VOICE & Feminism in Action Post Conflict and Disaster

Get to know VOICE! 

VOICE – a new organization established by longtime feminist activist Mendy Marsh – is dedicated to eradicating violence against women and girls in conflict, post-conflict, and disasters. She brings over two decades of experience working to end violence against women worldwide. 

VOICE advocates for a world where women and girls no longer face discrimination and violence and where they are respected leaders of humanitarian responses. This sounds like an obvious demand – but it is far from reality. 

Help us get to know VOICE. Why was it founded?

VOICE is unconventional on purpose. We re-imagine conflict and disaster response – improving it for those whose lives are most impacted and whose voices have historically been most silenced. Not only must women and girls affected by violence be heard, but they should also be driving the process to end that violence.

VOICE recognizes the leadership of women and girls in affected communities, providing them with the resources they demand, to implement their own solutions.

VOICE amplifies the solutions that women and girls identify. After all, who knows better than they do about what they need? 

Can you tell us a bit about your motivation for dedicating your life’s work to addressing violence against women and girls?

Like women and girls all over the world, I have had multiple experiences that have illustrated to me that the world needs to change in terms of preventing violence against women and girls and promoting their leadership. I have been personally affected by domestic violence as a witness and as a survivor.  I have helped women get out of abusive relationships, and I have lost women family members and friends due to intimate partner violence in different parts of the US, including New York City just a few weeks ago. 

For me, addressing violence against women and girls is a way to right injustices that women and girls face on a daily basis all over the world.  It is about creating the future that we all must own for women and girls all over the world. 

Sadly, I know we won’t end violence against women and girls in my lifetime, but I have to continue the courageous work that women and girls have done before me.  Their strength, sacrifices, leadership and insight have made our own learning and growth possible and inform the work we do today, and their efforts will not be retracted or lost in this hostile world. 

How does feminism – as a principle, practice, politic, etc – play into the organization?

VOICE is unapologetically feminist – an important distinction when feminist principles are under threat every day, in nearly every country. Why apologize for what we know is right? And in so doing, VOICE fights alongside other feminists to ensure that humanitarian responses recognize and respect women’s and girls’ insight, leadership, and expertise. 

The organization is inherently political – because addressing violence against women and girls is a political act. We are unafraid to say that women and girls face unique threats because of their gender, and people in power have a duty to invest in their protection. Feminism is political. 

What does VOICE do? 

VOICE shares and shifts power through meaningful partnerships that provide platforms to speak truth. This truth includes the ability to be self-reflective, building in an iterative process that allows for examination and challenges to their work, and constant evolution to better meet the needs of women and girls. 

VOICE is disruptive and catalytic in that it speaks out against injustice and provides radical solutions rooted in local knowledge and built on expertise and evidence. And in this work, they are accountable. 

It is now well known that humanitarian emergencies are most dangerous for women and girls. Pre-existing vulnerabilities increase, and women and girls have to risk far more to ensure their own safety. Even seemingly-simple acts such as accessing water or using the toilet become risky for women. 

Food distributions are also avenues of exploitation, and many women and girls face dangers simply for accessing their right to food aid. VOICE builds their work on extensively documented research, showing that disasters and displacement exacerbate violence against women and girls.

Women and girls stay safer when those leading a humanitarian response are women themselves. Local women and girls know exactly what their communities need and get lifesaving supplies quickly and safely to those who need it most.

To help promote the voices of women and girls and hold humanitarian actors more accountable to women and girls, we have created and deployed tools to improve action.  In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, we created and tested the ListenUp! Index to assess site-specific interventions and their accountability to women and girls. Emergency responses in Lebanon, Nigeria and Uganda are now using the findings from the tool to better prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. 

Crimes perpetrated against women and girls are too often ignored, especially in conflicts and crises. Two years on from the proliferation of the #metoo and #aidtoo movements, the humanitarian system is still failing to listen to the women and girls it’s meant to serve. Despite the headlines, apologies, and some limited increased investment to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse across the development and humanitarian sectors, funders are still neglecting violence against women and girls. 

To address this, VOICE raised the alarm, along with the International Rescue Committee, on funding for violence against women and girls in crisis settings to document the fact that a woeful 0.12% of humanitarian funding goes toward tackling violence against women and girls. This research, entitled Where is the Money? How the Humanitarian System is Failing in its Commitments to End Violence Against Women and Girls also revealed that it is possible to better address and prevent violence against women and girls, but we are not despite the reality that we have increased evidence on what works to address violence against women and girls. 

Less talk, more action! 

We have generated a lot of awareness and conversation around the need for change when it comes to gender inequality and the status of women. It is recognized that addressing violence against women and girls is essential to addressing every single social development goal and beyond.  But we still have a lot of progress to make. Unfortunately, no country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030.  We know that 1 in 3 women will face physical or sexual violence, and further research shows that disasters and displacement exacerbate violence against women and girls and that one in five refugee or displaced women have experienced sexual violence.  

What can organizations and individuals do to take action?

Uplift women and girls as experts and leaders of their own experience, as agents of change. 

Help mobilize resources so that we have increased amounts of money to address violence against women and girls. 

Act to dismantle bias and call out organizational cultures and practices that reward sexism, discrimination or hide abuse. This includes challenging sexism and promoting women and girl-friendly environments everywhere (homes, schools, places of work and beyond).

Recruit more women. Bring women from diverse backgrounds into the workplace. Ensure this includes their recruitment into leadership positions. 

Provide platforms for women-led organizations. Women’s organizations have led efforts to advance women’s rights and protection in their communities across the world. Yet, despite the immense contribution that they are making, many of these organizations are unheard and underfunded. We must support and amplify the voices of these organizations.

We must continue to push leaders to make real, lasting commitments to women and girls’ health, education, and empowerment. With real political will and money behind them. 

Recognize that each one of us can be  a positive agent of change. We need individuals to reflect and act on a personal level to be this change, wherever you may be.

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