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CHANGE at Women Deliver: Tackling GBV in Cities

This summer, CHANGE joined over 6,000 feminists in Rwanda at the Women Deliver conference – one of the largest multi-sectoral convenings to advance gender equality in the world. This year’s theme was “Space, Solidarity, and Solutions” and CHANGE came to position the voices of mayors and municipalities in advancing gender equity around the world.  
During the conference, CHANGE convened a discussion on the role of city leaders in tackling gender-based violence (GBV). Moderated by the formidable Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, our concurrent session brought together a stellar panel, which included

  • Diana Rodríguez Franco, Secretary for Women in the City of Bogotá

  • Lusungu Kalanga-Malmba, Principal Consultant-Gender Based Violence, Social Development Direct

  • Avni Amin, Technical Officer, World Health Organization, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research
  • Amanda Austin, Head of Global Engagement, Equal Measures 2030

  • Angella Agado, GBV Senior Technical Adviser at CARE USA

According to WHO UN Women, almost 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Pulling from our toolkit, CHANGE asked how municipal leaders can leverage their roles as employers, innovators, connectors and providers to prevent GBV, support victims and survivors, hold perpetrators to account and build trust in local institutions.

We first heard from Secretary for Women’s Affairs in Bogotá, Diana Rodríguez Franco, and GBV expert from Social Development Direct, Lusungu Kalanga-Malmba. Both argued that services and policies can’t reduce violence against women if they aren’t accompanied by a meaningful shift in cultural norms and behaviors around gender equity.

“As a government body, we can’t only look at service provision, which is certainly essential, but we also need to look at how to shift a culture that sees violence against women and impunity as inevitable”

Secretary Rodriguez-Franco

Lusungu Kalanga-Malmba noted that we have evidence that culture can indeed shift, and we can change behaviors within a reasonable timeframe. But we need to prioritize prevention. “By prioritize, I mean invest. I want to be clear: invest money. Lots of it.” Invest in technical support within judicial and police services to identify and respond to gaps. Invest in training for service providers to address their own prejudices and internalized patriarchy. Invest in capacity building and technical support for women’s rights organizations.

And Bogotá has invested heavily. Under its first female mayor, Claudia Lopez, the city has tripled funding for care services and support to victims and survivors of GBV. But to truly increase access to these services, Secretary Rodriguez- Franco argued that increased funding alone wasn’t enough.

“City governments need to change the way they think about where they offer services. Services should not be offered where government wants women to go, but where women are already going; where women feel confident; where they feel less risk and fear.” This was a pressing matter in her city which, between 2020 and 2021, saw 400,000 women seek health services for domestic and sexual violence without reporting to the police. Secretary Rodriguez Franco saw this as a flaw in service provision, “When we’re asking women to first go to the hospital to be treated for physical and sexual abuse, and then start the legal proceedings to file a complaint from scratch – we’re re-victimizing them!” she argued. Instead, the municipality placed lawyers next to emergency rooms 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, to meet women where they are. This is only one example of how Bogotá repositioned legal, psychological and other support services for victims of abuse, to make it easier for women to access.

Spatially re-organizing the city for women has been Diana Rodríguez Franco’s modus-operandi for the last 3 years. Most notably through the Careblocks, the Secretariat has placed municipal care services within women’s reach across 19 different neighborhoods, and used these spaces to train boys and men to learn how to care.

“Just like we can learn to care, we also can unlearn violence, unlearn machismo.”

Secretary Diana Rodríguez Franco

And the Secretary sees a relationship between reducing violence and centering caregiving in our cities: “We know that the top three indicators that relate to women becoming victims of violence are i) access to education, ii) access to the internet as a way of accessing institutions and services, and iii) free time,” all of which are developed in a comprehensive care system.

In the second half of the event, we turned to the “A-team,” a panel of technical and policy experts who offered lessons learned from best practices in urban settings around the world.

The session began with Angella Agado, Senior Technical-Adviser with CARE USA’s Gender Justice team, who drew from CARE’s experience with the massively successful Indashyikirwa project in Rwanda implemented between 2014-2018.

The project helped reduce intimate-partner violence by 55% in participating communities, and saw a drop in the likelihood of perpetration by 47%. Couples also reported more inclusive decision– -making and better communication in their relationships. Four years after the program ended, (2022) follow up interviews with program participants confirmed that improvements and good practice were maintained.

Indashyikirwa includes four components i) a A 21-session intensive couples curriculum; ii) community-based activism; iii) training sessions with opinion leaders; iv) the establishment of safe spaces.

When asked why it was so successful, Angella pointed to a few things, including ample time “we were able to implement this program over four years, including a 14-month inception period which saw us co-design, pilot and test, recruit the right people and build the right strategies – including a response to community backlash.” An encouraging note for mayors who want to influence change within a mayoral term.

Avni Amin, then presented learnings from WHO’s 20+ years of data collection on GBV around the world. She argued that urban areas present a unique mix of risk factors: Higher rates of unemployment and crime, and lower levels of social support networks, easier access to weapons, alcohol availability, and urban crowding are factors that all contribute to an environment that puts women, girls and gender diverse people at higher risk of violence. Importantly, these are things municipalities often have mandates to address.

Amin also discussed the newly launched RESPECT Women platform, a comprehensive program that aims to raise awareness, advocate for policy changes, and provide essential tools and resources for healthcare providers, communities, and policymakers to address gender-based violence effectively. THe RESPECT policy acronym stands for: 

Relationship skills strengthened

Empowerment of women

Services ensured

Poverty reduced

Environments made safe

Child and adolescent abuse prevented

Transformed attitudes, beliefs, and norms

Finally, representing Equal Measures 2030, Amanda Austin, Head of Global Engagement, spoke to the difficulties of collecting data related to intimate and non-intimate partner violence.

