How do you “do” ethnography in studies?

As part of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures impact evaluation funded by What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls? Programme and UKAID, the team undertakes much qualitative research to understand our young women’s and men’s lives and how the intervention helps them negotiate life’s changes. In addition to the many in-depth interviews, we have carried out over the last two years, we have also spent time with participants and observed their lives from within, this is call participant observation or ethnography.

In the past ethnography has often involved ‘foreigners’ from distant places (often white) observing people from completely different cultures and communities (often black). This has presented a number of challenges such as language barriers and adjusting to the socio-cultural contexts, all of which shape the dynamics of the interaction between the observer/s and people being observed. Moreover, as a significant body of reflexive research about ethnography (that is research reflecting on the process of doing ethnography) has come to recognise these encounters have often been hugely problematic, with ethnographers bringing unconscious biases about the ‘other’ to their research.

My experience could be perceived as somewhat similar – yet it is different. I am a young Black woman observing other young Black women in urban informal settlements in the same country and city in which I was born (Durban, South Africa). However, due to the historical and (even contemporary) socio-political conditions, South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world, as measured by the GINI co-efficient. This, and a range of factors, e.g. urbanisation and socio-economic disparities, has meant that I have to ride two public-taxis, go to the field and shift from a young Black woman in the city, to an observer in an informal settlement (same country, same city, same language).

Whilst I do not have to learn a new language or go the extra mile to try and adjust and understand the context in which I work, I have had a few reality checks that forced me to introspect on this research dynamic. One example of this was an encounter during the earlier stages of my interactions with this group of women. My colleague and I decided that I probably should not share much about my own education to the participants – I am currently in the middle of my Master’s degree – as this might cause the women to view me as different to them and privileged (less than 40% of the participants have completed grade 12 – the high school leaving certificate).

This speaks to a number of issues. For example, the decision to withhold information about myself in a strategic manner serves to highlight some of the challenges of doing ethnography in this context of contradictions, where you have to observe people similar to yourself, however you also occupy a space of “privilege”. Coming to terms with being the same as, yet also very different to the women I observe, poses multiple challenges that I need to confront on a daily basis, as I seek to develop a deeper understanding of young women’s lives.

The continuous reflection and interrogation of my own class positionality in relation to the young women in the study has enabled me to quickly build rapport with the participants and has assisted in overcoming some of the historical challenges of ethnographic research.

Blog Article written by Nolwazi Ntini, HEARD UKZN on unpacking the ethnographic process.


Stepping Stones and Creating Futures Facilitators: The Fanatics

As an ethnographer on the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention trial currently underway in Durban, South Africa, I have been absolutely amazed hearing the stories of the facilitators. Their incredible resilience in overcoming challenges when they head out to run the intervention in informal settlements around the city and has led me to call them: the fanatics.

The Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention is seeking to reduce men’s perpetration of violence against women, improve gender equality and reduce HIV-risk behaviours. Through participatory discussions and interactive methods delivered by facilitators, male and female participants reflect on their lives and actions in ways that lead to positive behaviour change.

Facilitators are scattered across many informal settlements around Durban. To get to their sites they travel via public transport, carrying refreshments for participants who will be present on the day. While venues were secured prior to the start of the programme, things can change during the course of the intervention and not always for the better. Political disputes in some communities have led to the unexpected locking of halls, forcing some groups to gather under a tree (a classical African story even for formal education). One facilitator faced with these challenges was fortunate to come across a kind tavern owner (who sells beer) who was supportive of the work of the project and allowed the group to run the workshop in his venue.

What was also inspiring was the commitment participants displayed in ensuring sessions ran. In one community a participant offered their shack for use on a regular basis as a group meeting place. Such alternatives venues were not without risk – in one case, since they were using a woman’s shack, the facilitator was perceived to be a secret lover by a jealous boyfriend who lived nearby. Luckily, quick intervention by the Project Empower team defused the situation and now the project runs without a hitch there.

