Three Things the US Could Learn from African Countries During Domestic Violence Awareness Month

If you’re reading this from an African country, you’re probably familiar with your government’s efforts to reduce gender-based violence (GBV). These plans probably involve an ambitious and elaborate program to implement a policy to prevent and address gender-based violence that works on increasing police and community awareness and improving access to services for those who have survived the violence. Oftentimes, these plans sound wonderful and get more buy-in from foreign donors than local communities. Cultural norms are hard to change. Nonetheless, many African countries have made considerable headway in increasing general awareness about the problem and have approaches that the US could learn from as it finishes its Domestic Violence Awareness Month of October.

So, what are Three Things that the US could learn from African countries?

1. Awareness, Awareness, Awareness… and More Awareness!

Are you American or do you live the US? If so, did you know October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month? I didn’t. I barely heard a word about it on the radio or TV. My local county library had absolutely nothing on the topic! But, surprisingly, my church did. There was a blurb at the bottom of the Sunday October 23rd program talking about the fact that October was Domestic Violence Awareness month. And I did catch a snippet on the radio about how if you have been sexually assaulted you can still file charges no matter how long ago the assault took place. But this is nothing like I have seen one in many African countries.

During previous decades, a lot of effort was made in the US to increase public awareness and improve battered women’s access to immediate safety and long-term security for themselves and their children. New laws protecting women and children from abuse came about, and it became easier to prosecute offenders. Today, however, after a lot of success, the public is not as aware of the problem and many may think it has been solved or the resources are out there for those who need it. Few understand what issues remain to be tackled and may not be as tuned in as people were when these campaigns first started a few decades ago.

But, this is an issue that affects all of us regardless of which country we’re from. Domestic violence has its cultural nuances but a common link across countries is the involvement of alcohol and the link with disease transmission, namely HIV. Women involved in an abusive relationship are more at risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (see Efficacy of an HIV Prevention Program Among Female Adolescents Experiencing Gender-Based Violence).

Is this you, a sister, or a friend?

If you’re living in Kigali, Nairobi, Jo’burg or Cape Town, you have probably seen banners about preventing gender-based violence at your health center, town center, or downtown. More public service announcements (PSAs), banners, and social media networking could be used in the US as they are used in Africa.

2. Get More Groups Involved Than Just the Usual Suspects… Including Men

Maybe if you’re working for a not-for-profit that focuses on women’s issues or human rights or happened to pop into your local Planned Parenthood facility in October, you know all about this. But if you’re like most of us ladies out there, you barely heard a peep about the issue. One thing I have seen in many African countries is that there is an active and very visible effort to get community players that don’t work on women’s issues such as religious establishments, schools, government offices, and health facilities involved. And, often there is a special outreach to men.

Each day, three women in the US die as a result of domestic violence, according to President Obama’s speech marking the awareness month.

Did you know that? I didn’t. Take a look at Presidential Proclamation–National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

While there are men’s groups set up to work on domestic violence in the US, there is not the same effort you see in Africa to get ordinary men in already established community and government groups to get behind the movement. More effort is needed to recruit community groups that don’t focus on women’s issues in order to understand and tackle the remaining domestic violence issues in the US.

3. Put Money Behind the Effort

Lack of funding is another reason domestic violence issues or efforts to help survivors in the US is not as visible. African development projects funded by foreigners often include money for preventing and reducing GBV and supporting survivors. Often, these donor countries themselves don’t have the same relative amount of government funding to support their own gender-based needs at home.

However, there are foundations funded by corporations that focus on domestic violence – such as the Verizon Foundation. Below is a video explaining their work:

Ladies, I say all of this to highlight the need to do more in the US to really make the “month of awareness” one of true awareness. But I don’t want to take away from the good work that many organizations are doing out there in the US and elsewhere to end domestic/gender-based violence. If you or someone you know is going through this, don’t hesitate to find an organization in your part of the world that will work for you. Make awareness about this global problem a reality in your life and take action.

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