16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence: Partnerships to Leave No Woman or Girl Behind

A Program Manager’s Story

By Bethany Corrigan, Senior Technical Advisor – GBV, PSI

This November, PSI stands with people around the world to celebrate a global commitment to eliminate violence against girls and women. In my last post, I talked about PSI’s role in a greater multi-sector, collaborative fight against the many-headed beast that is GBV. Over the next 16 Days of Activism, I will share an example of a GBV project implemented by PSI in Myanmar to illustrate how partnerships are the best way to attack more than one head of the beast, simultaneously. In a recent trip to Yangon, Myanmar, I had the honor to meet four partners, each of whom represents a specific type of response to GBV, and together pooled their specialties to implement a program called Breaking the Silence: Addressing GBV in Myanmar. Over the next two weeks, I will share their stories. 

Every project needs a manager, and Breaking the Silence has Sandy. Sandy is calm, organized and quick-thinking.  A juggler of activities, she is able to catch the tiniest detail that would otherwise have bounced off undiscerning ears. With the technical smarts to contribute to program design and the leadership skills to get stuff done, she is the quintessential Project Manager (PM).

Sandy came to PSI equipped with both a medical and master’s degree, as well as public health experience. When I met Sandy, I asked about her motivation to work with and for survivors of violence, challenges she’s faced, what she’s learned and where our focus should be.

Originally, Sandy worked in sexual and reproductive health. Later, her personal interests drew her focus to empowering women economically through activities like training and microfinance loans. Her first encounter with GBV took place during a community event. Sandy was leading a training and in the middle of her talk, the husband of a community participant interrupted. His wife attended the training without his permission. So, drunk and armed with a stick, he “…scold[ed] and beat his wife, in front of all of the trainers.” Neither Sandy nor the other staff could intervene, much as they wanted to. “His wife was so embarrassed and ashamed in front of all of the people, she apologized on behalf of her husband and went back home with her husband.” From this experience, Sandy “…realized that we really need to empower our women and help them be free from violence, have dignity and independence. Even though I know that violence happen[s] in the community every day, this was the first time I saw violence with my own eyes and realized how big the problem is in the community. So, I decided to continue my career in women’s empowerment and also the rights of the women.” When asked how she moved forward with this fresh resolve she said, “at the time I… really did not know well the support and services for women. I asked my friends and my colleagues around me how to get help for those women. And then I know about the women’s groups and about some organizations helping women.”

Sandy’s drive brought her to PSI as the PM of the Breaking the Silence Project. PSI, like Sandy, had identified an issue in Myanmar and gaps in a system. They knew there was a problem, but not much more than that. In 2014, when this program was first conceptualized, there were no national data on GBV prevalence in Myanmar and there was limited understanding of the root causes. Like Sandy, we needed to first understand the expanse of the problem, where support services were, and strengthen those services and connect women to them. The program launched in 2015 with the objective of developing a network of referral services for (mainly women and girl) survivors of GBV (mainly domestic and intimate partner violence).PSI’s role in responding to GBV is to strengthen the healthcare sector – to build the capacity of healthcare providers and the healthcare system. Then we partner with other organizations and agencies to leverage additional services for survivors that PSI doesn’t offer directly.

PSI set out to: 1) sensitize and train about 100 healthcare providers to raise awareness of GBV, how to identify it, and how to refer patients to needed services such as counseling, safe housing and legal advice and; 2) build and strengthen partnerships between PSI, our local doctors and local organizations (government departments, community women’s groups, etc.) to enable the referral network.

Even with awareness of a problem and motivation to solve it, processes can be slow-moving and challenging. Sandy explains, “I had the motivation to work for women, but I did not know about the challenges in GBV case management and providing services to the women. After joining the project, I realized there are many challenges in working in women’s services and GBV and gender in Myanmar. Because of social and cultural norms in the community and limitation in access to the services. We are working to raise awareness of the community, but some of the community do not accept that GBV is occurring. Even if women seek help from local authorities, those local authorities do not think that GBV is an issue – they say GBV is between husband and wife and we do not need to intervene. They say that there is gender equality in Myanmar and there is no GBV in Myanmar. But we know that there are many cases of GBV in the community and we know that women need help. Women just keep silent and do not seek support because of many reasons, the obvious one is they are dependent to their husband economically.”

Sandy’s story is inspiring because it shows that we must first develop empathy and passion for women and women’s rights. Her story also highlights that the many-headed beast that is GBV is complicated, and programs must think through all possible complications to plan for success.

Keep an eye out for the next blog in this series to hear the perspective of a PSI partner doctor to better understand the challenges on the ground and how PSI and our partners are working to face them.

Banner photo: © Population Services International / Banner Photo by: Chris White