Studies reveal that a significant number of torture survivors are female, yet, for many reasons, torture is often underreported among female survivors. Women are less likely to seek support or redress, often due to complex legal, societal or cultural reasons. As a response, IRCT centres from around the world have adopted gender-based principles, sharing their experiences on how they are pioneering unique ways of addressing these barriers.
Data from IRCT member centres has shown that female survivors of torture suffer from a wide array of gender and sexual-based torture including sexual humiliation and molestation, forced nakedness, rape, forced sterilisation or castration, and, forced prostitution or sexual slavery.
The impact of torture extends beyond the immediate physical and psychological pain. It has the ability to profoundly corrode the personal identity of victims and affects their ability to sustain familial and social relationships, pursue employment and maintain daily routines. Many IRCT member centres report that female victims can often feel intense humiliation, shame, guilt and isolation.
Given the multi-faceted consequences of torture and the unique complexity of each victim, individually-tailored and holistic rehabilitation is essential if survivors are to heal their wounds. This requires a complex range of immediate and comprehensive services that range from medical support and psychological counselling to family and community interventions, as well as legal and economic assistance.
However, women often face practical barriers to accessing the appropriate support to begin the healing process. Many women have difficulty speaking about extremely traumatic experiences or refrain from seeking help because of societal, cultural or familial factors. “Female victims often feel more stigmatized and therefore do not receive treatment,” said Shirin Shabana Khan, from IRCT member centre PVCHR based in Varanasi, India.
In response to these specific challenges, five IRCT member centres from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and the MENA region came together to share their experiences and adopt a set of principles on gender-sensitive rehabilitation. These principles include ensuring that women have access to services, that staff are trained in gender-sensitive approaches, that rehabilitation is tailored to the individual needs of the victim, that steps are taken to provide social support to mitigate stigma, and that advocacy work includes gender-sensitive components.
Some IRCT centres have noted that adopting gender-based policies have helped shed light on previously unknown areas and have as such had a transformative effect on how services are provided to clients. “After the implementation of gender policies, we changed our approach and suddenly noticed that more than 90% of the secondary patients are female,” said Shirin Shabana Khan.
“These principles will solidify the excellent work being done by centres from around the world and ensure that we all benefit from each other’s expertise”, said Lisa Haagensen, GATE Project Manager at the IRCT. “They will guide us in providing better services to support life after torture, which is ultimately, what we all aspire to achieve”.