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Five things we learned on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

02 Dec 2021Vodafone Foundation news

For most of us, home is a place where we feel most safe, loved and at ease.

But that’s not the case for everyone. For survivors of domestic violence and abuse, home is a place of fear and danger - a physical and emotional prison.

New research commissioned by Vodafone Foundation shows that one in three workers (32%) have experienced domestic abuse during the last twelve months – and the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is an annual reminder that we are all responsible for making a change.

To mark the day, we hosted a training session to give our people the knowledge they need to help survivors get the right support. Vodafone Foundation, the Commonwealth and NO MORE also hosted a free open, global event - Connecting to End Domestic Violence - with speakers including former prime minister Theresa May, UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director, Anita Bhatia, and social activist Nimco Ali.

Here are five of the most important things we learned:

1. It’s not all about physical violence

The term “domestic violence and abuse” captures many different definitions across the world – because it takes multiple forms, from physical violence and emotional abuse to financial control and cyber harassment.

They may be diverse in nature, but gender equality expert Dr Jane Pillinger, one common theme binds together all these forms of abuse. “If we understand the multiplicity of the issue, then we understand that it’s not just about emotional and physical abuse,” she says. “It’s actually about power and control.”

Dr. Jane Pillinger speaking at our domestic violence and abuse training session

Dr. Jane Pillinger speaking at our domestic violence and abuse training session

Indeed, of the most common forms of abuse is coercive control – a pattern of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation which maintains the survivor’s dependence on the abuser, creating a sense of isolation.

2. We all have a part to play in supporting survivors

Dr. Pillinger taught us that there are three steps to supporting survivors: recognise, respond and refer.

Recognise is all about spotting unusual patterns of behaviour, which could allow you to spot a problem at an early stage. Is someone isolating themselves from others? Perhaps they’re not joining in on team days at the office? Do they find it hard to talk about their weekend? When they’re in virtual meetings, is their camera always off? Or is someone else in the room with them, listening to every word?

How we respond to someone experiencing domestic violence and abuse is important. They might not be ready to leave the abusive relationship - but we must always have support in place.

Make sure they know there is support available. Does your workplace have specific procedures in place - such as Vodafone’s domestic abuse policy and toolkit - to support survivors of domestic violence and abuse? Is there someone in HR available to help if their manager doesn’t know how to respond?

How we respond will be crucial to whether someone takes up the support we refer them to. If you can, signpost them to specialist domestic violence organisations, counselling services, and other tools - such as Vodafone Foundation’s Bright Sky app. Depending on their situation, you could also help them to access legal advice or housing support.

3. We can change culture if we can take action

Some forms of domestic violence are deep-rooted in culture. Female genital mutilation (FGM), for example, is often referred to as a form of “honour-based” violence, as it is considered essential for proper marriage and family honour in some cultures. 

“I don’t like the term ‘honour-based’,” said Nimco Ali at Vodafone Foundation’s event. “Let’s look at it as a form of violence. We need to move away from ethnic-specific terms and look instead at the similarities in different forms of abuse.”

<em>Nimco Ali speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event</em>

Nimco Ali speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event

Nimco believes that cultures can change. “I have never met a woman who wants to cut her children, but I have met women who want change,” she said. “The culture is changing, but the opportunities are just not there.”

Employers can help accelerate progress. "Where a woman has been cut there are going to be other forms of violence too,” explained Nimco. “It’s about supporting women because they do not hold the money they are being paid. If employers can give employees the training to be able to understand their finances, they can show them there are other options apart from marriage to gain financial safety.”

And domestic violence and abuse should be considered a political issue - to be tackled by governments. As Nimco summarised, "being a woman is political.”

4. Technology is making a difference

Technology has been a lifeline for many people during Covid-19, allowing them to access critical services remotely.

This was particularly resonant for one of our speakers, Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, the Executive Director of FORWARD, a UK-based African women’s rights organisation working on FGM. During the pandemic, they transitioned rapidly to using Zoom to continue carrying out their services safely.

But the digital divide raised an important challenge. “Those who had technology access were the people who won,” said Naana." In Bristol, after our training, most women have got employment as a result and are asking that we train more women. But in Africa it’s more challenging. The reality is that many lack access to internet and phones, so we have to do face-to-face training.”

Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event

Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event

Nonetheless, in the fight against domestic violence, technology appears to solve more problems than it creates. “Connectivity has been amazing,” said Naana, “But there are huge gaps for rural areas and a lack of services for young women. We ourselves had to learn how to be more interactive using online systems. Without connectivity we couldn’t make that happen.” 

5. We need to work together to end violence against women

The speakers at our event represented a diverse range of perspectives. But all of them spoke about the need to collaborate in order to tackle domestic abuse at scale.

And that includes survivors. By listening to their stories and involving them in the process of finding solutions, we can create more inclusive services for people who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

<em>Baroness Scotland speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event</em>

Baroness Scotland speaking at the “Connecting to End Domestic Violence” event

“I know this is possible – change is possible,” said Baroness Scotland as she closed the event. “I believe that we can, if we come together, eliminate domestic violence. But it will take government, business, local government, foundations, individuals to do it.”

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