Gender-based violence. Those words are powerful. Say those words to someone and they mean something, even if they have never heard the term before. Female genital mutilation. These words conjure up images of brutality, of violence, of pain, of discrimination and sexism. Even sexually transmitted disease, maybe something you’re more used to hearing in its abbreviated form of STD, is more powerful when spelled out.
If you work in global health or international development and maybe even if you don’t, you probably call gender-based violence “GBV” and female genital mutilation “FGM”. You’ve probably written PMTCT, short for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (of HIV). And heard SAM (severe acute malnutrition); SRH (sexual reproductive health); FP (family planning); MVC (most vulnerable children); NTDs (neglected tropical diseases); NCDs (non-communicable diseases); OVC (orphans and vulnerable children); QALY (quality-adjusted life-years)…and I could go on.
There’s the obvious argument that using these acronyms and abbreviations alienate people who aren’t in the aid, development, human rights or health fields and don’t know the wonky lingo and it’s elitist and pretentious, and I would agree with that. But there’s something even more disturbing.
We dilute the meaning of these words and phrases by bunching them up into comfortable little packages of letters. We start to forget what they even stand for. This shorthand stands for words that articulate inequity, paint a picture of human rights violations, elucidate real issues that need to be described with real words, not – women who have experienced FGM as a form of GBV are also likely to get STDs like HIV and end up going through PMTCT, though many times their children suffer SAM and are MVCs. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??? It means women are being abused and having their human rights violated because of their gender. It means we’ve figured out ways for people living with HIV to not transmit it to their children. It means children are dying from malnutrition because they live in poverty. These letters represent circumstances that describe the trials of being a human being in the face of injustice. This isn’t LOL and BRB and IDK.
So, while I might vaguely understand people’s desire to shorten things up, please, take the extra few letters, take the extra breath and say the words. They mean something. And isn’t it so much more powerful to call what it is they stand for by their names?