Thirty-six-year-old Harina from Bajhang in western Nepal suffered domestic violence for more than 10 years. One day she decided enough was enough. After enduring regular beatings and psychological abuse by her husband, she complained to Sita Singh, who runs a safe shelter for women, from her local Gender-Based Violence (GBV) control network.
This is a huge step forward in a country where, according to a survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 61% of women who face domestic abuse never report it.
The police established the GBV network in 20 districts across the country in coordination with civil society organizations and with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Bajhang was selected due to the high levels of violence against women and children in the area.
The network helps women feel more comfortable reporting gender-based crime and domestic violence. Police in these districts are trained to deal with such crimes.
Earlier women were intimidated by the uniform and would hesitate to reach out to the police. But since they started interacting with them as members of the network, they realized the police are the same as them – humans with emotions.
“Earlier women were intimidated by the uniform and would hesitate to reach out to the police,” says Sita Singh. “But since they started interacting with them as members of the network, they realized the police are the same as them – humans with emotions.”
This change in attitude has happened because the police have reached out to the communities they serve. “The networks in each district run community awareness campaigns and preventative strategies to reduce violence and abuse, encourage reporting of cases to improve access to justice, and encourage confidence in the legal system,” says Kiran Rana, a police superintendent in the Women and Children Service Directorate.
“Our efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Reporting cases of gender-based violence has increased by more than 46% in the districts with the program, indicating growing trust in the justice system,” Rana added.
These centers are really important as they can improve access to services and information for women and children affected by violence.
The Bajhang facility where Harina reported the violence she suffered, is fairly typical. It is staffed with women police officers and kept separate from other facilities. There are private spaces for interviews and counseling rooms where women who cannot return home immediately can stay for a few days.
The project was initially piloted in five districts, backed by a $950,000 grant from the ADB-administered Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. To expand this project into 15 additional districts, the UK contributed $3.5 million in grants, while ADB’s Gender and Development Cooperation Fund contributed $300,000. The Government of Nepal contributed $380,000. Due to its success, there are plans to extend the project throughout the country.
“These centers are really important as they can improve access to services and information for women and children affected by violence. They are also placed where civil society and people who work on violence can come together and better coordinate,” says Rurik Marsden, head of DFID in Nepal.
At one time we managed to stop a child marriage just as it was about to happen. We had to enter a very volatile community, and this would not have been possible if we had not created a good rapport with civil society there through our network.
But it has not been easy to convince women to report domestic abuse. Meena, who runs a popular FM radio program and produces street theater, says she never misses an opportunity to drive home the message that domestic violence is a crime.
“We are there to support women, not only on an emotional level, but also advise them on legal action, if required,” she says.
There have been wider community benefits to the GBV control network project. People’s confidence in the police has risen by 60% in districts where the program is being implemented, according to a survey. Prabin Dhital is head of Bajhang district police. “At one time we managed to stop a child marriage just as it was about to happen,” he says. “We had to enter a very volatile community, and this would not have been possible if we had not created a good rapport with civil society there through our network.”
“This was ADB’s first ever project in Nepal on domestic violence, a very important issue with serious implications on society and the economy,” says ADB’s Country Director for Nepal Mukhtor Khamudkhanov. “We are glad to see that the program is helping to minimize and prevent violence against women and children in the districts where it is being implemented.”
Sita Singh says the network is changing social attitudes by giving women like Harina the confidence to speak out against domestic violence.
“It’s a long battle, but I feel we are in the right direction with our partnership with the police in the fight against domestic violence,” she says.
Courtesy: Asian Development Bank. Photo caption: At the women and children service center in Bajhang (photo by Binita Shah Khadka).