Doing No Harm for Human Rights


Today marks the end of 16 Days of Activism, a collective strategy for organisations and individuals around the world to organise for change in the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. It is fitting that this day also marks Human Rights Day, because it puts women’s and girls’ rights at the forefront.

Today also reminds us about the gendered dimensions in achieving equality and the full enjoyment of our human rights.

The United Nations’ Declaration on the elimination of violence against women (EVAW) defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) provides us with some sobering global statistics:

  • One in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • As many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.

Water for Women recognises that the prevalence and threat of gender-based violence against women and girls, in all their diversities, is a serious human rights issue and in many contexts, has detrimental impacts on their capacity to participate fully in society, and without fear. This is why many Water for Women partners are working with Asian and Pacific communities with a strong focus on the empowerment of women and girls. They are also addressing issues relating to gender-based violence in their WASH programming.

Empowerment of women and girls in their diversity means challenging entrenched gender norms, which can result in backlash, resistance and even violence. Working with a Do No Harm perspective means understanding and addressing these very real risks, so that women and girls can feel safe and have confidence to participate more fully in society, without fear of backlash.

The Water for Women ‘Do No Harm’ pilot, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity Fiji, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and International Women’s Development Agency, focuses on implementing Do No Harm strategies to support the safe empowerment of women and reduce the risk of their increased workloads from their participation in WASH activities.

Central to this, is working with implementing staff so that they understand the devastating effects of gender-based violence on women and children. This understanding allows them to identify holistic and well targeted strategies for whole-of-community engagement in WASH decision-making, where it is not just about “getting women in the room” but also about what happens once they are there, and what happens after the staff leave. Above all, it is recognising that doing nothing is doing harm.

Watch our Do No Harm Pilot

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