“Data needs to reflect real people’s lives. If it isn’t doing that, it’s useless.”

AMANDA AUSTIN, EQUAL MEASURES 2030

When considering data related to violence against women and girls, this can become very tricky, especially with data sourced from police and other crime bodies. As touched upon by Diana Rodriguez-Franco and Lusungu Kalanga-Malmba, this is because victims and survivors of violence can feel uncomfortable reporting for fear of stigmatization, of mockery, and community reprisal. “It is not possible to rely solely on that data, and it’s not good enough to rely solely on that data to make decisions,” says Austin.

In addition, she advocated for surveys and surveying-type approaches that speak specifically to women-identifying people. Surveys should ask direct and indirect questions like: “Have you experienced violence?” and “Have you seen others in your community experience violence?” in order to draw a more accurate picture. Questions should span long and short term, because while it is important to understand whether an individual has experienced violence in her lifetime, that won’t shift quickly; coupling that with a question about incidences of violence in the last 12-month period is important to understand how things might be improving or regressing. The questions aren’t the only important factor in survey approaches, Austin points out, “Think about who is in the room? Who is listening at the door?” That will influence answers as well.

But any policy maker will argue that surveys are expensive! And Austin doesn’t disagree – though she points to important recent investments from the EU and Canada. But an important hack – in fact an indispensable component – is a collaboration with local women’s rights and feminist groups who can help fill data gaps because they hold trust in communities. It is important to honor the work they’ve been doing to capture this data formally and informally for decades.

In conclusion, our participants overwhelmingly agreed that gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that must be a priority for global policymakers. Technical and policy solutions are important but must be coupled with behavior change – and we now know that is possible.

At CHANGE, we believe that our city representatives are uniquely equipped to implement effective approaches that address the local socio-cultural contexts influencing GBV. They can also deliver services, and pilot norm-shifting interventions. They can convene and collaborate with women’s rights groups across the city and collect meaningful data on the matter. Bogotá is one of 10 cities in our network deploying innovative approaches to create safer cities for their women-identifying residents. Together, we’re demonstrating that cities are the partner of choice to support millions of women around the world. 


Angella Agado

Gender & GBV Officer

At the time of the event, Angella Agado was a Senior Technical Advisor-GBV with CARE USA Gender Justice team, based in Kampala, Uganda. Now she workings in IOM South Sudan. She has 15 years’ experience in designing and implementing gender and GBV prevention and response programs in both development and humanitarian settings. In her current role with CARE, she supports a portfolio of projects on GBV risk mitigation, prevent and respond
through technical assistance, capacity building and resource mobilization. Angella is passionate about generating learning and evidence on what works to prevent GBV and she is currently supporting efforts to adapt and implement Indashyikirwa model for preventing Intimate Partner Violence in several countries.

Avni Amin

Unit Head, Lead on Violence Against Women

Avni works at the WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research on violence against women. Her primary focus is to support countries – Ministries of Health – in the translation and uptake of WHO’s normative guidelines and tools to strengthen health systems response to violence against women. She has led the development of clinical guidelines for responding to child and adolescent sexual abuse, the RESPECT prevention framework, and is a lead author of the WHO global plan of action on strengthening health systems response to addressing interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls and against children. Avni is a passionate feminist scientist with a fierce commitment to gender equality and women’s health. She has a PhD in International Health from the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health. She is originally from India and considers herself as a global citizen.

Amanda Austin

Head of Global Engagement

Amanda leads the Equal Measures coalition’s work to influence global actors and institutions, leveraging the SDG Gender Index and curating thought leadership across the partnership. She has worked with EM2030 since its founding and previously led advocacy and programme partnerships. Amanda has worked across the social justice, humanitarian, and development sectors for more than 13 years, including with Oxfam, Save the Children, and Plan International.

Lusungu Kalanga

GBV Technical Lead

Lusungu Kalanga provides technical advice and leadership to SDDirect’s work in the field of Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention. She is the Country Co-Lead for SDD’S programmes portfolio in Malawi and the Southern and Eastern Africa Advocacy Lead for the FCDO funded ‘What Works: Impact at scale’ programme. Lusungu is a Malawian feminist activist with over 12 years’ experience in Women and girls’ rights work focusing on prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Southern Africa. She holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex and various trainings in women’s rights and VAWG prevention and is a member of various international networks including the Coalition of feminists for Social Change (COFEM) and Gender Based Violence Prevention Network (GBVNET).

Diana Rodríguez Franco

Secretary for Women’s Affairs

Diana Rodríguez Franco is the Secretary for Women’s Affairs in Bogotá, under Mayor Claudia Lopez. Rodríguez Franco has dedicated her life to the study and defense of human rights. As Deputy Director and researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia)/ Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia), she has focused on citizen participation, forced displacement, access to health and environmental policy topics. She was also the founder of the Raising Peace campaign, which helped pregnant and lactating ex-combatant women in their transition to peace. She holds a PhD in sociology from Northwestern University, with a master’s degree in sociology from the same university, and she holds law and economics degrees from the Universidad de Los Andes.

Teresa C. Younger

President and CEO

An activist, advocate, renowned public-speaker, organizational strategist, Teresa is a proven leader in the philanthropic and policy sectors. Having spent over 20 years on the frontlines of some of the most critical battles for comprehensive equity and the elimination of institutionalized oppression, she now serves as the President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Younger is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and in 2018 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in Humanities from the University of New Haven. In 2021 she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. She is also a proud lifetime Girl Scout and Gold Award recipient.

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