• Opinion
  • November 23, 2018
  • 6 minutes
  • 1

The key to reducing violence against women? Finding unusual partners

Opinion: Latin American countries are at the forefront of change in the developing world

This piece was written by Andrew Morrison, Chief of the Gender and Diversity Division at the Inter-American Development Bank. For more like this, see our violence prevention newsfeed. 


Over the past three years, Latin America has witnessed a wave of powerful lobbying campaigns focused on fighting abuse and violence against women. What began as #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) in Argentina, rapidly transformed into an international movement sharing the same message: not one more woman should experience violence based on their gender.

Although women and men have been demanding change for decades, the momentum generated by these civil protests in the last few years has galvanised support for the expansion of initiatives to address violence against women.

Latin American countries are at the forefront of this change in the developing world and have implemented creative initiatives to provide better quality services to survivors of violence against women.

Latin American countries have implemented creative initiatives to provide better quality services to survivors

The city of Medellin in Colombia, for example, introduced Línea 123-Mujer (Hotline 123-Woman), an emergency hotline staffed by lawyers and psychologists who provide personalised guidance to survivors. An evaluation of Línea 123-Mujer shows that providing immediate service within 10 minutes or less of the initial emergency call reduces the probability that women callers will experience intimate partner violence in the future by 25%.

Other cities like Quito and Buenos Aires have also introduced a hotline to report harassment in public transport. Quito’s Bájele al acoso (Stop Harassment) campaign, which promotes the use of the city’s hotline, is being implemented in over 2,200 buses. The initiative has resulted in thousands of formal complaints and 11 convictions to date. In Buenos Aires, victims and witnesses are now able to send a free text message to report any case of harassment and receive immediate assistance, including the option to activate the emergency protocol.

However, when women use hotlines to contact police, the quality of services they receive is only as good as the police force on the other end of the line. So Honduras, for example, recently integrated a gender perspective into its police training curriculum and introduced a module on policing strategies for domestic violence to increase the police’s ability to respond more effectively to cases of violence against women.

Prevention initiatives are severely under-funded and have limited reach

Not all investments should go towards services to help women after violence has occurred; violence against women can be prevented. The education sector can play a crucial role. In Mexico, the “Amor…pero del bueno” (Love… but the Good Kind) program is an in-school intervention that has helped to modify attitudes about gender roles and promote healthy masculinity among adolescents. The program trained teaching, administrative and counselling staff on the impacts of gender-based violence and carried out workshops for students to reflect on gender stereotypes and reproductive rights.

The initiative reduced the psychological violence perpetrated by young men who participated in the program by 55% and modified the attitudes that justify violence in the context of dating relationships. But the sad truth is that prevention initiatives are severely under-funded and have limited reach.

With all this positive change occurring in the region, what can policy experts and multilateral organisations do to accelerate change?

We can help generate evidence about what works

First, we can help generate evidence about what works, especially in the area of prevention. This knowledge is essential to inform future programs and strategies — with scarce resources, we simply cannot afford to invest in programs that do not work.

Second, we can also push ourselves to think outside the box to identify new solutions to this old problem. This includes smart use of new technologies (as is the case in the systems that allow women transport users to report harassment) and harnessing the power of behavioural science to change male behaviours without necessarily changing hearts and minds. Changing hearts and minds can be our long-term goal, but the women of the region cannot wait for that happy day.

This International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we should reflect on how we can continue to build alliances and find unusual partners to tackle this issue. Reducing violence against women is not only the right thing to do morally, it is also critical to build stronger economies and societies. — Andrew Morrison

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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