WAVE – against violence, and for women’s dignity

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Kelly Blank of the WAVE networkstruggling against violence against women. WAVE stands for women dignity. We talked to Kelly about the history of her network, about CEDAW, and about the meaning of violence against women, going far beyond physical violence. And in campaigns for women this must be considered. Would like to thank Kelly so much for her detailed answers and important suggestions.
In which context was the WAVE Network founded?
WAVE has a long and proud history with over 20 years of experience. The original idea of founding the WAVE network can be traced back to a number of international events. The widening of trans-national cooperation began with the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993. This conference established that acts of violence committed against women constituted severe human rights violations. These violations related, for instance, to the right to live a life free of violence and the right to freedom from fear and coercion. The conference’s final document, the Vienna Declaration defines violence against women as a human rights violation and calls on states to take steps to prevent it.
In October 1994 the European/North American Preparatory Conference (ECE Conference) for the 4th UN Conference on Women took place in Vienna. European NGOs working in the field of violence against women took an active part in the conference, setting up a working group on “Violence and Human Rights Violations against Women”. It was during the ECE Conference that a group of women working in women’s shelters and institutions combating violence put forward the idea of establishing a European network on violence against women and children as means of strengthening the feminist movement across Europe to allow women’s organizations to collaborate and cooperate, to gain more influence and to more effectively fight for women’s rights and to promote the prevention and combating of violence against women and children on a European level.
In 1995, during the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women, progress was made in the formation of the European network. Its initiators ran a working group under the auspices of the NGO Forum, thus giving a wide public access to information on this undertaking. In the course of the World Conference on Women, the WAVE founding group held its constituent session. The group’s members included: Niamh Wilson of Irish Women’s Aid, Ebon Kram of the Swedish women’s shelters network ROKS, Urszula Nowakowska of the Centrum Praw Kobiet (Women’s Rights Centre) in Warsaw, Marianne Cense of TransAct in the Netherlands, Lepa Mladjenovic of the SOS Hotline in Belgrade, and Rosa Logar of the Verein der autonomen österreichischen Frauenhäuser (Austrian Women’s Shelter Network).
The establishment of a women’s network at this time was critical for women’s organizations, who were previously alone and operating without close cooperation. Having WAVE as a network to connect women’s organizations around the continent was a huge milestone in women’s progression for Europe. Representing unity and strength, the WAVE Network throughout the past twenty years has successfully managed to not only grow in membership (now 120 Members throughout 46 countries), but has also developed an excellent reputation for itself globally, being the only European network to work solely on violence against prevention. By advocating for specialist women’s support services, WAVE as a network is often called upon for expertise, knowledge-sharing and best-practices, as well as the development of recommendations and standards, participation in international conferences, cooperation for trainings and study visits, and involvement in lobbying efforts and harmonized data collection.
Most people think that gender violence is simply physical violence. What are the forms of violence which are less evident but equally harmful that you address?
Unfortunately, stereotypes of what violence against women is still exist, despite the mass amount of awareness-raising, campaigning and training being conducted by women’s organizations, civil society and even some governmental institutions. Our focus as a network is violence against women – including domestic violence and sexual violence. Domestic violence is an umbrella term, and subsumes many types of violence, with physical violence being one of them. However, other forms of violence we can see in domestic violence and also gender-based violence in general is emotional, financial sexual, verbal, cyber and even spiritual violence, all of which are just as harmful as physical violence. However, these forms of violence are often overlooked and more challenging to address, particularly because they are not always necessarily ‘visible’ and if a woman does choose to report, are difficult to prove. Since these forms of violence are also not as widely talked about, many women who experience these different forms may not understand that she is experiencing violence. Furthermore, in some cases and countries, even the law does not acknowledge some forms of violence to be violence against women. If society and the law do not acknowledge and implement support for all women victims of violence – including migrant women – the shame and misunderstanding of violence is only reinforced and perpetrators are essentially encouraged to commit violence against women again. This is why a network such as WAVE is important for Europe. By joining women’s organizations, professionals and experts in the field, we are able to collaborate and work together for ensuring that the individual experience of a women who have suffered from violence is able to seek adequate and quality support, regardless of the type of violence or when it occurred, without fear of victim-blaming or shame. Lobbying and awareness-raising on the issue must be constant, so that the issue is always on the consciousness of society and influences policy-making and the safety and needs of victims remain at the forefront of policies and service provision.  The Step Up! Campaign which is currently underway around Europe, works to address this and to raise awareness of this very important issue.
How effective is it for a country to ratify CEDAW?
CEDAW Convention offers a framework for states, more precisely tools for decision-makers and policy-makers to work with, when it comes to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. By accepting the Convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. When talking about violence against women, General Recommendation No. 19 (1992) tackles the issue. The Convention can only be seen in the light of a standard-setting Convention, as it will be the obligation of the States to adopt the appropriate legislation in the matter, and more importantly to effectively implement it. To establish the effectiveness for a country to ratify CEDAW, would have to be made case-by-case. But there is more to CEDAW than a framework convention, as in some ways, CEDAW goes some ways further to ensure that the most basic human right is respected, to be free from domestic violence. For example, the individual complaints procedure allows individuals or groups of individuals to complain about State’s violations, or the promotion of the CEDAW’s implementation at a state level, with the help of the Committee’s concluding observations to state parties. In this case, monitoring is critical for due diligence, and therefore women’s organizations are provided with the opportunity to write shadow reports which assist in holding states accountable to their responsibilities under the Convention.