Facilitating in the informal settlements where participants live has proved to be a complicated task, but nonetheless was met by a resilient and dedicated team of facilitators. They went the extra mile, dealing with emotional stories of young men and women living in informal settlements. Alongside this where the challenges of working in informal contexts: lack of water, lack of toilets, buildings with dangerous and illegal electricity, and community protests.

What moved me the most as I observed the intervention being delivered is the commitment and passion all facilitators showed as they saw themselves as agents of change – it is why I refer to them as the ‘fanatics’. They were fanatical in their commitment to overcoming the challenges of delivering Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, achieving the appreciation of the participants who valued their presence and the insight they brought to their lives. The fanatics went above and beyond any reasonable commitment to their work, in so doing I hope they continue doing great work in these informal settlements and make a contribution in alleviating a fraction of violence and HIV in South Africa.

Blog written by Thobani Khumalo, Ethnographer & Filmmaker, Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division (HEARD).


‘Change Starts at Home’ tackles IPV through use of media and community outreach.

Everything is extremely lush in Nepal and a steady curtain of monsoon rain falls. I’m just back after three days visiting project activities in Nawalparasi, one of the three intervention districts – a 20 min flight or up to 12 hours drive during the monsoon from Kathmandu.

The Equal Access ‘Change Starts at Home’ project targets young married couples and their close family members, community and religious leaders; and the community as a whole in the intervention areas. The main aim of the project is to reduce Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) through the use of media plus community outreach to address existing social norms, and individual attitudes and behaviours that reinforce violence against women and girls. Initial findings from the baseline survey indicate an IPV rate of 28%, double that of the latest DHS survey.

Central to this project is a 39 episode radio series ‘Samajhdari’ (meaning Mutual Understanding) highlighting issues relating to IPV and the skills required for strengthening a healthy and happy relationship between married couples. Alongside this are 72 facilitated listening and discussion groups (LDGs) for couples (mainly in separate groups of women and men) and a programme of community engagement with local leaders and the wider community. A two-armed random control trial (RCT) is in place to assess the impact of this intensive media and community engagement intervention on the occurrence of intimate partner violence, attitudes toward violence, and gender equity norms; additional qualitative studies will help identify pathways of change and activities that are effective, replicable and scalable so that changes in the status of women and girls in Nepal can be sustained over time.

After many months of intensive work integrating the research and intervention design, and detailed work on the curriculum (programme content and production), the Equal Access team and partners are now in full implementation mode – and excited about this ground-breaking work!

Local Radio Kalika is one of five stations airing Samajhdari. The station is buzzing with activity – from here ‘Samajhdari’ is broadcast across Nawalparasi, Chitwan, and Kapilvastu. The storyline is based in a highway hotel called Hotel Manarupa, run by an ‘ideal’ couple who discuss issues and attitudes around relationships with their customers and various regular characters. The location of Hotel Manarupa actually exists on the East-West Highway – and we had lunch there the next day!

At VDRC’s headquarters (EA’s key partner) we observed a mixed training session for 36 of the 72 LDG male and female facilitators. This was the third day of a refresher course covering episodes 1 – 6, and the topic was ‘sex and sexuality’. The discussion was open and lively covering sensitive issues such as sexuality, consensual sex and marital rape.  Jaya Luintel, a renowned Nepali gender expert, had been specifically chosen as the trainer and ‘role model’ for this session because women are often criticised for talking openly about such topics. These 72 facilitators are in the front-line, their training and skills are critically important to the project as we observed when visiting two LDGs in action the next day.

The two LDGs we sat in on were joint male and female sessions – involving around 9 couples in each group. In the first village, which was less poor, the women worked mainly in agriculture or with animals, and did not describe themselves as ‘housewives’, the men were mainly in small businesses such as chicken farming, one owned a small grocery shop. The second village was a more marginalised community (speaking an ethnic dialect), poorer, and less educated. The men were tractor/lorry drivers, handymen, carpenters etc, and the women described themselves as housewives. In both LDGs participants listened attentively to Episode 7 on ‘Love and Respect’, but the levels of discussion that followed on social norms and how they affect behaviours, and the behaviour of mother-in-laws, were very different. What was interesting for me is that it highlighted the challenges EA faces in managing such a wide spectrum of groups at different starting points.

