Structures of Violence: Defining the intersections of Militarism and Violence against Women

By Joy Yakubu

Joy Yakubu from the YWCA of Jos, Nigeria, World YWCA intern in 2008, shares with us her reflections on the theme of the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women “Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women.”

Recently, there was media frenzy around the Nigerian Government’s threat to take Iran to the UN over the interception of containers loaded with arms at one of the sea ports in the country. The origin and destination of this cargo was quite clear cut, but the purpose of this import remains blurry. The again, anyone can rightly guess what arms are used for. Then I wondered, this is just one incident that caught the attention of security operatives and consequently received much publicity. What about others that might have succeeded in getting such a consignment into the populace?

The spate of conflicts and pockets of armed violence around the country have formed a scaffold for the proliferation of arms because, sadly, people now feel they need these arms to ensure their safety and security, and perhaps also to use them in settling other disputes, including those that occur in the home.

Conflict, in whatever form, has taken a disturbing turn in recent years. Communal clashes, political riots and confrontations by religious extremists have taken their toll on the safety and security of women and girls in their homes and communities – places where, ironically, they should be safest. Armed confrontations seem to be the chosen method of settling disputes these days, be it political, communal or even religious. In some cases, women are deliberate targets of violence, and in other cases they are most affected because they are considered ‘easy’ targets. Often times when conflicts erupt, women are left to seek refuge in military formations, public places (schools, hospitals, government buildings, churches, mosques, etc), YWCA centres/schools and internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps. Even under these dire circumstances, women and girls still face violence. They are sometimes raped, and other times they are forced to exchange their bodies for basic necessities like food, water or shelter. There have been instances where women give birth without medical assistance in IDP camps, or at home, because it wasn’t safe to go out, this has contributed to increasing the rate of maternal and infant mortality in the country. When acts of violence are not directly carried out on them, they are forced to live with the psychological effects of such acts carried out on male members of their families.

What often baffles me is that, most of the time the immediate and remote causes of these periodic bouts of conflicts and violence are known, but little or no preventive action is taken to stop them from occurring, despite the fact that a huge allocation of government funds are said to be set aside for security, in addition to halting developmental projects and sometimes suspending government workers’ salaries to supplement the security budget. Violence is nevertheless always allowed to erupt. This makes the people, most especially women and children, suffer undue hardship before attempts are made at curative measures. So I wonder, why allow it to happen in the first place? In addition to carrying out research on the cause of violence, governments must take steps to prevent violence before it starts.

It is comforting to know that the YWCA is part of the “16 Days of Activism Campaign against Gender Violence,” which for two decades now has sought to address issues around various forms of violence women face every day. This year, it takes a look at militarism as a multifaceted structure that perpetuates violence. In some areas progress is being made, while in some, a lot still needs to be done and so the struggle continues.


Young women from Africa come together to share their vision

Kuena Diaho

By Kuena Diaho

On November 15 – 17, 2010, the World YWCA organised a reflection meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to evaluate the implementation of Universal Access for Women and Girls Now! (UA Now!). The UA Now! initiative aims to significantly accelerate access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for women and girls.


This  reflection meeting was preceded by a one-day Young Women Pre-Meeting with the aim to improve their understanding around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV.


World YWCA intern, Kuena Diaho from the YWCA of Lesotho, participated in the young women’s pre-meeting. Kuena has been at the World YWCA office in Geneva since the beginning of 2010 and has been contributing to the World YWCA programme and advocacy efforts.

On October 14, young women from 8 African YWCAs gathered enthusiastically at the office of the YWCA of Kenya. 11 young women came together to be introduced to one another, and to learn from each other how well they have been contributing towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for young women and girls.

Having met many times with young women from different YWCAs, and having worked closely with some of them, especially the YWCA of Ethiopia, it was encouraging and refreshing to witness the transformation and the growing enthusiasm that was present in the room.

As exciting as it is to listen to the stories and history of the different host YWCAs at every meeting, what I found most interesting was to hear how young women have taking the reigns in their different YWCAs, and how guidance and mentorship has greatly shaped the women that we have all become.

From many whose faces have brightened the YWCA Young Women’s meeting, more fruitful and encouraging stories were shared. We heard about the impressive work done in Ethiopia, the courageous steps taken by the YWCA of Sudan, the commitment from the young women in Rwanda and the never disappointing presence and brilliant ideas from both the YWCA of Malawi and the Zambian young women.

The understanding and appreciation of universal access was displayed when Hendrica Okondo – World YWCA Programme Director for Africa and the Middle East, Caroline Moneno Oketch – YWCA of Kenya Deputy General Secretary and Irene Kizito – YWCA of Kenya Director of Programmes, lead us, the young women, into acting out and artistically displaying the lessons learned on the day. Talent was revealed when one group acted a scene where a young woman living with HIV was in need of treatment and care. She had approached all the people in her community and had failed to get support, being subjected instead to stigmatisation and discrimination. In the act, we saw her being helped by a nurse, who advocated for awareness on HIV and AIDS, thus calling for a stronger government response. In another group, the participants drew a picture of a young woman living with HIV, but that is highly supported by her community. Together they advocate for the dissemination of information on their sexual reproductive and health rights, and they also illustrate how important the government’s commitment is.

The day was a very pleasant and enriching one. It ended with high tea, served by the host, the YWCA of Kenya, where the participants learned more about the International Women’s Summit and the World YWCA Council, which will be held in Switzerland in July 2011. The high tea also offered a safe space for young women to speak freely about their visions. They expressed how they would like to see young women come out of their shells to inspire and counsel other young people and to talk about what affects them. Hopes were voiced that one day we will see a generation free of HIV and violence against women and that women will rise up and reclaim their self-esteem and their rightful place in society.

There was no doubt that the young women would highly represent and demand their space, which they did in the main Universal Access meeting with UNDP and other implementing partners.

As we all packed our bags to return to our homes, with not only great knowledge gained but also inspiration, we continue to be grateful for the safe space that the YWCA has helped create for young women around the world.

Read more on the Universal Access for Women and Girls Now! initiative