Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) affects one in three women in their lifetime and is particularly common in fragile and conflict-affected states including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Effectively decreasing violence against women and children requires approaches that push back against the social norms of gender roles and acceptability of violence and address other underlying factors.
The World Bank-funded Multisectoral Nutrition and Health Project (PMNS) has initiated a prevention program to combat GBV while addressing widespread malnutrition through interventions including biofortification in the provinces of South Kivu, Kasaï, and Kwilu in the DRC.
HarvestPlus, the technical assistance partner on the project, is implementing programming in all its field activities that generates respect among genders and promotes gender equality and social balance—a commitment to a global vision against GBV.
In all its forms, GBV is a widespread socio-economic, psychological, and cultural challenge that is perpetrated by armed conflicts, the scourge of internal displacement, and cultural relativism, as well as vulnerability due to poverty, injustice, and food and nutrition insecurity.
For the PMNS project an environmental safeguard and social inclusion department was established, in accordance with the World Bank’s commitment to tackling gender-based violence through investment, research, learning, and collaboration with stakeholders around the world.
Through this, training programs were established for all project staff and partners on GBV. HarvestPlus organized several capacity building sessions in which all PMNS project actors to committed to combatting GVB, including acts of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment among those most at-risk.
The training also had an important focus on the equitable inclusion of women in the deployment of biofortification and addressed norms and behaviors that typically hinder women’s involvement.
Those who attended included representatives from civil society organizations, religious and community leaders, students, and officials from the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Scientific Research and Technology, and Foreign Trade. All project actors were equipped with knowledge and tools to mitigate GBV and the marginalization of women.
“Intensification of awareness about violence among all men and women actors, application of the World Bank Code of Good Conduct, and the implementation of a complaint transmission circuit are all bases for HarvestPlus to fight all forms of gender-based violence in the deployment of biofortification in the DRC,” said Blaise Mvumbi, HarvestPlus Senior Expert in Environmental and Social Safeguards and GBV subject matter expert.
Biofortification as a vehicle for economic empowerment of women
Cultural influence and social inequalities between women and men in Congolese society often mean women’s voices are inaudible within the household. Yet, women are the driving force behind the agricultural development that feeds families in rural areas.
“Women make a huge contribution to the economy through farms in our villages,” said Kalala Meta, one of the women who participated in the PMNS sensitization training. “To perpetuate this potential, there is a need to combat the gender discrimination that often condemns and restricts women from accessing economic assets such as land and loans.”
Women like Meta believe biofortification will help Congolese women like her advance their economic empowerment. By selling some of her nutrient-enriched biofortified produce, she is able to use the proceeds to take care of the needs of her household and children.
Transforming inequities within the agricultural system, promoting inclusive economic growth, and promoting women-led entrepreneurial activities are part of HarvestPlus’ response to combat all forms of GBV.
DRC Multisectoral Nutrition and Health Project
The Government of the DRC launched a major multi-year initiative to scale up sustainable production and consumption of biofortified staple crops to help address persistently high rates of malnutrition in this central African country of 93 million people.
The initiative is part of the World Bank-funded Multisectoral Nutrition and Health Project (PMNS), which will increase the range and scope of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions aimed at children ages 0-23 months and pregnant and lactating women.