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International Justice Mission Canada: Centering the Voices of Survivors of Violence for Sustainable, Systemic Change

International Development Week, February 2024

International Justice Mission Canada (IJM) joins Cooperation Canada, the Global Cooperation Caucus and fellow civil society organizations to celebrate International Development Week 2024. This is an annual moment for Canada’s international cooperation sector to come together and review progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN General Assembly Economic and Social Council outlines the commitment to “Leave no one behind. That defining principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared promise by every country to work together to secure the rights and well-being of everyone on a healthy, thriving planet. But halfway to 2030, that promise is in peril.” The effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, increased conflict and the effects of climate change have left billions vulnerable to increased rates of poverty and violence.

International Justice Mission’s programming focuses on ending grave forms of violence such as forced labour, commercial sexual exploitation of children and sexual violence experienced by millions of people every day. We partner with local authorities in 31 program offices in 16 countries to combat trafficking, violence against women and children and police abuse of power. IJM’s staff are local to the country program and believe that every intervention must be trauma-informed and survivor-led.

To curb setbacks on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and move towards lasting change, IJM believes that individuals, families and communities most impacted need to be at the head of all efforts to fully realize the world the SDG’s have articulated. Survivors of violence must be present and have agency to lead and guide systemic change.

Zoey* a courageous member of the Philippine survivor network, survived online sexual exploitation as a young girl. Now in her second year of college studying Psychology, she dreams of being a licensed psychologist one day to help her fellow survivors: “I see how my story inspires others. Even when I think about my experiences, how I was able to overcome them, I want to let others know how I endured my past. I want to inspire others through my storytelling,” she said.

Being survivor-led means supporting local leaders like Zoey to find local solutions to end violence in their communities. It involves dialogue and championing the voices of survivors in court, government meetings, justice system strengthening and local media. IJM’s commitment to being survivor-led has resulted in the creation and growth of the Global Survivor Network (GSN), supported by IJM. This survivor leader network helps each other heal from violence and leads efforts in their communities and countries to protect people from it.

Founding member of the GSN Leadership Council, Victoria Nyanjura is a women’s rights advocate based in Uganda. She is a survivor of Lord’s Resistance Army abductions and has shared her story and amplified the stories of other survivors from local, national, and international platforms.

As a survivor who works with survivors of violence, I believe immediate crisis care programmes must be informed and shaped by the survivors who use them. This will ensure that the needs of the survivors are being met and no additional harm is occurring during this delicate time. That includes immediate protection for women and children fleeing violence, and enforcement of restraining orders. Intake processes must be trauma-informed so victims are not being interviewed over and over. Doctors and nurses must be trained to properly examine and treat sexual assault victims, so they aren’t re-traumatised by the experience.

Using this trauma-informed approach, IJM and our partners have reduced the prevalence of trafficking and violence by 50-86% in nine different jurisdictions around the world. Our 2030 vision is to see 500 million people protected from violence – contributing to SDG 5.2, 8.7, 16.1 and 16.2.

Victoria states that if we want to see communities protected from violence:

Donors providing aid and governments developing policy must seek out input from survivors of violence, especially women. In many parts of the world, women are the social adhesion which binds families and communities together. The many stakeholders working on programmes and policies to address violence need to measure whether their programmes are truly meeting the needs of survivors, especially women. To accomplish this, survivors need to be in places where decisions are made and policies are formed. This is the only way to ensure that the justice system is working for the people who need it the most.

    IJM Canada believes that when Canada’s international development programs are built in partnership with and informed by the lived experience of vulnerable communities, they will result in sustainable and dignified solutions that work for everyone.

    For more information, contact

    About International Justice Mission Canada:

    International Justice Mission partners with local authorities in 31 program offices in 16 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children and police abuse of power. IJM’s mission is to protect people in poverty from violence by rescuing victims, bringing criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts. Learn more at:

    *To protect IJM survivors, we have used pseudonyms.

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