Turning Pain into Power on Valentine’s Day

In their lifetime, 1 out of 3 women and girls around the world will experience physical or sexual violence, usually by their intimate partner

Ah, Valentine’s Day.

You may or may not be one of the Canadians who spends an average of between $164 (for women) and $219 (for men) on their partner, according to RetailMeNot.com. But while some of us debate the merits of yet another red rose, others around the world face other, more pressing challenges.

In their lifetime, 1 out of 3 women and girls around the world will experience physical or sexual violence, usually by their intimate partner. 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday and 200 million have undergone female genital mutilation.

Among women of reproductive age, violence against women causes as many deaths worldwide as cancer. It is a greater cause of health problems than malaria and traffic accidents combined. Survivors of violence often feel worthless, depressed, and vulnerable – these feelings can be magnified on Valentine’s Day when the happy couples of the world are celebrating their love and posting the proof on social media.

Local women’s rights organizations are often the first to respond to cases of violence, providing much needed support to victims and survivors. They are also best placed to help women and girls understand their rights and mobilize communities to abolish violence against women, including early/forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.

Yet, these groups often struggle for funding and recognition.

Local women’s organizations often miss funding from global donors because they do not have the staff or language skills needed to access and complete application forms that are frequently complex and bureaucratic. Donors evaluate competence through English-language reports and strict standards for financial management and compliance, rather than the ability to undertake high quality work on violence against women. As a result, local women’s groups are often overlooked, despite being best placed to understand the unique needs of the women and girls that they support.

The case of Hope Restoration South Sudan highlights the impacts of funding shortfalls for local women’s organizations. In South Sudan, Hope Restoration South Sudan has been providing protection and services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) since 2010. Despite the high levels of need, they have struggled to find adequate and sustainable funding. The organisation’s founder, Angelina Nyajima Simon Jial, told CARE Canada staff that her organization had to close a safe space for SGBV survivors only six months after it opened due to funding being redirected.

A lack of trust in local women’s organizations and the nature of humanitarian funding means that Hope Restoration South Sudan, and other organizations like it who are already facing challenging humanitarian contexts, often receive short-term funding and can no longer pay their staff after the short term project is completed. In the time in between projects, staff are either let go or work without salaries until more short-term funding can be secured.

One step in the right direction is CARE’s Women’s Voice and Leadership Project in South Sudan, funded by Global Affairs Canada. It aims to provide funding and capacity building support to grassroots women’s organizations in order to educate communities, support women and girls, and join forces to advocate for change. The project will provide funding to local, state, and national women-led organisations like Hope Restoration South Sudan in recognition of the funding and capacity gaps they face.

It is time that the women-led organizations who are on the ground meeting the needs of survivors of violence and preventing new cases are placed at the centre of the world’s response.

So this Valentine’s Day, instead of feeling social pressure to prove your love on social media, or depressed at the thought of spending February 14th with a Drew Barrymore movie and heart-shaped box of bonbons, consider getting involved in supporting women’s rights organizations working to eradicate physical or sexual violence.


Nicole Tobin

Nicole Tobin is CARE Canada’s Program Manager for Women’s Empowerment and Rights


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