The equitable and active participation of women, men, LGBTQI+ populations and social organizations in identifying, preventing and addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) risks is an important mechanism to protect the most vulnerable people from these cultural manifestations of violence.
Gender-based violence is any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will because of their sex or gender. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. These acts may occur in public or in private.
SGBV under the new Environmental and Social Policy Framework
As part of its new Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF), the IDB has included a standard on gender equality that addresses, among other issues, SGBV risks that may arise in the context of a development project. With Environmental and Social Performance Standard 9 (ESPS 9), the IDB recognizes that projects bring people and social change to the communities in which they operate and, in doing so, may exacerbate existing risks. The borrower must assess and prevent SGBV risks related to the project, addressing incidents promptly and appropriately. In the first installment of this series, you were introduced to Tremont, the backdrop for the stories that illustrate the risks addressed by ESPS 9. In this opportunity, you will meet Joshua Williams, the construction manager; Wendy, the owner of the food cart; and Marisa, a project worker.
Although it is recognized as a violation of human rights, gender-based violence is widespread and occurs in every country in the world. Despite its prevalence, these forms of violence tend to be a hidden problem, as can be evidenced in Tremont, where someone known as “Rooster” has been sending obscene photos to construction staff for weeks, particularly to women. He also viciously spies on two colleagues he considers to be homosexual. What can be done in this case?
If not intentionally addressed, sexual and gender-based violence can easily be ignored. For example, people working on a project may be exposed to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, especially women working in traditionally male-dominated contexts, in isolated workspaces, or in occupations or shifts in which they constitute a small minority. This is the case for Sandra, a welder who works with George on the construction site. They are good friends and usually have lunch. George was insistent on inviting her to a beer, until Julian and Charles, two workers from the same crew, take action. What measures do you think Julian and Charles took in this case?
In countries where certain aspects of the national legislation contradict the provisions of ESPS 9, the borrower will find ways to adhere to the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality for all persons affected by the project and to the objectives of this performance standard.
Different types of sexual and gender-based violence
Gender-based violence is rooted in unequal power relations due to gender, and UN data estimates that one in three women in the world will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime, such as:
- Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual activity in which those who perpetrate it take advantage of the fact that the victim cannot consent to it, using physical threats of a sexual nature, either through force, unequal and/or coercive conditions, or duress. The vast majority of victims know their perpetrators.
- Sexual exploitation: any person who requests sexual favors in exchange for work, goods or any benefit related to the project. Refers to actual or attempted abuse from a position of vulnerability, power, or trust for sexual purposes, including but not limited to taking financial, social, or political advantage of the sexual exploitation of another person.
- Sexual harassment: covers a range of behaviors and practices of a sexual nature, including unwelcome sexual comments or advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct or gestures of a sexual nature, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that may reasonably be seen or perceived as a cause of offense or humiliation to another person when such conduct interferes with work, becomes a condition for employment, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by different people, such as colleagues, supervisors, subordinates and third parties. Bullies and victims can be of any gender.
- Digital violence and harassment: violence committed or aggravated through the total or partial use of ICTs such as telephones, the Internet, social networks, mobile applications and email, among others. It manifests itself through acts of harassment; threats; bullying; hate messages; disclosure of information, photos or videos without consent; as well as through the use of these means to recruit victims of human trafficking.
According to the IFC, 30–50% of women in Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced sexual harassment at work. These data, among others, tell us that gender-based violence disproportionately affects women and girls. However, men and boys can also experience this type of violence, although they are less likely to report it due to social and gender norms.
The risks surrounding these different types of sexual and gender-based violence will vary depending on the local context, the characteristics of the project itself, the capacity of the borrower to respond, and other factors.
Some of the factors that may signal an increased risk of project-related sexual and gender-based violence include the following:
- The project involves a large influx of workers in communities with low absorption capacity and few social services; employs security personnel; builds large infrastructure works for extended periods; takes place in remote, isolated or geographically dispersed areas, or in the vicinity of schools.
- Increased sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, and human trafficking, which can occur on projects involving large flows of outsiders into local communities.
- Communities affected by the project already have high levels of gender-based violence, insecurity, and crime; high levels of poverty and lack of economic opportunity (which increases the likelihood of sexual exploitation); and high social tolerance and normalization of violence against women.
- Legislation on sexual and gender-based violence is weak (for example, it does not take into account certain types of violence such as sexual harassment).
- The uneven increase in unpaid work, which can occur in projects that depend on unpaid community work, carried out mainly by women, such as cooking, collecting firewood and organizing the community.
- One of the components of the project will include physical and/or economic displacement.
Engagement and communication with local communities are fundamental to guarantee safe, private and confidential participation. In the third installment of this series, we discuss good practices and specific actions to prevent and address the risks related to SGBV.
This blog is part of a series about sexual and gender-based violence incidents that can occur in the context of a project. Check out the other two installments:
If you would like to learn more about ESPS 9 of the new Environmental and Social Policy Framework, take our self-paced course.