Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls

Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls


Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls A Practitioner’s Manual 2012/Women’s Learning Partnership Mahnaz Afkhami & Haleh Vaziri Published in English, Persian, French, and Spanish; available online at

Violence against women and girls is both a global and local societal ill– global because its perpetrators and victims are in every corner of the world, and local because its forms differ from one place to the next depending on specific cultural, political, and socio-economic circumstances. Whatever the form of abuse and the analysis of its causes, the defining feature of violence against women is the perpetrators’ goal of controlling women and girls. This control entails the imposition of certain gender roles on females, restrictions on women’s and girls’ physical movements and even efforts to own their bodies as property. Victories over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls is a practitioners’ manual, comprised of 16 sessions which unfold in a progression—moving from violence at home or in the private sphere, to the community or public space, to the transnational and international arenas. Case studies in each session are drawn from actual events and feature stories set in societies as diverse as Haiti, Malaysia, Nepal, and the United States. This enables the facilitator and participants to explore the linkages between violence in these three realms—the private, public and global—while underscoring the point that gender-based human rights violations are ubiquitous and defy cultural, economic, ethnic, political, religious and other divisions. Within each session, the case study serves to spark conversation about the causes and consequences of violence against women and girls, the choices that victims make to survive and re-build their lives, as well as the measures practitioners take in addressing these human rights violations. Following the case studies are “questions for discussion,” and all but the last two sessions feature learning exercises. The resulting dialogue allows the participants to identify and prioritize their concerns and to recognize obstacles as they strive to prevent violence and to vindicate the human rights of those victimized by it.

Book Excerpt

By Mahnaz Afkhami & Haleh Vaziri In Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls A Practitioner’s Manual Order at

As awareness and indignation have increased particularly during the last century, governments worldwide have enacted legislative and other prohibitions on violence against women and girls in their countries. States have also worked to together to formulate international laws addressing gender-based human rights violations. … Despite these positive legal developments, however, implementation and enforcement of national and international laws on violence against women and girls are at best challenging tasks for three main reasons. First, in various countries, gender-based human rights abuses are not defined as such but rather are considered and justified as cultural and/or religious practices integral to a society’s history and identity. Women and girls who reject female genital mutilation or speak out against so-called honor crimes, for example, are taking on society’s long-standing, widely accepted and typically male guardians of culture and faith. They risk not only further physical harm but also ostracism by their immediate families, houses of worship and communities. Moreover, is most countries, women have less access to the political and legal systems than men. Whether reporting a case of spousal battery to the police, struggling to leave an abusive husband or lobbying for legislation on domestic violence, a woman is likely to confront unequal power relations on every turn. Finally, to ensure the implementation and enforcement of any law but particularly one that will overturn the established order requires resources. Yet women operate at an economic disadvantage in their efforts to escape, eliminate and/or address the consequences of gender-based human rights violations. Sadly and bluntly stated, living a life free of violence costs more money than many women have or can earn in a marketplace biased against them. Indeed, a vicious circle is at work: Women and girls are easy targets of violence because men assume the gate-keeper role vis-a-vis cultural and religious values, resisting new ideas that may subvert their authority and privilege. For those women and girls who reject gender-based abuse as a normal part of everyday life, there are few avenues of redress that are not littered with political and economic obstacles.

Educating for Safety and Peace Guidelines
Consequently, the gaps between passing legislation and operationalizing the human rights of women and girls remain. Perhaps the most significant effort to close these gaps centers on education in the sense of both consciousness-raising and the development of professional expertise. Grassroots educational endeavors must help communities fully grasp the extent of violence and the short- and long-term harm done not only to victims but also to the society at large. This educational tool, Victories Over Violence, is now in your, the faciltator’s, hands to design and create a productive and enjoyable learning experience with the workshop participants.


Book Reviews

PassBlue/by Barbara Crosette Photo credit UN WOMEN/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

The saddest stories told by vulnerable women in villages or slum shacks across the developing world most often involve violence or subjugation that they must bear because they don’t know how, or don’t have the means, to escape a bad situation. In the poorest countries, women talk of being assaulted or intimidated at home, in the marketplace and in refugee camps where they have gone for protection from conflict, taking with them hungry children on the verge of starvation. They are trapped in misery. In June, the Women’s Learning Partnership, which groups and supports

20 organizations in the developing world, mostly in Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, published a comprehensive guide to tackling persistent violence through a calibrated series of lessons beginning at home and ending with a global perspective. The 242-page book, “Victories Over Violence: Ensuring Safety for Women and Girls,” is described as a practitioner’s manual that moves, step by step, from case studies built on real-life stories from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Malaysia and the United States. Through local group discussions, women can learn that they are not alone in their suffering and that remedies are at hand – though for many they may be distant hopes because even laws and prohibitions where they live may not be enforced, if they exist at all. “Moreover, in most countries, women have less access to the political and legal systems than men,” the guide says in its introduction to the book, intended for discussion leaders who are encouraged to assemble community groups. Cultural practices, restrictions imposed by religion and traditional male dominance are barriers. That is common knowledge among global women’s networks and UN Women, an agency that has put a high priority on promoting access to justice and legal assistance, but such concepts are not always articulated in a local setting. Economic conditions add to the hurdles. “Sadly and bluntly stated, living a life free of violence costs more money than many women have or can earn in a marketplace biased against them,” the manual says. The methodology of “Victories Over Violence” is clear-cut and practical. Women gather under the guidance of a local discussion leader and consider cases that may have relevance to them in their own situations. They also learn about such “new” issues as verbal or psychological abuse or homophobia – topics not in the open, or even understood, in many societies. Whatever the situation, women are encouraged to respond to questions that are intended to provoke conversation and debate. For example, a story about sexual abuse in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake prompts the questions (among others): “Can a woman’s clothing and/or behavior incite a man to rape? Why or why not?” They are questions debated almost everywhere, in both the global North and South. Participants in group discussions are told of concrete model remedies in concise segments that would not be difficult to translate into local languages. (They also learn about CNN Heroes from the story of Anuradha Koirala in Nepal, who was recognized for her antitrafficking work, and they are prodded to think about heroes in their own lives.) Discussion leaders are supplied with an exhaustive catalog of international conventions and a long list of further reading suggestions. Relevant UN Security Council resolutions, in particular governing women in conflict, are included, along with texts of other pertinent international agreements. The Women’s Learning Partnership, based in Bethesda, Md., was founded by Mahnaz Afkhami, an Iranian-American who has worked for years with women from Islamic societies trying to make their voices heard at home and abroad. She has promoted female writers and intellectuals from Islamic nations whose concepts of feminism have local cultural roots not always understood or appreciated by feminists in richer countries, and gathered them together from time to time to share their thoughts and experiences. Afkhami is the author, with the political scientist Haleh Vaziri, of the “Victories Over Violence” guide, the latest of a series of publications to educate women in skills they need to take leadership roles in their communities or in politics – how to run for office, for example — or just to become aware of what is happening in the wider world of women. A book published in 2001, “Leading to Choices,” with its focus on women in Muslim-majority countries, has been translated into 20 languages. “When I was conceptualizing the leadership manual many years ago we thought once the English prototype was tested in various settings, each country would choose local narratives to replace the international ones,” Afkhami said in an e-mail message. “Much to our surprise, everyone wanted to keep most of the scenarios from other places because of just that fact. They all wanted to engage in specific problem-solving with an understanding of the similarities in the condition of women across cultures.”