Charlotte Heath,

What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, Global Programme

Technical Advisor

Aug 2016 Nepal Project Photo





Engaging religious leaders in the prevention of violence against women and girls

Written by Wahid Siddiq and Julienne Corboz

As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls Programme, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) is implementing and building evidence about the effectiveness of peace education as a form of violence prevention in Afghanistan. HTAC is delivering a peace education curriculum to high school students (boys and girls), and is working with community members, civil society organisations, and influential and religious leaders to build awareness about the rights of women and girls, and the prevention of violence.

Religious leaders are key stakeholders in HTAC’s intervention and vital to its success. Religious leaders are extremely respected by local communities in Afghanistan and are a source of knowledge and guidance on Islamic, customary and socio-cultural issues. Religious leaders also play an important role in resolving or mediating problems, conflicts and disputes within the community and within households.

There are a number of benefits to working closely with religious leaders in projects addressing the prevention of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. Religious leaders can assist with mobilizing community support for projects that are sensitive in nature, such as projects involving women’s rights and participation. Also, due to religious leaders’ key role in disseminating messages to community members during Friday prayers, raising awareness among these leaders on how the rights of women and girls are supported in Islam is vital to ensuring that messaging is supportive of project objectives.

HTAC’s experience working in Afghanistan has led to some key learnings about how to improve project engagement with religious leaders and how to ensure their participation is effectively integrated into project implementation. Below are a few tips that have helped HTAC to maximize their engagement with religious leaders.

  1. Projects should be appropriate to the cultural and religious context. Implementing projects associated with the rights of women and girls can be highly sensitive, particularly if community members feel that men and boys will not benefit, or if they feel that projects will go against Islamic traditions. Engaging religious leaders in a participatory way from the beginning of a project, and ensuring that their perspectives are fed into project design, can help to build trust and ensure that project implementation is culturally and religiously appropriate.
  2. Despite religious leaders being an important source of knowledge and support for interventions, project should invest in capacity building and awareness raising of religious leaders in relation to the role of women and girls according to an Islamic perspective. There are varying interpretations of gender in Islamic texts and these are often misinformed. Experience suggests that religious leaders often welcome and appreciate learning different interpretations of the Quran and the roles and rights of women and girls in religious texts.
  3. Religious leaders often want to be actively involved in development and humanitarian projects, including those related to women and girls. There is sometimes a perception that religious leaders will reject such projects due to assumptions that they will not support women’s rights activities. However, HTAC has found that religious leaders in general complain about not being consulted enough, and that when given the opportunity they have welcomed participating in projects that support women’s rights and participation in community affairs.
  4. Remember that although religious leaders are important stakeholders, there are other important stakeholders, such as government officials, civil society organizations (including women’s CSOs), and traditional community leaders. Different communities have different power relations and traditional customs, and different stakeholders relate to each other in different ways. Understanding these relationships (particularly power relations) and the specific cultural context is important for understanding how to establish relationships and trust in the community.1c0ae2205709722b62e843abc0471a55_XL HTAC Pic


Life in Dadaab

Life in Dabaad PicComponent 2 is conducting research in Dadaab refugee camp, assessing a comprehensive case management model where tasks are shared between national staff and refugee community workers to provide services for women who have experienced violence.

Here a young researcher provides us with a glimpse into what it’s really like to live and work in Dadaab refugee camp and on the realities of women and girls who have made it their home.

