AAFSW Participates in a World Bank Conference on Domestic Violence

On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, Elizabeth Legrain, coordinator of the Domestic Abuse Prevention Program at the World Bank / Fund Health and Safety Directorate, invited AAFSW and its Family Crisis and Spouses in Transition Volunteers to participate at a panel discussion on: “Domestic Violence: The Role of Laws and Social Norms.” This conference was sponsored by the Legal Vice Presidency of the Health and Safety Directorate, the Gender Based Violence (GBV) Group, and Women Business and the Law.

This conference included the launching of the Compendium of International and National Legal Frameworks on Domestic Violence presented by Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and Group General Counsel – World Bank and Isabella Micali Drossos, Senior Counsel – World Bank. The various countries’ laws have been translated into English creating a document available online and free to anyone. This has been an ambitious project by a team of international attorneys committed to ending GBV.

A panel discussion on the Role of Laws and Social Norms in Domestic Violence moderated by Paula Tavares, Senior Private Sector Development – World Bank, followed. The discussion included the following panelists: Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and Group General Counsel – World Bank, Diana Arango, Senior Gender Specialist – World Bank, Tovah Kasdin, Domestic Violence Attorney – Health and Safety Development, and Malahat Baig-Amin, Lead Clinician for Domestic Abuse Prevention – World Bank.

As it was mentioned during the panel discussion, all society and all of us, are affected by violence even if violence does not affect us personally. Trauma causes distress, it affects one’s ability to work and their work performance, it affects decision making and it brings upon a feeling of societal separation due to the possible stigma. In some cultures, especially in the past, domestic violence was considered a private matter / family matter and it was “treated” differently for different races (i.e. race can sometimes affect a court decision regarding domestic violence). It has been understood that a “One Stop Shop” would help the victims of violence as it is far more traumatic to the victims when they have to repeat their story again and again to the various entities by which their story needs to be recorded (i.e. family, police, hospital, lawyer, court, journalists, etc).

Every survivor of violence around the world has a different solution. The effects of different faiths, cultures, and social norms need to be taken into consideration. There are issues such as: family isolation, lack of support by friends and family, loss of children’s custody, safety planning moving forward, and economic planning moving forward, etc. In some cases of domestic abuse, wives do not want to turn their husbands in fearing that if their husbands go to jail, then the whole family will suffer the loss of his income. The various laws established in most countries against domestic violence nowadays are just the start and the foundation from where societies should start when trying to change social norms as well as access to justice and the rule of law for all the victims, i.e. the law ought to refer to “child prostitution” as “pedophilia.” Laws need to be accompanied by a societal movement to bring change. For instance, in Tanzania, there is a “Mobile Justice Bus,” so people in rural areas can really access justice. In many countries, law has been established but not everybody can access it.

The panel discussion was followed by the screening of the Canadian documentary: “A Better Man,” which portrays a woman who suffered domestic violence in her youth confronting her abuser almost 20 years later and making peace with herself. A one-hour long discussion (via webex) with the documentary director Christine Kleckner emphasized the importance of dealing with the past to be able to move on and live with confidence in the future.

Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD
AAFSW President