What kind of support do you provide to people that ask for your help?
Although WAVE is a network of women’s support services, and is not on its own a counselling centre for women victims of violence, we do receive throughout the year many requests for help, including cross-border support. Our very own name ‘Women against Violence Europe’, as well as our international reputation as well as strong and historical expertise in the field, results in our organization being the first to appear in a simple Google search when women, organizations, institutions or academics are seeking support.  The WAVE Information Centre is one of the most essential activities of the organisation. WAVE staff are available on working days (Monday-Friday) from 9:00-14:00, to provide information on available services for women survivors of violence in 46 European countries, refer individuals to relevant contacts (service providers, experts and academics) in Europe, and support WAVE Members with their inquiries. The different activities associated to the WAVE Information Centre are performed on a daily basis. The Information Centre, a section for which has been added to the WAVE website, can be reached by email, phone and through social media.
The WAVE Information Centre supports cross-border requests, which have increased in the last few years, with each month WAVE receiving cross-border requests for support from women survivors of violence, or from family members of the survivors, from women’s support services, or from different institutions. The requests are often received when women have not been able to find sufficient support in their countries, are in dangerous and high-risk situations, are not aware of the support provided in their countries, or the situation is especially complex and requires cross-border assistance. In such cases, WAVE has served both to refer the survivors to appropriate services in the relevant countries, and to provide support to survivors, whenever possible.
In many cases, situations involve women needing to relocate to other countries in order to escape the violence as well as to seek support such as shelters or counselling. Therefore, WAVE initiates contacts with relevant women’s organizations or authorities in order to provide the necessary support to women. In some cases, WAVE remains involved throughout the case to ensure the woman’s safety and a positive outcome. The cases in 2016 varied and included women from various countries in Europe and beyond. Please see the article on WAVE’s cross-border support for more details.
The Information Centre also responds to requests from experts and academics, women’s and other civil society organizations, and from the general public. These include requests for specific information on WAVE’s publications and work, internship and partnership requests, and communication with international and European institutions. In 2016, WAVE received over 350 information requests and 3,000 newsletters from various institutions and organizations, including from the European Union and United Nations. WAVE also provides information for professionals from different organizations who are seeking information for victims, responds to questionnaires and surveys, and contacts from colleagues in other countries for cross-country cooperation and exchange. In addition, an important aspect of the work of the Information Centre is to provide information and support to the 120 Network Members and to ensure that all are consistently kept updated on the various activities and developments of the WAVE Network.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions?
Cooperation with local authorities and institutions – including European-level organizations – is important to the WAVE Network, particularly for strengthening multi-agency efforts, sharing knowledge and information, ensuring safety for women victims for violence, lobbying governmental bodies, and also, of course, for sustainable funding to continue our work. Throughout the years, WAVE has extensive cooperation with the European Commission, Council of Europe, OAK Foundation, United Nations, and also European networks such as Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), European Women’s Lobby (EWL) and Work With Perpetrators European Network (WWP EN). Developing coalitions with other organizations working in the field and actively participating in European projects with our Members and other civil society organizations is critical to our work. For instance, just the past year, WAVE was able to ensure participation from countries outside the EU, in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia, through generous OAK Foundation funding. Through cooperation with the Council of Europe, multidisciplinary delegations composed of professionals and government officials from around the world – this year from Serbia – ensured that the work of WAVE and the promotion of multi-agency work is passed on to important decision makers and stakeholders.
One of the many ways WAVE cooperates with other networks and organizations in the field is to successfully lobby stakeholders. In August 2016, the CEDAW Committee called for comments from interested parties to submit their opinions regarding the Draft General Recommendation No. 19 (1992): accelerating elimination of gender-based violence against women. The WAVE office welcomed this initiative, and after prior consultation with WAVE Members, submitted recommendations on the working-draft on 29 September. WAVE also formed a coalition to end violence against women and girls with EWL and several other civil society networks to support the EU signature and ratification of the Istanbul Convention, continued to work closely with UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its consequences and consequences, DubravkaŠimonović, in particular on establishing a femicide watch.
Since 2014, WAVE has been a Member of WWP EN. The aim of this cooperation with perpetrator programmes is to ensure that the safety of victims is of primary concern for all perpetrator programmes, and the network promotes effective perpetrator work with those who commit violence, mainly men. The WAVE Network has a permanent position on the Board of WWP EN, and other WAVE Member organization are also members. By having women’s organizations represented in the Board, and also by opening network membership to specialist women’s support services, the work of WWP EN guarantees a feminist voice in the structure and activities of the network. Members of WWP EN attended the 18thWAVE Conference in Berlin by hosting two workshops, and in October, WAVE attended the WWP EN Annual Workshop Meeting held in Krakow, Poland. This three-day event gathered around fifty WWP EN Members, and focused on quality standards for work with perpetrators.
As part of the Step Up! Campaign, PICUM and WAVE came together to improve access to services for undocumented women and women who have precarious immigration status, with the goal to make support services for gender-based violence accessible for all women, whatever their migration status. WAVE and PICUM joined forces with key women’s rights and migrant’ rights organisations in various European countries and developed a Pledge for individuals and organizations to sign, as well as a checklist for specialist support services to help determine the barriers which currently exist in their service provision for supporting undocumented migrant women. The Pledge, and more information on the joint cooperation, can be seen here: www.wave-stepup.org