Not everyone fully comprehends gender-based violence (GBV) and the adversity that comes with it. It is a topic I myself had little knowledge of. GBV is a term for harmful acts against another on the basis of their sex, and includes threats or acts of physical, sexual, or mental harm. Because of the systemic inequalities between men and women, the term GBV is often used interchangeably as referring to violence against women and girls. Deciding to carry out research on women and girls who experience GBV in Dadaab refugee camp was an eye opener.

I was nervous and excited at the same time. I remember having a “manufactured” image of Dadaab. Living in Nairobi and never seeing a refugee camp made me somehow oblivious to the hardships refugees go through. Dadaab is known around the world as being the world’s largest refugee camp, but many people do not really know what life is like in Dadaab. When I got here the first thing I noticed was the weather and the landscape. It was hot and very humid, and the land was very dry and populated by small thorny shrubs. That aside, my biggest concern was security and my own safety – as the mention of Dadaab often goes hand in hand with discussions of terrorism.

Throughout the course of my research, however, I have come to understand the realities of those who have had to seek refuge in Dadaab. Refugees are vulnerable people who are easily exploited, more so for women and girls who are seen as holding less value in society and who have limited opportunities in education, employment, and accessing services. Talking to these women and hearing of their stories is agonizing. The things they have been through and still go through are unimaginable, as though I’m watching them through a movie.

That is when I realized the magnitude of the problems that women and girls face. My first encounters with them were heavy on me and at times I would feel as though my mind was “paralyzed”. I kept on asking myself how another human could carry out vicious acts on another. It was hard to swallow and understand. One needs a lot of emotional intelligence in a situation like this.

Irrespective of all their problems refugees are optimistic and do not like to be viewed as weak, hopeless people who have given up. Many of the women here are the providers for their families and strive to educate their children. They have dreams of giving their children a better life than theirs. The refugees in Dadaab had a “life” before civil war broke out in Somalia. They had businesses and houses that were theirs. They were valued and respected by their neighbors. The people I have met did not give up everything to get “free materials” as some outsiders think. Most of them would love to go back to their country and rebuild their lives, but Somalia is still unstable and traumatizing for them and they are afraid – afraid for their children this time around. The repatriation debate has awakened painful memories for some of the women and girls here. Many also worry about their sons being radicalized if they are forced to go back due to the limited options for food, stability, and protection.

The refugees I meet and work alongside in Dadaab are very friendly and welcoming; they are hospitable and invite you to their homes to share a meal. Dadaab is the only home for many refugees who have been here as long as 25 years or who were born here. Being a refugee requires a lot of resilience and working with them has made me humble and appreciate my own blessings. Life in Dadaab is far from being glittery but is a “safe haven” for more than half a million people.

Fatuma Yussuf is conducting research as part of a study co-led by the African Population and Health Research Center (Kenya) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK). This project will contribute evidence to a larger research program called What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and managed by the International Rescue Committee. For further information please visit


Shedding Light on Violence against Older Women

By Jennifer McCleary-Sills (ICRW) and Cailin Crockett (Administration for Community Living, US Department of Health and Human Services)

The 15th of June 2016 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, an important opportunity to recognize the interpersonal violence impacting nearly one in 20 older adults worldwide. Nearly one quarter of the world’s women are age 50 and older and they account for more than half of the global population age 60 and older. Yet we know very little about what happens in their lives after age 49. This is due to the fact that globally comparable data sets, such as the Demographic Health Surveys (DHS), collect data only from women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years-old). As a result, we have limited information about older women’s sexual health, their economic activity and their experiences of violence.

As a result of this evidence gap, the development community is missing an opportunity to bring more attention to the lived experiences of older women, and to the specific forms of abuse and violence they face. It also means older women are not often given proper credit for being the change agents and drivers of development that they truly are.

Most of this violence occurs in people’s homes and in their communities, and can have serious consequences for their physical and mental health. What is known as “elder abuse” doesn’t distinguish between the differing forms of violence experienced by older men and women, nor does it recognize that older women are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, including intimate partner and sexual violence from non-partners. As women enter older age, they can become vulnerable to acts of violence from a wider range of possible perpetrators, including intimate partners or spouses, family members and caregivers. Without measuring this violence as a distinct development challenge, we cannot understand the full magnitude of its effects on the individual women who experience it or on their families and communities.

