Community engagement is a necessary part of working to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Gender norms—especially gendered beliefs and practices—at the community level are among the root causes of sexual violence and may support or reject the practice of sexual violence. Changing attitudes at the community level is a promising way to decrease the acceptance of sexual violence. Community-level norms and practices also influence the institutional response to sexual violence when it occurs. Because community-level institutions tend to be the most widely accessible, it is at this level that citizens may have the most influence over institutional responses to sexual violence—to either promote and support appropriate responses to sexual violence or neglect and undermine efforts to address it.
Our work is premised on mobilizing and building the capacity of community and religious leaders, men, boys, women groups, local medical personnel and relevant actors for sexual violence response and prevention with a key focus on enhancing community engagement in sexual violence prevention and post rape care. Our programs seek to increase access by sexual violence survivors to information, counseling, social support, treatment and protection against harmful traditional practices, stereotypes, stigma and discrimination. Our programs addresses the gaps that still exist in access to and provision of effective response services for sexual violence survivors while harnessing mechanisms to enhance sexual violence prevention at the community level. Our work around sexual violence is in tandem with our theory of change that specifically targets men, boys as well as families and links the same to existing sexual violence health and legal service providers.
It is evident that there is currently a very minimal capacity for provision of quality and timely response to sexual violence at the grassroots with populations not being aware of the available services. We pledge to significantly contribute toward the improvement of the availability and quality of community (grassroots) response to sexual violence, as well as to generate community awareness in the context of the same through tested and established strategies and methodologies including effective community mobilization and establishing community level referral mechanisms
Our work around sexual violence is a community engagement strategy benchmarked by bringing together the talents, resources and skills of people in the community in order to increase their collective power and work for social change which in this case is eliminating sexual violence and guaranteeing effective services to survivors of sexual violence. Our work by definition is about learning from the ground up, using community-based engagement strategies to reach out to communities with prevention messages and to involve local leaders, residents, service providers, and government institutions in eliminating sexual violence and improving care for survivors.
This strategy has several key advantages including the fact that it helps community members to better understand how and why sexual violence happens and how it affects the community and the victims. The second key commitment of our work is to link community residents to services. Awareness is the first step towards preventing and reducing sexual violence. The next is to get help to survivors who urgently need it. Our niche has always been to mobilize former victims of sexual violence to take the lead in helping others.
The strategy is paramount as it serves as a vehicle for establishing new norms about sexual and gender based violence and how it can be prevented. Most importantly, the strategy brings the dialogue about Sexual violence into public consciousness by addressing the denial, stigma, discrimination and isolation that often surround it. The community is a critical place to hold the conversation about sexual violence prevention and post rape care yet little is known about how to engage local community structures around these issues. While appropriate services and responsive institutions are important components to sexual violence, there has been a deliberate effort to alienate the cornerstones that generate and sustain real change. Survivors of sexual violence, their families and communities are the most affected by the violence yet they have largely been left out of discussions about the solutions.
The mobilization of pro-social behavior on the part of potential bystanders on matters relating to sexual violence prevention and provision of services to survivors is a principle goal of our work. This approach has utility for increasing community receptivity to prevention messages, by decreasing resistance to them, and for increasing the likelihood of community members taking an active role in prevention and intervention.
Our ten years experience and expertise in the SGBV field has revealed that victims of sexual violence turn first to those closest to them—extended family, friends, and neighbors—before they reach out to an organization or professional service provider. Community members know the cultural values, traditions, and practices that support violence—as well as those that can be used appropriately to intervene and stop it. In some of the identified sites, we have established that communities include men, women, and youth who understand and reject any forms of violence and are willing to fill in the void. They see sexual violence as a primary barrier to community development and revitalization. Most community residents and leaders have the willingness and capacity to develop the skills needed to conduct sexual violence prevention and intervention activities