Violence prevention as a global strategy

Published: 18 October 2012

Statement made by Jaslin U. Salmon Ph.D, Vice President, IFRC Eighth Pan-African Conference of Red Cross Red Crescent SocietiesOctober 2012



Invited guests


Ladies and gentlemen

Permit me to express my delight at being associated with this your 8th Pan African Conference (PAC). This is particularly true because the conference is being held here in Addis Ababa; as you probably know, Jamaica and the Jamaican people have had a profound and friendly relationship with Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people for a long time. For me this is a homecoming.

I note that the theme for the conference is “Investing in Africa,” therefore I have concluded that by asking me to address you on the topic “Violence Prevention as a Global Strategy” you are asserting that violence prevention is a key factor in the development of Africa.  

Before launching into my presentation, I shall pose two essential questions.

  1. How can violence prevention be a way of investing in Africa?
  2. Does violence serve to retard or negate national development , if yes, how?

In this presentation, I hope to inspire you to take effective action to stem the growing tide of violence in your community, in your city, in your country, and indeed in the world. In this presentation I shall seek to convince you that it is imperative that we approach violence prevention with the utmost urgency. In this presentation, I shall seek to challenge you to shed all semblance of passivity and join hands with others in seeking a solution to the scourge of violence that now envelops the entire world.

Violence Defined: What do we mean by violence?    

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines violence as “great force or strength of feeling, conduct, or expression.” The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence “as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation.” For the purpose of this presentation I shall use the WHO definition.

Types of violence:

Typically violence is divided into three categories, namely:

Self-directed Violence: includes suicidal behavior and self abuse.

 Interpersonal Violence: violence directed at other individuals in the course of direct or indirect social interaction.

Collective Violence: violence directed at groups by the state, other groups or individuals.

Here are some  acts of violence that can be subsumed under these categories:

  • Domestic violence perpetrated against members of the immediate or extended family; 
  • School violence carried out by students teachers or other school employees;
  • Workplace violence engaged in by people at the workplace;
  • Gang violence perpetrated by gangs against each other or members of the community   
  • Violence against women
  • Violence against men, violence against children, violence against elderly persons.
  • Violence  against the disabled
  • Violence based on sexual orientation
  • Violence against racial or cultural minorities
  • Violence based on national origin.

Incidence of violence world-wide

I begin by pointing out that the incidence of violence worldwide or for a particular country is difficult to assess, because of variations in definition, reporting and data gathering. Despite this caveat, it is estimated that worldwide, one third of all women has experienced violence of beating, sexual coercion or other forms of abuse, at some point in life, frequently by a family member. ( Newton, C. J. 2001; UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00).  It is estimated that 4 million girls are trafficked annually (United Nations), and an estimated one million children, mostly girls, enter the sex trade each year (UNICEF). Worldwide it is estimated that the suicide rate is approximately 54%, while interpersonal violence is approximately 30% and collective violence 11%.

Throughout the world we see horrendous violence being meted out to migrants, racial and cultural minorities, people with disabilities and against people for their sexual preferences, and we have seen horrible gang violence associated with the drug trade. Recently there was a spate of rapes in Jamaica including an eight year girl, leading the Jamaica Red Cross to state that  violence is a National Disaster.

Incidence of Violence in Africa

My friends I am sure that I am not divulging any secrets when I tell you that Africa is no exception to the world picture just painted. A 2005 WHO study reported that approximately one third of Ethiopian women had been physically forced by a partner to have sex against their will within the 12 months prior to the study (WHO 2005). One study reported that domestic violence accounts for more than 60% of murder cases that go through the high court in Zimbabwe (ZWRCN).South Africa is said to have the highest statistics of gender based violence in the world, and it is estimated that the homicide rate in Africa is about 17.6 per 100,000.

Permit me to conclude this brief section on incidence with the assertion, that contrary to the myth that domestic violence is largely confined to poorer countries and communities, it is to be pointed that domestic violence is found in various cultures and in all socio-economic brackets. In other words, domestic violence is an equal opportunity phenomenon.

Why a Global Violence Prevention Strategy?

There is no point in sitting around wringing our hands and lamenting the extent of violence in the world. Some of us are inclined to think nostalgically of the good old days when there was little or no violence. I maintain that people who think this way are suffering from a severe case of selective amnesia, because the stark reality is that as far back as we can look, the history of the world is one of callous and brutal violence of all sorts. Don’t misunderstand me, I am in full agreement that the world is in crisis from violence. I know from personal involvement that it is this recognition that prompted the Federation’s Principles and Values Unit in Geneva, to develop and propose a policy on violence prevention. Violence prevention is a moral and humanitarian imperative, and as such it behooves all of us in this great Movement to garner all the human and financial resources at our disposal, and to commit them to the prevention of violence of all kinds.