If we began to measure this violence, what would we find? The limited research on violence against older women that is currently available comes predominantly from developed countries, but still offers some useful insights. A recent study in five European Union countries found that 28 percent of women 60 years of age and older reported experiencing some form of abuse in the previous year- this included sexual and physical violence as well as other forms of abuse. As is the case with younger women, the most common perpetrator of this violence is a spouse or intimate partner. Recent research from the United States revealed that aging does not protect women against sexual violence and that these crimes are almost never reported to the police- non-partner sexual assaults committed against women age 65 and older are reported 15.5 percent less frequently than sexual assaults committed against younger women (between the age of 25 and 49). There is also an unfortunate array of harmful practices that disproportionately affect older women, such as widow burning, wife inheritance and forms of violence and stigma related to accusations of witchcraft.

All these forms of violence stem jointly from strict gender norms and culturally embedded values that place a premium on youth and women’s role as child-bearers—in some cases, making harmful assumptions that older women are “useless” once they are past reproductive age. This creates an overlapping vulnerability to violence fueled by both ageism and sexism.

In recognition of the significant gaps in development policy and practice with regard to violence experienced by older women, we wrote a brief examining the evidence base, data needs and key entry points for addressing this issue. The brief underscores that integrating the prevention of and response to violence against older women into development projects requires an understanding of the legal, social and epidemiological context of this violence as it relates to development programming. This brief is the latest in a series for the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Resource Guide, which provides guidance to help development professionals initiate, integrate and innovate effective solutions to prevent and respond to VAWG across all sectors.

Fortunately, the new era of global development policies ushered in with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shows promise for greater inclusion of older women in the movement to end VAWG, through a commitment to “leave no one behind”. Moving beyond the age-limited sampling of the DHS and similar models, SDG 5 indicators on VAWG will measure the prevalence of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence among those aged 15 and older, thus continuing to measure experiences of violence for women beyond the age of 49. This is a huge step forward, because we know what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get counted.

Now it’s time for the global development community to capitalize on the momentum offered by the SDGs by: 1) investing in expanded data collection and building the capacity of national statistical commissions to collect data on women older than 49; 2) including older women’s voices and needs in national plans of action on VAWG and strategies to remedy gender disparities; and 3) training providers to break down ageist biases that can impede older survivors’ access to essential services.

The very first step, however, is raising awareness about this under-researched issue and bringing greater visibility to older women and their influential role in global development, as well as the unique risks they face. Help us start this conversation now, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

 Download the brief on violence against LBT women. For the entire series on Violence Against Women and Girls, visit the VAWG Resource Guide website. This series is a joint venture between the World Bank Group, the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Center for Research on Women. Follow the authors on Twitter @jmcsills and @C_A_Crockett. Follow the Resource Guide at #VAWGuide.

Building Respect through garment factories in Bangladesh

I’ve just returned from one of my favourite cities where it is loud, vibrant, friendly, pouring with rain and the food is always delicious – Dhaka, Bangladesh. Of course it is not all amazing, it also has very high poverty and 53% of women (who have ever been married and are of reproductive age) report having been physically and/or sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. Women in the Ready Made Garment (RMG) factories work long hours, for little pay and often experience violence at work and home. The industry represents 81% of the national exports in Bangladesh, and approximately 80% of the workers are female.

I was there to work with our partners on the What Works Global Programme who are developing an innovative intervention to reduce violence in the workplace and in intimate relationships. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) an international organisation building on over seven years of experience creating workplace-based women’s empowerment programs is the lead partner, and Change Associates is the local implementing partner who brings a long history of working in factories in Dhaka.

