According to the UN, an estimated one in three women worldwide have experienced gender-based partner and non-partner violence in their lifetime, making this both a violation of women’s human rights on a massive scale and a global public health emergency.
Gender-based violence can take many forms, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking, forms that can occur alone but may also overlap and intertwine. It brings a multitude of physical complications and can also cause displacement, loss of housing, mental health issues, danger to children, and more. While it is a universal crisis, issues specific to each region of the world can exacerbate it, making it more challenging for women to escape the cycle of trauma and pursue rehabilitation.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) has made grants to organizations globally that aim to prevent or alleviate the effects of such violence and provide support to survivors.
In the US, Sakhi for South Asian Women, New Destiny’s Family Support Program, and the Laurel Center aid survivors with educational support, advocacy, counseling and trauma-informed services, housing assistance, and case work. In India, Prajwala provides rehabilitation shelters for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. In Italy, Save the Children Italia provides counseling desks and child-friendly spaces to women and children survivors. In Greece, Shelter for Women has provided psychological and legal support to women who are survivors of domestic violence. In Cape Town, South Africa, the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women Children offers a crisis residential program for survivors of domestic abuse. The important work of these organizations targets the web of ramifications and repercussions of gender-based violence.
Sakhi for South Asian Women, the second organization established in the US expressly to serve South Asian women, shares SNF’s goal of a broad, lasting, and positive impact for society at large by supporting abused women and children and promoting gender equality. Their strategy puts survivors at the forefront, committing to an intersectional and intergenerational survivor-led movement for gender-based justice. Sakhi offers a variety of culturally and linguistically specific services, such as food justice and housing assistance, to over 10,000 survivors with a goal of economic empowerment. Understanding that disruption in basic necessities can suppress recovery led Sakhi to establish the first and only full-time South Asian food pantry for survivors in New York City, offering nutritious, easy-to-make, and culturally familiar foods. South Asian survivors can face added barriers through limited English proficiency and discrimination, making it harder to leave abusive households and pursue independent housing. Sakhi’s Housing Program tackles this head-on, as almost a fourth of their clients are estimated not to change violent living situations as a result of these factors. Since domestic abuse more often than not goes hand in hand with financial abuse and rehabilitation requires economic independence, Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment Program is core to the services it offers.
In New York City, an acute housing shortage drives homelessness and the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 80,000 people or more are homeless. One of the most vulnerable populations of people experiencing homelessness are survivors of domestic violence and their children. New Destiny Housing has three programs to increase permanent housing options for this population. SNF supports their Family Support Program, which offers trauma-informed services on site to tenants in their permanent housing. Around 1,100 adults and children receive these services through New Destiny’s nine supportive housing projects, where 300 units have been developed for domestic violence survivors. The trauma-informed services consist of counseling, safety planning, employment coaching, benefits management, family activities, academic assistance for children, legal programs, and more. Their model has proven successful; each year, nearly 100% of all the families in their housing units remain and are free from new incidents of domestic violence.
Further south, in Westchester, Virginia, you can find the Laurel Center: an emergency shelter offering support services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their children. SNF supports their comprehensive program, consisting of domestic and sexual violence services, support for children, emergency shelter, advocacy services, an empowerment program, safety planning, and community outreach and education. The Laurel Center’s Children’s Project aims to support and advocate for the children of parents facing domestic violence through care coordination, safety planning, court advocacy, therapy, and more. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence each year, and 90% of them are eyewitnesses to the violence, which perpetuates a cycle of trauma that can affect a whole household.
Another form of gender-based violence that takes place globally is human trafficking. The number of trafficking victims quadrupled from 30,000 to 120,000 between 2008 and 2019 according to Statista. Although the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions put in place caused a decrease in the number of victims, that number has since returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Sunitha Krishnan, who recently spoke at SNF Nostos 2023, founded Prajwala, based in Hyderabad, India, to combat sex trafficking and offer refuge to 1,200 survivors. The organization works on five pillars: prevention, protection, rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Through its holistic approach, since its inception in 1996, Prajwala has led the rescue of more than 28,200 women and children, prompted the conviction of 189 traffickers, turned away 18,000 children from prostitution, and reformed 1,800 sex buyers. Prevention begins with education and community awakening to the issue; rescue happens on an intra-state, inter-state, and international basis; rehabilitation happens through psychological, economic, and civic support; reintegration starts with the family and independence; and advocacy seeks to shift policy.
In South Africa, as elsewhere around the world, survivors of sexual assault are too often turned away at police stations, contributing to a global phenomenon of only a small fraction of victims of sexual assault coming forward with to report a crime. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women Children (SBCWC) supports women and children who have suffered abuse and advocates for gender equality. Established in 1999 in response to the rise of violence against women and children on the Cape Flats near Cape Town, SBCWC offers a full spectrum of services, including a 24-hour crisis response program; a residential shelter program with an orientation unit, substance abuse unit, therapeutic unit, and independent living unit; a psycho-social program, which consists of intake assessment and counseling, education and legal assistance, and early childhood development; a job-skills training program including job placement; and an advocacy and rights program, which reaches over 1 million people per month through public campaigns. They were selected as the first organization to pilot the Khuseleka model, a collaboration with multiple key government departments created to uphold all women’s and children’s rights as defined in the South African Victims Charter and UN Conventions. SBCWC has reached and assisted over 230,000 women and children as the first one-stop center in South Africa.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s organizations noted a significant rise in reported cases of violence against women, according to UN Women, leading to a “shadow pandemic” of violence. SNF’s support to Save the Children Italia, part of our COVID-19 Initiative, was expanded to support another component of the organization: their 16-month program that assists women and children who are survivors of domestic violence. The grant covers two areas of assistance: a counseling desk for female victims of domestic violence and their children witnessing violence, and integrated care for mother-child units in three women’s and children’s shelters. The counseling desk consists of two Mothers Centres in Brindisi and Rome, which provide psychosocial support and legal counseling. The goal is promoting social inclusion and paths to autonomy in Milan, Rome, and Catania and offering shelters with access to psycho-educational, recreational, and training paths to child survivors of witnessed violence.
As many different forms of gender-based violence coalesce into a major crisis that reaches around the globe, SNF thankful for the work of these organizations in responding to this emergency, making the world a safer place.