How negative response to GBV ruins victims lives
Dr Jeldah Nyamache
It is a shame that gender-based violence (GBV) has been normalised in society.
Approximately one in three women and an unclear number of men are affected by GBV globally. Violence can be economic, physical, emotional or psychological.
Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of any form of GBV but intimate partner violence is the most widespread. The physical form is talked about more because it is the most apparent. But all forms of GBV through action, word or omission are equally damaging.
It is a global pandemic that ravages and forces victims to subordinate to the perpetrators resulting in impaired physical and mental health — stress, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, demotivation and depression.
This interferes with victims’ ability to reach their full potential, participate in economic activities or engage meaningfully in other interests. It causes stigma and affects reputation.
In fact, research has shown that sexual harassment claims have a greater effect on a company’s reputation than other forms of misconduct like fraud. For instance, allegations of sexual harassment by senior staff and drivers at the ride-sharing company Uber resulted in 56 per cent of survey respondents refusing to use their services. In another example, allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by construction workers on a major Ugandan infrastructure project resulted in the World Bank cancelling $265 million (Sh29.7 billion) worth of funding.
The ultimate result of GBV if poorly managed is often the damaged goods syndrome which directly affects individual productivity.
A person with this syndrome believes they are no longer good enough or worthy due to the effects of GBV on their self-esteem. This warps their expectations of anything good coming their way and in fact will often not accept it fully. Self-sabotage and/or harm is rampart in people suffering from this syndrome. It is not uncommon for them to blame themselves for the abuse.
The casual or negative response to concerns raised about GBV contributes to this syndrome. Victims are left feeling that they are making a big deal out of nothing. It is a fertile ground for not only health complications and economic losses but also the all-too-familiar societal norms that lead to re-experiencing of GBV or attempts to cope through channels like substance abuse.
Rather than rationalising in favour of perpetrators, we should give the victim the attention and support they deserve. Listening with empathy, encouraging and guiding them to get health and legal help goes a long way. In some instances you may need to step in and be their eyes, ears and voice and do a lot of care seeking on their behalf.
Let us rally behind legal frameworks like the globally recognised standards for addressing violence and harassment set out in June 2019 by the International Labour Organisation. They increase accountability from organisations through a more comprehensive way of responding to GBV including taking steps to prevent violence, protect survivors through remedy and compensation and develop awareness raising, reporting and grievance procedures.
Identifying potential risks, leadership commitments to diverse, equal and respectful workplaces, would form a foundation to tackle root causes like gender inequality and mistrust among staff.
Without this foundation, efforts to raise awareness can appear tokenistic and lack legitimacy. Clear policies and procedures including reporting and grievance mechanisms not only empower staff to take appropriate action when needed but also reassure survivors, accused perpetrators and whistle-blowers that the organisation will handle cases effectively.
It is not an easy issue to tackle, but we all can deliberately take norm-shifting initiatives within our circle of control. We have a lot to gain thanks to good mental health.
—The writer is a family physician