"Breaking the silence" on gender-based violence in Argentina

Published: 7 March 2008 0:00 CET

Gabriela Luna was born 36 years ago in Rosario de la Frontera, a city with around 30,000 inhabitants in the north of Argentina. She has been working as a volunteer with her local Red Cross branch for eight years. Since 2004 she is the coordinator of the project “Breaking the silence: an integrated approach to gender-based violence”.

One of the aims of a strategic plan formulated by the Argentine Red Cross is to meet the new challenges posed by the changing socio-economic environment in the country. The province of Salta, where Gabriela Luna lives, is characterized by a high poverty rate, a high mortality rate, limited development potential, high unemployment, factory closures and a decline in farming. These are all key factors contributing to violence.

Why did the Argentine Red Cross start up this project?

“Based on a preliminary study of the situation, we launched a pilot project which enabled us to work more directly with the problems of violence and discrimination. Initially we chose a group of women that were already participating in another project for victims of domestic violence. It was then that we realized to what extend this kind of violence remains hidden behind closed doors and that it is necessary to break the silence and empower women.

Nine Red Cross volunteers from the Rosario de la Frontera branch are working on the project, which is financed by the International Federation with funding from the Swedish Red Cross. So far it has helped 750 beneficiaries, mainly girls and women, but also some boys and men.”

What kind of activities are carried out under the project?

“The project was launched in a number of particularly poor and vulnerable communities. Various organizations were then asked to work together through debates, workshops, education for family members and young people, joint training events with local institutions and awareness campaigns. As a result, links were established to promote prevention, support, guidance and assistance for the women involved.

At the support forums, women are able to express their needs, share their problems and speak freely about what has happened to them. The women participating in the project were also encouraged to act as counsellors to other women. The analysis of gender roles and stereotypes as well as decision-making and conflict resolution within the families helped participants to better understand how violence is triggered and perpetuated. In the workshops the women discussed women's rights, self-esteem, sexuality, hygiene and how to recognize aggression and violence in a relationship. One of the activities involved providing women with psychological and legal assistance in relation to domestic abuse. They receive legal advice and support and are advised on how to file a complaint with the courts.”

What results have been achieved?

“Thanks to this project, people often come to the Red Cross to ask questions and seek advice on gender-related issues. The project has been a valuable learning experience for us, because we have been able to gain a much clearer insight into these issues.

The women who participated in the project highlighted the fact that they were able to share their experiences with other women, which helped them to change their own lives. This process was based on dialogue, listening and learning about their rights. Acquiring a greater awareness of their rights has enabled them to break the silence. They have succeeded in overcoming the traditional role division between men and women and are now able to participate on a more equal footing with their husbands or partners in making important domestic decisions.

One of the main achievements of the project, and one which was not originally envisaged, was the creation of the Municipal Women’s Council by the authorities. The purpose of the council is to address the problem of discrimination against women and is the first institution of its kind to be set up in the city. The local Red Cross branch is an active member of the Council and sits on the Governing Board.

We can see that the community is very interested in continuing with these activities. In fact, they are being extended, using basically the same approach, to include young people, who in many cases are the children of the men and women participating in the project.” 

What are the main challenges ahead?

“As we are dealing with deeply-rooted social and cultural issues, we need to work with the community. These efforts must be carried out on a continuous basis, without interruptions; it is no use working with the community today and then not returning until a month later.”

Can you relate a personal experience that occurred while the project was being implemented?

“Prior to this project, the Red Cross worked in this community, running a community closet, in which women altered and repaired old clothes and then sold them. Some of the women in this group were interviewed for the assessment study. During these interviews, the women brought up issues relating to violence that we knew nothing about, even though we had known these women for a long time. It was very upsetting and shocking for us to hear about the violence that these women had had to suffer.”