This intervention, HERrespect, is a part of the global programme, funded by DFID, What Works to prevent violence against women and girls, and we are very excited as the RMG sector is the biggest employer of women in Bangladesh and so a success, and lessons, here will be truly powerful. As a programme What Works is commitment to generating new knowledge and innovative, evidence-based responses to preventing violence. And it was for this reason that HERrespect was selected mas a What Works partner, it promises to provide cutting edge knowledge around working in factory settings to challenge social norms and reduce violence against women. In order to realise this rigour the intervention was subject to extensive external review during development, and will be refined once again following implementation. We will also be running a quasi-experimental evaluation to assess the impact of the intervention. The evaluation will be undertaken by icddr,b, who also undertook the Formative Research which was used to inform the intervention design. We look forward to reviewing the end line results 18 months after baseline, these results will provide us with further critical insight into the effectiveness of a social norms plus economic empowerment intervention for preventing violence.

The Change Associates team are currently training facilitators to roll out HERrespect. The sessions will be held with female and male workers and with middle management, and will take them through a six-week gender consciousness raising module. The modules will use participatory methods to generate reflection and discussion on social and gendered norms, violence, and communication and relationship skills. They are building on evaluated and tested methods such as Stepping Stones, and other approaches to working effectively to engage with men and masculinities.

The intervention is run as 6 sessions of 3 hours each, with separate sessions (and modules) for female and male workers and middle management. They will also hold three joint sessions bringing female and male workers and middle management together in workshops. This work will be complemented by small factory wide campaigns.

As with all innovative work this project has not always been easy! I was last in Dhaka in August 2015, where we were revising the Theory of Change, debating what could realistically be implemented in the RMG factories and worrying that we would not get access to any factories. Factory access has been particularly worrying for two reasons: firstly, while Bangladesh is awash with NGO interventions, addressing violence through the factories is not common and we wondered if we would experience resistance. Secondly, due to the rigorous nature of the evaluation we need to recruit control factories, and we were concerned that they would not necessarily see the benefit of being a control factory, given their very immediate demands around productivity and targets. Fortunately, we have a very strong team and they managed to overcome these challenges, largely thanks to the fact that BSR and Change Associates are very well networked across the Brands and factories, which facilitated access.

Well, we are very pleased to report that on my last day in Dhaka we held a kick-of meeting with the first HERrespect factory!! The project has launched, and we are excited! Moving forward we will continue with training the facilitators and then following Eid we will pilot the baseline questionnaires and undertake the baseline; thereafter the sessions in the first factory will begin. Watch this space…

Samantha Willan,

What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, Global Programme

Capacity Development Manager and Technical Advisor



Masculinities research – at an impasse?

At the end of May 2016 some 300 participants descended on Durban, South Africa to attend the International Conference on Community Psychology (ICCP). Organised by the South African Medical Research Council, UNISA and the Psychological Society of South Africa, the ICCP brought together psychologists committed to working with marginalized communities to alleviate suffering and social exclusion.

Masculinities, particularly in South Africa, was a key theme running throughout the conference. This included a round-table organized by Kopano Ratele (SA MRC, UNISA) and an oral abstract session on men and boys. However, despite the emphasis on masculinities in the conference, Malose Langa, a Professor at Witwatersrand University, who has worked extensively on masculinities and public life for the past 15 years or more, described feeling at an impasse in the masculinities research field and despondent about the potential for the field to effect change around masculinities. He described how over more than 10 years of work he had seen little shift in masculinities circulating in South Africa. Indeed, all the presenters tended towards emphasising continuity rather than change. Rebecca Helman, a researcher at the Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit of the SA MRC, who is currently working on her PhD similarly described how despite families often speaking about doing gender differently, they often fell back on traditional gender structures and forms. This it was noted, parallels the concept that Raewyn Connell first developed in her book Masculinities, through her notion of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ as the ethnographic moment, where we are learning a lot through describing masculinities but not a lot about how masculinities can be changed.