A Global Violence Prevention Strategy is necessary because violence obsesses and consumes our world, and if we do not seek to prevent it, our future and the future of our children and our children’s children, will be seriously jeopardized. A Global Violence Prevention Strategy is needed because the human cost is too severe to bear. This cost manifests itself in stunted growth of children; in lives brutally snuffed out prematurely; in  psychological damage that can last a lifetime; in the physical pain experienced by countless millions who have been maimed; in the intergenerational transmission of violent tendencies; and finally in the financial burden imposed on families, hospitals, humanitarian agencies and governments. As emphasized in a related workshop at the last General Assembly, a Global Strategy is needed because, “ violence is predictable, is not inevitable and can be prevented.”

My colleagues, despite the fact that we are calling for a Global Violence Prevention Strategy, it must be made absolutely clear that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy. Within this Global Violence Prevention Strategy, there must be a robust African Violence Prevention Strategy that addresses the unique realities of Africa as a whole, as well as the unique realities of each country. Let me now answer my earlier questions: How can violence prevention be a way of investing in Africa? By preventing violence, we invest in Africa by protecting our children, our women our young people, the elderly and other vulnerable persons. Does violence serve to retard or negate national development? If yes, how? The answer to this question is yes. The world acknowledges that Africa now boasts some of the fastest growing economies, and a violence prevention strategy will prepare Africa’s boys, and girls, young women and young men to benefit maximally from this growth.  High levels of violence against any segment of the population can impede economic growth, jeopardize personal and national security and ultimately retard national development.  For example, violence against children causes them to learn less, become insecure, become angry and violent; gang violence leads to early death of many youths, and violence against women deprives us of the contribution of a very important segment of our society. By developing an African Strategy, you are investing in Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to explicitly put on my social scientist hat as I directly address my African brothers and sisters. My friends, as you develop the African Violence Prevention Strategy, please be reminded that Africa and indeed former colonies throughout the world, have learned too well from our former colonial masters, and we have internalized too much of the violence that was meted out to us at all levels. As has been pointed out by the renowned Franz Fanon, from a socio-cultural perspective, the effect of this horrendous violence to which we were subjected still resides below the surface both culturally and individually. For this reason, our violence prevention strategy must include a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and indeed a lifelong commitment to mitigate its effects. This is what the legendary Bob Marley meant in “Redemption  Song” when he said “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

What is needed

If we are to be successful in preventing violence, our violence prevention strategy must emphasize the need to constantly monitor and adjust where necessary our language, our demeanor, and our moral compass. We as Red Crossers must demonstrate in action and in words our abhorrence of violence.  No longer can we stand by passively while our friends engage in the language of intolerance which is a precursor to violence. We must be prepared to challenge violence of all sorts gently and compassionately but at the same time unambiguously. We must be prepared at all times to lead by example and to call attention to what Martin Luther King Jr. calls the “defeating effects of physical violence.” In other words, violence prevention must begin with us. Here are some questions we must ask ourselves: Do we set an example in our personal relationships? Do we set an example in our relationships with our children? Do we set an example by how we relate to other Red Crossers?

We are now in the digital age, therefore any violence prevention programme must include violence found in cyberspace, where such social media as twitter and Facebook are being used to bully and sexually exploit.  We have seen several prominent cases in which bullying over social media has led to suicide. On this count I think it is crucial that our Psychosocial programme begins to focus on providing support with regard to violence perpetrated over social media.   

It is vitally important that Africa pools its human and financial resources in order to develop in the region an exemplary violence prevention programme with one or more National Societies taking the lead. In this regard, you can learn from the Americas region where the Canadian Red Cross over the past 25 years, has devoted a great deal of effort and money to preventing violence against children. It is undoubtedly the Movements leader on this issue, and has been helping other NS to launch similar programmes. Specifically, with the support of the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), Guyana, Belize and Jamaica Red Cross Societies, have implemented programmes to combat violence.

All violence is abhorrent, but I am particularly concerned about violence to our children. All our National Societies have an obligation to prevent violence to children and to teach our children to avoid violence. In this regard, I wish to call attention to the highly vaunted programme, Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change (YABC). 

Let us acknowledge that there is no such thing as perfection, hence there will probably be always some degree of violence. However we must do all we can to reduce the extent of violence. In the words of Albert Camus the great Algerian-born French Philosopher: “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured, but we can reduce the number of tortured children.” 

The IFRC’s Principles and Values Department suggests the following:

  • Positive parenting skills (equipping parents to assist their children to inculcate values of non-violence and  equality); setting up parental mentoring / support systems through peer networks
  • Engage with children and youth at the earliest age possible and in various settings in order to avoid stereotypical gender and social constructs
  • Ensuring access to health, education and vocational training
  • Need for stress relief programmes, and those enhancing resiliency for children and youth
  • Arts, music, and sports for trauma transformation

Let us ensure that every African National Society invests in Africa by developing a violence prevention strategy.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, violence is a horrible act that damages to the very core its victims and perpetrators alike. Therefore, let us, let our National Societies, let the Federation, and let the Movement confront it with relentless vigour, with commitment, with passion and with compassion, because the lives of people depend on it.

I thank you.  


"Domestic Violence: An Overview" was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in February, 2001

UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00.  

4 million women and girls are trafficked annually. (United Nations)

An estimated one million children, mostly girls, enter the sex trade each year (UNICEF)

WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women, 2005

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