Last month, Vital Voices’ Human Rights team supported our 500th “urgent assistance” case through Voices Against Violence: The GBV Global Initiative (VAV). Through this unique and groundbreaking component of VAV, we provide financial assistance to recent survivors of extreme forms of gender based violence (GBV) and harmful traditional practices. This assistance allows survivors to access much-needed emergency services in the immediate aftermath of extreme violence, and they are referred to Vital Voices through our powerful global network of women leaders.
Leaders like Elizabeth*, who directs a small organization that provides psychosocial support to GBV survivors and raises community awareness about women’s rights. Earlier this year, a survivor reached out to us from an area in which we had no partners. However, we knew Elizabeth was a couple of hours away in a neighboring country. When we contacted Elizabeth to see if she knew anyone in the area, she said she didn’t, but would take action herself. Over the next couple of weeks, Elizabeth traveled back and forth across dangerous borders to ensure that she could do everything possible for this survivor. Elizabeth arranged for medical and psychosocial treatment, secured safe housing and coordinated with local police. We also learned that until Elizabeth stepped in, the survivor had actually been subjected to additional violence in the course of attempting to access treatment and services.
In the four years since this program started, we have supported cases like this all over the world. In Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East, the survivors we work with have experienced female genital mutilation and cutting, domestic violence, sex trafficking, acid attacks, honor crimes, early and forced marriage, rape and sexual assault, and LGBTQI-driven violence. We have supported survivors of violence at the hands of terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS. And in each of these cases, our funds are a means of last resort. Case referrals come to us when survivors have exhausted all other means of support, and knowing this, we monitor cases 24/7 and are often able to release funds within 24-48 hours of receiving a case referral. These survivors are not just cases for us. They are mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and the assistance they receive through this program often means the difference between life and death.
I have to confess that this work is never easy. Reading global news stories, it’s hard to forget that the 500 survivors we have supported represent only a small fraction of the violent attacks that happen every day around the world, particularly against women and girls and vulnerable populations. There are days when I get a new case and I wonder whether our support will even make a difference. But when I reflect on why our urgent assistance program is so important, I think of women like Elizabeth. Voices Against Violence is more than the financial support we provide; it is a resource for our women leaders, it is a network of survivor advocates, and it is a way for us to take a stand against GBV globally and demand that we end this epidemic once and for all. When I come to work every morning, I know that my next case will mean that another survivor has a chance to live a better life. That he or she is working with their own Elizabeth. And that through it all, the Vital Voices motto continues to ring true: “Invest in Women. Improve the World.”
-Authored by Kristen Walling
Vital Voices Program Coordinator, sub-Saharan Africa, Human Rights
* (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons)