Sunday November 19, 2017

Simple Therapy Proves to be Effective in Helping Women against Gender-Based Violence: Study

It is estimated that more than a third of women around the world have been exposed to such violence

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Gender-based violence
Women gather at a clinic at Dagahaley camp in Dadaab in Kenya's northeastern province, June 8, 2009. VOA
  • An intervention based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was more effective than traditional therapy in helping women struggling with gender-based violence
  • WHO will begin distributing the treatment more broadly to areas with little mental health infrastructure
  • cognitive behavioral therapists work to reveal thoughts and behaviors that currently contribute to a patient’s troubles

US, August 17, 2017: An intervention based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was found to be more effective than traditional therapy in helping women struggling with depression or anxiety after experiencing gender-based violence, research shows. It is estimated that more than a third of women around the world have been exposed to such violence, which includes rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.

The intervention, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help anyone facing adversity, had already been proven effective for Pakistanis struggling emotionally after exposure to terrorism.

Psychologist Richard Bryant at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, developed the program with colleagues there and others from WHO and the World Vision Institute. To test its effectiveness, 421 women in Nairobi, Kenya, were treated with either five sessions of the CBT program administered by a lay health care worker or were referred to area health care centers for standard treatment administered by nurses.

The nurses had four more years of education than the lay workers, who had no previous experience with mental health care. A program simple enough for lay volunteers to administer is important in areas with little mental health infrastructure.

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Reducing symptoms

The study, published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, found that women who received the CBT treatment showed 20 percent fewer anxious and depressive symptoms five weeks after the end of treatment than the control group, and 45 percent fewer than they did before treatment. Following this work, WHO will begin distributing the treatment more broadly to areas with little mental health infrastructure.

“The vast majority of people in the world don’t get access to evidence-based care for mental health problems,” Bryant told VOA. “So there really is, from a global mental health perspective, an urgent need to have a different way of thinking about how we deliver care. And we can’t be relying on specialists. We can’t be relying on lengthy sessions, lengthy treatment durations. We can’t be relying on systems that require long trainings to upskill people.”

CBT was developed in the 1970s. Unlike psychoanalysis, which aims to reveal the historical, root causes for a patient’s problems, cognitive behavioral therapists work to reveal thoughts and behaviors that currently contribute to a patient’s troubles.

Bryant said this particular intervention was designed to be as easy to administer as possible and focuses on changing behavior. The WHO treatment coaches patients to be active, engage in social networks, and problem solve. Bryant said much of the cognitive side of CBT was left out, not only to make it easier to train practitioners but also to make the intervention shorter. That allows treating more people with less money. Traveling to treatment can be expensive and dangerous in many places, and missing work is costly, so a treatment that requires fewer sessions is beneficial to patients.

Avoiding stigma

One challenge in helping people who have been exposed to gender-based violence is finding them. Rape and abuse carry a heavy stigma, and it can be dangerous for women to speak out.

Consequently, the program wasn’t advertised as being about gender-based violence. Researchers instead looked for women experiencing anxiety and depression. However, during treatment, they found that four out of five participants had experienced some form of gender-based violence — most often from an intimate partner.

“Really, I think what this tells us is that when you go to many of these settings where we know that gender-based violence and other forms of violence are so prevalent, you can actually assist these people — alleviate many of their mental health problems in an effective way — without actually creating the problems of identifying them and exacerbating the social stigma,” Bryant said.

Since the completion of the study in 2015, 1,400 volunteer counselors in Kenya have been trained in CBT, and 3,500 women have received the treatment.

Researchers in Australia have been leaders in CBT, Bryant said. In the early 2000s, researchers at Australian National University developed MoodGYM, free software that allows anyone with an internet connection to receive online CBT treatment at any time.

Numerous studies have shown that patients who complete internet-delivered CBT fare as well as those who receive treatment in person. However, those self-administering CBT without external encouragement are much less likely to complete a full course of treatment. (VOA)

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10 Quick Facts About Delhi Pollution Problem

Delhi pollution problem is a matter of grave concern for the authorities in the capital, especially before Diwali and the upcoming winter season. Supreme Court insists upon following strict environmental regulations by the government in order to prevent the release of toxic substances such as carbon, sulfur and coal.

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Smog New Delhi
Vehicles move through morning as smog covers New Delhi. voa

According to a current report by the World Health Organization (WHO), among the 20 most contaminated cities on the earth, 13 are in India, in which Delhi tops the list.

Every year air pollution in New Delhi causes smog during the winters

Here are some important issues and steps which are being taken to control the Pollution level in Delhi.

  • The Supreme Court has banned the sale of firecrackers in Diwali, India’s largest festival, to deal with the air pollution problem in Delhi, that causes smog during the winters.
  • The Court has declared 24th October as a deadline for the government to regulate the use of petcoke fuel.
  • Every day nearly eight residents are dying in India’s capital due to air pollution.
  • Despite the authorities in the capital setting rules to clear the air by cutting traffic, air pollution continues to be a severe threat to the lives of the residents of the capital.
  • A new fuel, petroleum coke, which is the replacement of coal, has further enhanced the problem of the air pollution.
  • Petroleum coke, also known as Petcoke is found in tar sands in the pits of Canada. These are some of the dirtiest crude oil sources. At US Gulf Coast, it is refined where petrol and diesel are removed. Petcoke is the left out substance that produces further harmful substances such as carbon, sulfur and heavy metal emission such as coal.
  • It is exported to the countries like India and China where it is used as a fuel. Thus the developed counties manage to make money out of this harmful waste material due to lax environmental laws in China and India.
  • China has reduced its dependence upon petcoke since 2014. Now India is the largest importer of petcoke.
  • In February, Supreme Court has ordered the government to ban the use of petcoke or put a limit on the sulphur emission in the process.
  • The regulations have limited the sulfur emissions to 4,000 ppm but the regional environmental agencies confirm the presence of 72,000 ppm of sulphur in the petcoke.

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UN Brings the World Together to Fight Violence Against Women and Girls; 1 in Every 3 Women Currently Face Gender-based Oppression Globally

A third of all women experience violence at some point in their lives, and that figure is twice as high in some countries, according to the United Nations

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Violence against women
Head of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks on stage at WE Day U.N. at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, in New York City (VOA)

United Nations, September 21, 2017 : World leaders meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday launched a half-billion-dollar effort to end violence against women and girls, a crime suffered by 1 in 3 in their lifetimes.

The effort will fund anti-violence programs that promote prevention, bolster government policies and provide women and girls with improved access to services”, organizers said.

It will take particular aim at all categories of violence against women- human trafficking, femicide and family violence.

A third of all women experience violence at some point in their lives, and that figure is twice as high in some countries, according to the United Nations.

“Gender-based violence is the most dehumanizing form of gender oppression. It exists in every society, in every country rich and poor, in every religion and in every culture,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of U.N. Women, said as the United Nations held its annual General Assembly.

“If there was anything that was ever universal, it is gender inequality and the violence that it breeds against women,” she said.

In other forms of violence against women and girls, more than 700 million women worldwide were married before they were 18, and at least 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries, according to U.N. figures.

The initiative of 500 million euros (US$595 million) was launched by the U.N. and the European Union, which is its main contributor, organizers said.

“The initiative has great power,” said Ashley Judd, a Hollywood actress and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) who participated in Wednesday’s announcement.

ALSO READ Violence against Women and Girls Imposes Large-scale Costs on Families, Communities and Economies, says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“There are already so many effective, research-based, data-driven programs,” Judd told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the announcement. “Financing for existing programs is a beautiful thing.

“It also makes an incredibly powerful statement to show that the world is increasingly cohesive around stopping gender-based violence,” she said. (VOA)

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End of the ‘Culture of Silence’ : Somalia Gets its First Forensic Lab to Handle Cases of Rape and Gender-based Violence

Rape and sexual assault are pervasive in Somalia, where decades of conflict have created persistent instability and crippled the institutions meant to uphold the law

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The newly opened Puntland Forensic Center is funded by the Swedish government and supported by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) (VOA)

Somalia, September 16, 2017 : A new forensic lab launched in central Somalia could transform how the Puntland state government handles cases of rape and gender-based violence, and possibly create a model for the rest of the country to follow.

The Puntland Forensic Center, funded by the Swedish government and supported by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), was opened September 6. It brings advanced DNA testing capabilities to a country still lacking in paved roads and reliable electricity.

The lab opened less than a year after Puntland enacted its Sexual Offenses Act, the first law in Somalia to criminalize sexual offenses and impose harsh penalties, including jail time, fines and public lashing, on the perpetrators.

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The Puntland Forensic Center, funded by the Swedish government and supported by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), was opened September 6 in central Somalia. (VOA)

The lab was designed to provide critical scientific evidence to the police and officials investigating and prosecuting crimes under this new law.

“As we were helping [the Puntland government] develop that piece of legislation, the question came of, ‘How do we enforce that legislation when it is finally approved?'” said Nikolai Botev, UNFPA’s Somalia representative.

“This is when the realization came that there are actually no forensic facilities within Somalia.”

Culture of silence

Rape and sexual assault are pervasive in Somalia, where decades of conflict have created persistent instability and crippled the institutions meant to uphold the law.

Thirty-year-old Fatima was collecting firewood outside her family’s home in a camp for displaced people in Puntland when she was attacked by three strangers. The men gang-raped her so violently that it caused Fatima, who was pregnant, to miscarry.

“After I came home, I started to bleed the next night. After three to four days, I lost my four-month-old baby,” Fatima told VOA in an interview at a women’s health clinic in Garowe.

Like many women in this conservative country, Fatima preferred to stay silent rather than endure the stigma of her community. The blame and shame survivors face deters many women from reporting rapes and assaults, creating a culture of silence.

“I was shy and said to myself, ‘Don’t tell your story to anyone because it is shameful,'” Fatima said. She was dressed in a full black niqab that revealed nothing but her eyes through a small slit.

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Fatima, who was gang-raped by three strangers outside her family’s home in a camp for displaced people in Puntland, waits at a women’s health clinic in Garowe. (VOA)

Although statistics on the numbers of sexual crimes are largely unavailable, Somalia has been ranked as one of the worst countries to be a woman, and stories like Fatima’s are alarmingly common.

UNFPA says reports of rape and sexual assault have increased this year, after a devastating drought pushed women like Fatima into displacement camps where they become even more vulnerable.

“We’re seeing a significant increase of sexual violence, particularly targeting internally displaced people,” Botev said. “The whole idea of the forensic center was born out of a bigger idea of how to address gender-based violence, sexual violence in the context of Somalia.”

A broken system

Somalia’s government, even at the state level, has yet to recover from decades of war. Many Somali women do not bother to report crimes because they lack faith that the system can, or wants to, help them get justice.

Officer Kis Shamis Kabdi Bile stands out in her bright orange sneakers, blue hijab and mirrored sunglasses. As the only woman in Garowe’s Criminal Investigation Division, she handles every case of rape and gender-based violence because, she says, most male officers don’t even consider them to be crimes.

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Officer Kis Shamis Kabdi Bile is the only woman in Garowe’s Criminal Investigation Division in Somalia.(VOA)

“There are some police officers who say rape is not a big deal and consider it a minor thing,” she told VOA in an interview at the police station. “They say that it is nothing new.”

Bile hasn’t been paid in over a year, and conducts her investigations on foot, as the police department doesn’t have a car. She says the police need resources and specialized training in how to handle sexual crimes.

Many of Bile’s cases are taken over by community elders, who settle disputes through Somalia’s traditional herr system. Often the rapist’s family pays a fine of camels or goats to the survivor’s family, or the survivors are forced to marry their attackers.

It’s frustrating, Bile said. “As you are in the middle of the case, those elders will come and say, ‘We are going to negotiate before you finish the case.'”

During our interview, a young girl, no older than 15, came to plead for Bile’s help. The male police officer assigned to her rape case was insisting she lacked the evidence to go to court, she said, and was encouraging her to resolve her case through the community elders. Bile called the officer in for a strong scolding, and then took over the case.

Changing times

There are promising signs that Puntland’s efforts are already helping more rape survivors to hold their attackers accountable.

Data from Puntland’s attorney general shows that of the 108 rapes reported in Puntland in 2016, only 14, or 12 percent, resulted in convictions. Almost a third were dropped due to lack of evidence.

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Map of Puntland

But since the Sexual Offenses Act was implemented this year, the conviction rate has risen to 27 percent, while the number of cases thrown out for insufficient evidence has dropped to 21 percent.

The trend is encouraging to local politicians, who hope the forensic laboratory will build upon the law’s early success by providing authorities with stronger evidence in a shorter time so they can investigate and prosecute more cases that will stand up in a court of law.

“We used to send DNA from here to Nairobi or from here to South Africa,” said Salah Habib Haaji Hama, Puntland’s Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs. “So those restraints now are easy. We can manage this and get answers within a timely period. Within hours, within minutes, when we used to have days, sometimes months, to receive those.”

An important component to the lab’s success is providing education, both to the survivors and the wider community, about how DNA testing works and why it’s so important.

“There’s a limited time that they have to report or the results of the lab will not be successful. So we will try to educate them,” said Maryan Ahmed Ali, Puntland’s Minister of Women. “What is the time limit? What do they have to do? Do they have to take a shower? Do they have to change or wash their clothes?”

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Understanding the implications of DNA testing could deter potential attackers from committing crimes for fear of being caught. It could also be a game changer for women like Fatima, who said she didn’t report the crime because she didn’t know her attackers’ names.

“Who am I going to accuse? I can only accuse a person I know. I can’t catch someone who I only saw in the jungle. I can barely remember the faces,” she said.

A multitude of challenges, including poor infrastructure, potential security threats and lack of qualified technicians, could impede the lab’s success, said UNFPA’s Botev. Somalia lacks advanced universities and hospitals, so the technicians overseeing the facility all studied abroad. They hope to make the lab a training ground for aspiring Somali scientists.

But the greater hope is that more successful convictions will foster increased confidence in Puntland’s new system, and encourage more women to report. Ultimately, Ali said, this will help reduce the social stigma and break the culture of silence surrounding rape and sexual assault.

“There will not be a stigma. There will not be a discussion about who did this, who did the crime, who did the rape. So it’s a big encouragement,” Ali said. (VOA)