Yet there was hope within the field. First, there is a wealth of innovative research exploring masculinities in South Africa, ranging from attempts to connect experiences of colonialism and slavery to current masculinities, to in-depth ethnographic studies of sub-groups of young men navigating identities, through to research exploring the potential of masculinities to change through intervention, and research exploring the production of gender in families. Making strategic connections to the complexities of masculinities as historical and the disruptions within the production of masculinities provides opportunities to understand how change can happen to make more gender equitable masculinities.

Second, there was also a lively discussion about what we can hope to achieve around changing masculinities. There was a discussion of the need to ‘study upwards’ and understand how a focus on marginalized men and interventions working with these men ignores the huge structural barriers these men face to changing and for our research to actively explore how these barriers are perpetuated. There was also a debate about what we hope to achieve through interventions – small, but significant, material improvements in men’s and women’s lives or something more radical. While we may hope to change the world through our work, the reality is that if we can reduce violence against women, reduce depression and improve material well-being we are certainly succeeding.

Article written by Andrew Gibbs, Researcher at the Gender Equality and Health Programme at HEARD at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the PI on the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures evaluation funded by What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women.

How a Highway Hotel is Promoting Violence Free Marriages in Nepal

A hotel, particularly one that is located on a highway, is traditionally a place where women in Nepal are considered to be unsafe. Their home, on the other hand, is meant to be a safe haven where women are protected…And yet a group of radio producers in Nepal have chosen a hotel on a highway as the setting for a new Nepali radio program, which is taking the unprecedented step of reaching out directly to married men and women in their homes to talk about violence free relationships.

This new half hour radio drama and discussion program will soon be launched by Equal Access International in Nepal and is the key component of the multi-faceted ‘Change Starts at Home’ project, part of the DFID What Works portfolio, supported through South African Medical Research Council. The hotel where the drama is set is run by Manarupa and Surya Singh, a married couple who work hard to have a balanced and happy marriage. Through their interactions with each other and the stories of those who visit the hotel, Manarupa and Surya welcome listeners into their lives where they share the daily struggles and triumphs of maintaining a harmonious, peaceful and happy family life.   The program is aptly named ‘Samajhdari‘ meaning ‘mutual understanding’ in Nepali and is targeted at married couples with the aim of reducing intimate partner violence (IPV) and encouraging more happy and healthy relationships between wives and husbands.

As in many parts of the world, gender based violence (GBV) and IPV in Nepal is deeply rooted in social norms, values and cultural practices that set the unequal power relations between husband and wife. From the first day of the marriage, a woman is taught that she needs to bow to everyone in her husband’s family and cater to their needs above her own to be acknowledged as a good daughter-in-law. Taught from childhood that her primary role is to uphold the family reputation (both her own and the family of her husband) women are frequently rewarded as a virtuous wife and daughter for keeping silent about abuse. This lays the foundation for unequal relationships and ultimately contributes to violence against women, including intimate partner violence, and the silence that surrounds it. Violence between married couples is viewed as a private matter in Nepal and IPV particularly is something that no Nepali women should admit or disclose as it is directly linked to the prestige of her family. The teaching that has been given to her since day one is so deep rooted that it shapes her overall personality and thought process. In many instances, she actually believes her husband hits her because he cares and because she must have done something that deserved the punishment.

The preliminary results of the baseline study conducted as part of the project in March 2016 certainly reinforces this, highlighting that 49% of women agreed that if a woman discusses her domestic problems with others, she brings shame upon her family. According to Dr Cari Clark, PI of the Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) being done to assess the project impact, the preliminary analysis of the baseline data shows the 12-month IPV rate among the study respondents to be double that of the most recent DHS survey, which clearly shows the high prevalence of IPV in the project’s target communities.

But can a highway hotel really help bring about change in people’s relationships? Anu Upadhayay, who is leading the production for the Samajhdari radio programs thinks it can, “rather than discussing who is right, what is wrong and how men need to correct their behavior, as many GBV programming does, Samajhdari will encourage people to understand and address the beliefs and norms that underpin negative behaviors and contribute to occurrences of IPV against women in Nepal. Through Manarupa and Surya Singh, the radio program will highlight issues like power dynamics and gender identities & roles; showing the relationship between violence and the cultural norms, roles, codes, and ideals of masculinity“.

