Developing Societies and the Risk of Violence

Rutgers University researcher travels to Africa to study link between the environment and violence against women.

By on July 17, 2014

This is the first story in a series highlighting work from the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the Rutgers University School of Social Work. The Center was created in 2007, established in part by a $100,000 endowment by HopeLine from Verizon.

Samantha Winter knew when she was only 15 years old that she was passionate about working internationally to help empower women. After living in Costa Rica, she chose to pursue a degree in civil and environmental engineering, because she realized that empowerment and safety for many women around the world starts with meeting basic needs, such as access to appropriate sanitation facilities.

In her research, Winter recognized the anecdotal evidence of women around the world feeling unsafe or at risk of sexual assault because they had to relieve themselves. The stories suggested that women’s experiences with sanitation were influenced by the fact that they had little to no access to adequate facilities.

While a graduate student at Stanford University, Winter received a fellowship to live with women and work on grassroots projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene in East Africa.

“My time with the women in East Africa solidified my desire to research women’s unique experiences with sanitation in this region of the world,” said Winter. “What I realized is that merely providing the facilities does not necessarily meet women’s needs or empower them. We have to understand how sanitation plays a role in the greater experience of women’s lives, and if that issue is adding to the burden that women face as part of a society that does not adequately address violence.”

Winter is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University, while working as a researcher at the Rutgers’ Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC). The only one of its kind in the country, VAWC conducts community-based, collaborative research on violence against women and children, and offers students a unique certificate program that provides specialized courses and field placements in the area of domestic violence prevention.

“VAWC is very hands-on, in every facet of research and data analysis,” added Winter. “My research skills have been fostered here in a way that many students don’t have access to.”

Winter will put these skills to work when she travels to Nairobi, Kenya, next summer to understand women’s experiences with their current sanitation environments. Her goal is to bring a voice to women’s experiences and understand how environment and development can play a role in changing the already widespread, socially-based burden of violence.

“There is a congruence between society and development that is often missed both in the research and professional setting. As globalization continues, we have to break down the boundaries between disciplines and start looking at violence holistically,” says Winter. “This is where my passion lies and where I want to make a difference.”

In addition to being a founding supporter of Rutgers’ VAWC, Verizon Wireless offers three HopeLine scholarships to students every year who are committed to working on issues of violence against women and children. These scholarships are made possible by the company’s HopeLine program, which collects no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories from any wireless provider. Through HopeLine, Verizon Wireless has donated thousands of phones and awarded millions of dollars in cash grants to domestic violence prevention organizations across the country.

Photo Caption: Rutgers University Ph.D. student Samantha Winter helping to make a solar oven just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, in August 2011