According to the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency, sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) “refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender.” These acts, which range from female genital mutilation to child, early and/or forced marriage, are a result of systemic gender inequality and abuse of power. The UN estimates 35% of women globally will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. During times of crises and displacement, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers increase significantly.
Gender-based acts of violence are most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa where Catholic nuns in African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC) educational programs are working empower women and to reduce SGBV. ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program provides Catholic women religious in Africa with leadership and technology training. ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program enables sisters to further their training through undergraduate and graduate level education at higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA.
By participating in ASEC programs, Catholic sisters are able to better serve their communities and reduce SGBV while working toward gender equality and a more peaceful and inclusive society.
Sr. Judith Athieno: Helping Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Uganda
Without intervention and treatment, victims of SBGV can experience a variety of physical and mental health problems ranging from increased alcohol/substance abuse, to physical manifestations and pains, depression, anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Sr. Judith Athieno, SHS, knows all too well the impact of SGBV: she is herself a survivor.
An SLDI program graduate, Sr. Judith used her experience along with her ASEC training and skills to secure a grant to start the Capacitar Trauma Healing project. Founded in response to the effects of war crimes and cultural acceptance of SGBV in Northern Uganda, the project engages the services of local health departments, hospitals, social workers and counselors, lawyers and police to provide critical public health and survivor services.
The project has provided 18-week training for 75 community and religious leaders and developed public resources condemning domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced/early marriage. They also provide survivor services such as psychological support through individual and group counseling and follow-up visits and referrals to further services.
Read a Nigerian sister's reflection on the need to speak out against gender-based violence across Africa.
Sr. Vanaja Jasphine: Fighting Human Trafficking in Cameroon
The UN estimates that women and girls account for 72% of global human trafficking victims, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation. SLDI alumna Sr. Vanaja Jasphine, ICM, is using her skills to bring trafficking victims home to their families.
Sr. Vanaja is the driving force behind the Coordinator of the Kumbo Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, contributing to a renewed government commitment to fight human trafficking. She and her organization have identified more than 200 Cameroonian trafficking victims in the Middle East. In 2016 alone, she facilitated the return of at least fourteen victims from the Middle East (Lebanon and Kuwait), including raising funds to sponsor return air travel for four of them.
In addition to working to return victims, Sr. Vanaja’s organization provides reintegration and rehabilitation assistance to trafficking survivors. She has initiated several trafficking-related court proceedings and offers legal assistance to victims. Some victims receive startup capital for business or assistance in learning a trade or returning to school.
The U.S. Department of State honored Sr. Vanaja Jasphine’s efforts at the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Launch Ceremony.
Sr. Caroline Kimani & Sr. Mary Mwangi: Offering Protection and Opportunity to At-Risk Girls in Kenya
Among the harmful practices associated with gender-based violence throughout the world, female genital mutilation (FGM) has been documented in 30 countries, mainly in Africa. FGM is almost always performed on minors and is considered a violation of human and children’s rights. Two ASEC SLDI alumnae have used their education to serve victims of FGM in Kenya.
Sr. Caroline Kimani, DHM, is the Directress of the Marie Adelaide Girls Rescue Center, which provides up to 24 girls at-risk of FGM with shelter, food, counseling and the opportunity to attend school.
"...my future for these girls is to see them very empowered women who fight for the rights of others, and who are able to fight for their own rights." By doing this, she believes that the young girls will be empowered to say no to FGM.
Sr. Mary Mwangi, MSMI, serves at Bishop Perlo Girls School in Muranga County, Kenya, north of Nairobi. Sr. Mary raised funding to build a classroom at the school, where they educate Samburu girls who have been rescued from FGM and early forced marriages.
“Through this project we give hope to these young girls to face the future and to better their lives,” said Sr. Mary.
Read about more ASEC alumnae projects that are advancing the girl child in Africa.
ASEC programs enable sisters to effectively serve victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Africa. By supporting their education, you not only help sisters provide critical services to the most vulnerable, but you enable these sisters to lead the pursuit for gender equality and access to justice for all. Donations to ASEC provide critical support in encouraging peaceful and inclusive societies.