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Gender-based violence: Financial independence and economic empowerment key to survivors' recovery

17 May 2019


Photo: UN Women/ Ryan Brown

An upsurge in violence and insecurity in several regions of Cameroon have triggered a spike in humanitarian needs. Around 4.3 million people need emergency assistance, marking a 30 per cent increase compared to 2018. Violence and forced displacement have dramatically affected the lives of women and children. Gender based violence is on a sharp increase. In some regions, up to 80% of children are out of school. Women and girls are more exposed than ever to the risks of refoulement, abuse, abduction, separation, forced recruitment, arbitrary detention, domestic violence, and sexual and economic exploitation.

Funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) play a vital role in ensuring that the specific needs of women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by crises, are at the front and centre of humanitarian response. In 2018, CERF helped preserve the health and protection of women and girls that had survived gender-based violence, providing them with immediate health and psychosocial support – including provision of equipment and medicines for safe deliveries, reproductive health and clean delivery kits, gender-specific sanitation facilities, community awareness sessions on GBV, referrals systems for survivors, counseling, emergency obstetric care and much more.

“On a field visit to Cameroon, where women and girls continue to experience staggering levels of sexual and gender-based violence, I met with women and their families who had been displaced by Boko Haram. NGOs and civil society groups briefed me on how they were working to support these women and girls. I have carried these stories with me in various forums, with the firm belief that much more can – and must – be done to make our humanitarian work more inclusive, not only in Cameroon but in countries around the world.”

- Deputy Humanitarian Chief Ursula Mueller

For GBV-related activities, CERF particularly supported the implementation of the Minimum Package of Services (MISP), a coordinated set of priority activities designed to prevent and manage the consequences of sexual violence, reduce HIV transmission, prevent excess maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality and plan for comprehensive reproductive health (RH) services. It includes several activities such as the distribution of RH kits and provision of RH services including rape management.

Helping women get back on their feet

Photo: UN Women/ Ryan Brown

CERF’s interventions go beyond the physical recovery. In conflict-battered Cameroon, thanks to CERF funding, last year over 200 brave survivors of gender-based violence received economic kits that allowed them to set up small businesses and finally gain financial independence. Economic empowerment is key to the recovery process. A lack of economic independence can be a huge barrier to women in reporting and leaving abusive relationships. Access to economic opportunities helps women to break free of this cycle of dependence.

Listening to women was a critical success factor to identify their needs and together work out how best to respond to those needs, “We first conducted a baseline survey to assess the needs, background training, skills and interests, and then train them on how to create, set up and manage a small business.”, Henry Nyingcho, UN Women Livelihood Expert, told us. “All GBV survivors who come forward receive livelihood support to guarantee economic empowerment after receiving psychosocial counselling, medical care and judicial services where necessary”.

A key part of the recovery process is raising awareness and understanding of women’s rights, and how to exercise these rights.

Marie-Noelle: “Now I know my rights”

Photo: UN Women/ Teclaire Same

Marie-Noelle Tchived, a 22 years old single mother of 3, was chased out of her parents’ home and was forced into early marriage when she was only 14. Marie-Noelle was later abandoned by the father of her child and since suffered psychological and sexual assault.

She came to know about the work of UN Women and partners from her neighbor, who is also a GBV survivor. “The social worker at the women empowerment center referred my case to the medical center after counselling me”, Marie-Noelle explained. “Since I already knew how to sew I was given a sewing machine to help me start my tailoring business. I now sew dresses and display, so people can know I am a good tailor and bring their dresses to me. My dream is to save up some money and rent a shop in the market where I can have more customers and earn more money. Now that I know my rights, I will ask the support from the social worker to summon the father of my first child who in now attending primary school, so he can start supporting us and send his child to school”.

Martine: “My husband stopped abusing me because he is now afraid of the law”

Photo: UN Women/ Teclaire Same

Martine, 37, mother of 7 children, has known nothing but physical abuse in her marriage. After talking to a social worker, she felt encouraged to take action. “The social worker’s intervention and counselling, and explaining the law to my husband, helped to stop the violence. He has stopped beating me and seizing money from my business because he is afraid of the law. I am finally happy. I received support to start my vegetable oil production. I could finally have an income. I was trained on how to better manage my business and now I am saving the profits and hope to reinvest the money in other items to grow my business.”