
School of Oriental and African Studies, London University


Kabeer is an IDRC-supported researcher whose work on son preference in Bangladesh is providing a new vantage point from which to reexamine India's "daughter deficit". 

Photo: IDRC/Jason Taylor     

Avoiding the victim trap

In many countries, gender-based violence is still perceived as natural and legitimate. This understanding constitutes a particularly dangerous trap for women as it attributes everything to cultural or divine causation or casts them as hapless victims for the actions against them.

Francisco Cos-MontielFrancisco Cos-Montiel


Cos-Montiel is a senior program specialist with IDRC. His work focuses on poor and marginalized women and on ensuring their full participation in government and decision-making in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Deconstructing dominating relationships
Digital globalization exposes us to new dominating relationships, including intensified domination-based relationships between men and women. We have seen the impact that ICT use has had on eradicating female genital mutilation in West Africa. Putting a stop to violence against women means committing to breaking down all dominating relationships.

Joëlle PalmieriJoëlle Palmieri
Laboratoire Les Afriques dans le monde (LAM) / Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA)

Palmieri is a co-author of Confronting Female Genital Mutilation: The Role of Youth and ICTs in Changing Africa, published by IDRC.  

Photo: Tostan International

Educating communities about the rights of women

Ugandan women abducted by, and who then escaped from, the Lord’s Resistance Army face a myriad of issues as they rejoin their communities – stigmatization and a loss of an education, among them. But one of the most worrying is that of property disputes.

One woman told me, "Just three days ago my neighbour attacked me, pinning me to the ground and sticking a machete in my face. All I did was plant potatoes on my land, and for that he threatened to cut me into pieces."

This structural violence, ingrained in Uganda’s customary law, is a major impediment to women’s successful reintegration. What is needed is action at the grassroots: educate communities about the rights women have under modern Ugandan law and offer pro bono legal advice to these impoverished women so that they can defend their cases in court.

Marc EllisonMarc Ellison
Freelance reporter


As a former IDRC journalism awardee, Ellison interviewed 40 former girl child soldiers in Uganda about the challenges they face trying to reintegrate into their communities. The Toronto Star published his portraits of the girls of war in a special series Childhood Interrupted.

Photo: Marc Ellison

Examining the roots of violence

Before looking for ready-made solutions for reducing this type of violence, we must invest in research; it is only through examining the roots of violence against women that change becomes possible.

Maryam Ben SalemMaryam Ben Salem
Center of Arab Woman for Training and Research (CAWTAR)

Ben Salem is an IDRC-supported researcher who is examining the forms of young women’s political engagement in Tunisia.  

Photo: Antoine Walter

Mobilizing women

There is so much ‘normalization’ of violence against women in traditional practices and modern media, and it only seems to change when women themselves organize against it. But the state also has a huge role to play in supporting the mobilization of women, and providing leadership for the rest of society to change their violent ways.

Gita SenGita Sen 
Indian Institute of Management

With IDRC support, Sen has been investigating the intersection of women’s status and maternal health, seeking to develop solutions to domestic violence in India.

Photo: IDRC/Jason Taylor

Shifting power relationships

Research has shown that aside from that related to conflicts, violence against women mainly occurs in victims' immediate and private environments. Therefore, fighting against this violence should focus on the necessary shifts in power relationships in private life.

Ramata Molo Aw ThiouneRamata Molo Aw Thioune 


Thioune is a senior program officer with IDRC. Projects under her direction include studies of how to promote women’s social, political, and economic rights, protect the rights of migrant women, provide access to justice and encourage the poor’s participation in democratic governance, with a special focus on women.

Photo: David Mowbrey

Maintaining dignity of victims

Women are conditioned to internalize and normalize violence from a very young age. Girls need to be raised to be strong and independent so as to stand up to any kind of violence perpetrated on them. The justice delivery system needs to function on protocols and not act on internal anti-women biases when women are seeking justice. The focus of state investigative agencies should be on maintaining the dignity of the victim and securing criminal evidence so that more women feel safe to access the system.

Flavia AgnesFlavia Agnes
Lawyer, legal scholar, and director of Majlis, an organization that represents women victims of violence

IDRC is supporting Majlis’s work on the role of state agencies in responding to sexual and domestic violence.  

Photo: IDRC/Jason Taylor

Violence, a public matter

The principal avenue for ending this type of violence will be prevention, by uniting all segments of society, so that violence finally stops being a private matter and becomes a public matter that all actors will contribute to resolving.

Fatou Diop SallFatou Diop Sall
Université Gaston Berger


With IDRC support, Diop Sall is leading work that will contribute to public dialogue and solutions to put an end to violence against women in Senegal.  

Photo: Mike Blyth

Taking action

People like you and me CAN change sexual harassment and other sexual violence against women! Especially when laws are ineffective or unenforced, changing the social acceptability of harassment and other violent acts can transform our society from one that ignores sexual violence or blames the victim, back to a community which we can all feel safe in and proud of.

Rebecca ChiaoRebecca Chiao
Founder, Harassmap


With IDRC support, Harassmap is investigating how technologies can ‘crowdsource’ sexual harassment, essentially helping to better understand and help women who are stalked, harassed, and sexually assaulted.

Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty

Agents of positive change

To eliminate violence against women, we must start with the family unit and the private realm. It’s critical to understand how children are taught about the value of women and men, and how this translates into power relations. By tackling these dynamics at this influential level, we can better support children to grow into agents of positive change.

Carley Robb-JacksonCarley Robb-Jackson
Plan International


As a former IDRC research awardee, Robb-Jackson studied women’s rights in post-conflict Sierra Leone. She was named the 2012 Global Changemaker Award by the Ontario Council for International Cooperation.  

Photo: Panos