Pawan Neupane, production member of Samajhdari radio program believes that this program will also be well received by male audiences, “It’s not just women, often men are also victims of patriarchy. Existing gendered stereotypes prevent men from openly showing their emotions, which they are expected to hide no matter what. Lack of other outlets push men into channeling a wide range of emotional responses into anger which ultimately leads to GBV and IPV. This also prevents men from being truly loving towards their wife and other family members. So at the end, its men who are also losing from such behaviors”.

Whilst the Samajhdari radio program is the central component, the overall project goes beyond radio waves, combining media with direct community mobilization in the three targeted districts- Chitwan, Nawalparasi and Kapilbastu. The combination of innovative and interactive radio programming and weekly listening and discussion sessions aims to support the couples through a process of change that goes beyond gaining knowledge to actually putting what they learn in to practice in their own relationships. The project will also include family members and community / religious leaders so that they can also support the change the couple is going through, while developing knowledge and skills themselves to deal more effectively with family conflict using non-violent methods.

By openly discussing the issues that perpetuate IPV on the radio and in the group sessions, the project will challenge the acceptability of violence and instead promote balanced relationships between men and women that are based on respect, love and support. As one of the newly trained project facilitators highlighted recently “for real change to occur in the lives of women and men in Nepal, it needs to start at home”. With Manarupa and Surya Singh showing the way, Equal Access believes that the highway hotel will soon be inspiring men and women across Nepal to build relationships which are based on true companionship and mutual understanding.

The article is written by Binita Shrestha, Project Director for Change Starts at Home Project.

On strengthening the feminist movement in Southern Africa

To reduce violence against women we must understand the multidimensional nature of female oppression, says Nolwazi Ntini, Ethnographer/Project Manager, Gender Equality and Health Programme, HEARD, UKZN.

The 4th African Feminist Forum (AFF), held in Harare Zimbabwe from the 10th to 12th April 2016, provided a platform for feminists working and living in Africa to connect with each other and share experiences, ideas and strategies to strengthen the feminist movement in Africa. Many African countries were represented, with delegates from West Africa, and Eastern and Southern Africa. The structure of the forum was set up to enable various conversations to happen simultaneously, allowing for dynamic discussions exploring a plethora of themes most pertinent in the African feminist movement. The main area of focus being patriarchy and the many ways it allows for the domination of women.

One theme discussed at the AFF was violence, particularly violence against women (VAW). Global studies show that 30% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence (WHO 2013). Within the context of the AFF, patriarchy and religious fundamentalism were identified as the main drivers of violence against women. These two factors are undoubtedly important drivers of violence for millions of women across Africa. However, the situation is far more complex with many other factors such as poverty, lack of education, unequitable laws, all contributing to the social and systematic oppression of women and their experience of violence. Therefore a more complex analysis of VAW is required, emphasising the intersectional causes of VAW.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) coined the term ‘intersectionality’ as a way of describing and enabling a comprehensive examination of the various systems and structures that drive the oppression of women: race, class, gender, religion and age, to name a few. Furthermore, Crenshaw argued these elements do not work in isolation, but they all interconnect and overlap at various points, thus making the oppression of women that more multidimensional than only one or two factors.

The lack of an intersectional approach in discussions about VAW at the AFF was a concern for two reasons. First, it failed to recognise the multiple causes of VAW in Africa and narrowly focused on only two causes. Second, this has implications on the types of interventions that are implemented to reduce VAW across the continent, if only a small number of causes are identified then interventions will only seek to target a small number of factors. Rather, models and strategies for ending VAW need to address the intersectional nature of factors that exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities to VAW, and aim to empower women to overcome systematic oppression and violence.


Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color”. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6, PP 1241-1299.