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Alicia Wallace: When Women At Risk Become Even More Vulnerable

By ALICIA WALLACE

Monday marked the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence and was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We all know the numbers. One in three women experiences violence in her lifetime. Though they may not have shared their stories with us, we all know people who have been affected by gender-based violence, having experienced it themselves or witnessed it.

The 16-day campaign encourages us to share stories, learn safe and effective ways to intervene and engage in conversations about the high rates of gender-based violence and build solutions to this pervasive issue. It also provides the opportunity to identify laws and policies that need to be changed and to call on institutions and people in positions of power to acknowledge that gender-based violence is a pervasive issue.

We must use the global momentum to encourage them to engage constituents in programmes and initiatives that help them to end gender-based violence by being able to recognise it, resist complicity as a perpetrator or bystander, report incidents and participate in the development and implementation of prevention strategies.

Thousands of people have been displaced by Hurricane Dorian, many of whom remain in temporary housing including shelters and homes of friends or family members. Women and girls become more vulnerable under these circumstances. It is not enough to assess the safety of people temporarily housed by the government, non-governmental organisations and private citizens, but necessary to apply a gender lens with the understanding that women and girls have completely different experiences than men and boys in the same circumstances.

When people are displaced and families are separated, there is often less protection for the most vulnerable people. Given this, responses to crisis, including devastation caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes, must include mitigation for gender-based violence and provision of support services. It is difficult to comprehensively address issues of gender-based violence in situations like the one we find ourselves in today for various reasons. There are no policies or guidelines for the government, international and local non-governmental organisations on the ground, or private sector actors to follow. Funding is generally directed to tangible, quantifiable areas that can be widely reported as positive outcomes such as meals, repair of infrastructure and cash disbursement.

During these 16 Days it is important for us, as a country, to consider the relationship between disaster recovery and gender. We need to understand gender is not separate from any issue. Health care, political participation, (un)employment and immigration are just a few examples of areas and issues clearly impacted by gender. It is critical we gain an understanding of the ways Hurricane Dorian has impacted the country, women and girls, LGBT+ people, migrant people, differently-abled people and people experiencing poverty.

The most vulnerable people become even more vulnerable when faced with loss of life, possessions, income, stability and safety. Data collection and sharing have not been strong suits for us and this must change. We need to know who has been affected and how in order to build effective strategies for recovery and to prepare for and recover from further climate events which are inevitable. We need to know what data is being collected, how and by whom and if it has not yet been done let the 16 Days campaign be a starting point. We need to end gender-based violence and we need to respond to the needs of people affected by the hurricane. To do this effectively, we need information. We need to know, and to know, we must ask.

On a mission to catch up with friends

As time goes on, friendship becomes more complex and understanding of its value increases. The term “friend” has become easy to use, often without much meaning. It is used to describe people we have known for a long time, people whose company we happen to be in on a regular basis, people we used to know, people we like, people we engage on social media and people who render services to us. The person two desks away at work, the massage therapist, the person we see at the bar on Friday nights, the person next to us at Bible study and the person we have not seen since high school, but likes our Facebook pictures are all given the same title. They are “friends”.

I have, for a long time, been intentional in my use of the word “friend”. While a bit more cumbersome, I have taken to using terms like “someone I know from” to describe people who are not actually friends of mine. I also use regularly use “acquaintance” as a descriptor for some people. I know them, but we would not be invited to or attend each other’s weddings. We are aware of each other’s existence, but we do not know home addresses, dietary restrictions, or default fast food orders. We have a loose connection.

There are many different kinds of friendships, some of them are unrecognisable to many of us. I have a few friendships other people do not understand. One friendship, in particular is, often mistaken for a romantic relationship. It is not because of any physical acts, but a perception of intimacy and understanding between us. This friend could assess my energy level from the way I sit, know from a quick look across the room that I am ready to go home, and tell the difference between a silence that means something is wrong and a silence that means I just need to relax. I can tell if this friend is hungry by facial expression alone, know their mood by the activities they choose to undertake, and get a good idea of how their day was by what they have for dinner. We know when the other needs alone time, could use a good joke, or needs quiet company. We can be in the same room doing different things without feeling neglected or like we are neglecting each other. Most people have a friendship or two like this, but not very many. Most friendships are more casual. The intimate friendships, however, take more time and effort and they are generally more rewarding, even if they confuse other people.

While I was travelling, it was difficult to keep in touch with friends in the Americas and the Caribbean because of the time difference. I had one or two check-ins with the people I speak to most often, but toward the end of my time away, several friends sent messages or called to make sure I was doing well and say they were looking forward to my return, all on the same day. It was the day after a particularly long and exhausting session, and receiving those messages and phone calls gave me a boost I did not even realise I needed. They let me know people were thinking about me, care about me, noticed my absence and made the decision to reach out and make sure I knew I was on their minds. I am used to and appreciate the messages from my parents and people I see and speak to on a daily basis. The unexpected friendly check-ins brought a different kind of joy and the opportunity to actually say how things were going – the good and the not-so-good – and move on with the day feeling a bit lighter.

While we all love and appreciate our friends, we do not always think about the value of friendships and the need to nurture them. We are busy with our daily lives and, unless we choose to set time aside, are not able to put much work into relationships with people who do not live with us. One of the commitments I have recently made to myself is to nurture my friendships. There is a difference between running into a friend or seeing them at a special event and intentionally reaching out to them to have a quick chat, meet up, or schedule a long catch-up. The smallest effort can make someone’s day and sometimes we forget how good – and often healing – it can be to connect and reconnect. Some of our friends may be waiting for the opportunity to share something, to ask for help, or receive love in action. Schedules may be relentless, but technology has given us many ways to do it easily.

I am on a mission to catch up with one friend every day for the rest of the year and I am looking forward to listening, sharing and deepening connections.

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