Working with couples to address intimate partner violence: Lessons from Rwanda


Jean Felix Havumiragira and Kristina Uwamahoro, who participated in the couples curriculum in Rwanda

Research shows that addressing intimate partner violence (IPV) requires working at society, community, household and individual levels to promote relationships built on respect, equality and peace. This blog shares the emerging learnings of working specifically with couples to address IPV in the context of Rwanda and speaks to the findings of the qualitative research conducted by Dr Erin Stern from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (read more in this article by Dr Erin Stern and Ritha Nyiratunga).

The Indashykirwa programme, which is funded by UK aid and implemented by CARE, the Rwanda Women’s Network and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has been an innovative partnership bringing together practitioners and researchers to better understand what works to address IPV. Indashyikirwa consists of a package of interventions designed to work at individual, family and community levels to shift attitudes, practices and social norms that perpetuate gender inequality and GBV. So what have we learned so far about working with couples to address intimate partner violence?

What couples valued in the curriculum

The qualitative research undertaken with couples before, after the curriculum and one year later showed that the majority of couples immensely valued the Indashyikirwa couples curriculum. The retention and participation rate has been consistently high with strong commitment from both partners in a couple to attend three-hour sessions on a weekly basis for five months.

Couples appreciated being able to go through the curriculum with their respective partners. For some of the couples, the programme offered a rare opportunity to freely express themselves and share what they intimately felt about certain issues. The different notions of power (power over, with, to and within) and specifically the link between ‘power over’ and different forms of violence was an important step in couples understanding IPV. Some couples were unaware that they were living in violent relationships. As one woman said: “I thought that the way my husband talked to me was the way all husbands talked. When I started attending the couples’ training through the Indashyikirwa project, I realised I was experiencing gender-based violence.”

Awareness-raising was supported by skills-building sessions where couples learned and practised certain areas to support non-violent relationships, such as how to provide constructive communication and criticism or resolve conflicts within their relationship.

What couples resisted

Where the curriculum challenged privileges of men as sole decision-makers and breadwinners, resistance especially from men was noticeable during the sessions. As one field officer noted: “Men were asking negatively, ‘What is this? They want women to be above us.’ But after every single session, you see men start to be open and realise how they were using power over, they thought it was their right as men to give directions to their families, go out and drink, do whatever they want, and come home late.”

Consideration of men’s sexual entitlement in relationships/marriage was also initially resisted by many participants. The idea that women could initiate sex was for many taboo and uncomfortable. Those discussions were however essential to challenging entrenched ideas and norms about couples’ dynamics that ultimately were underpinning unequal power relations. Couples were encouraged to adopt different behaviours at home using some of the newly acquired skills.

What the process of change looked like

After some time, changes were noticeable with couples embracing new roles within the household. Couples reported through the qualitative interviews, including a year after the curriculum, changes around household and property decisions, chores at home, sex or quality time spent together. The solidarity and closeness created among couples within each session and with the RWAMREC facilitators was also an important factor to encourage and support this process of change. The reflective and participatory approach of the curriculum and the take-home activities encouraged couples to try new ways of interacting and engaging with each other.

An unexpected change has been the number of couples trained who had been living together and decided to legally marry. Legal marriage in Rwanda provides greater status to women and gives women legal rights that they are not otherwise guaranteed to access, such as to property. This finding is very important in better understanding risk and protective factors for IPV.

Initial recommendations                

  1. This research, conducted as part of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls programme, indicates that it is possible to conduct research with couples on IPV in an ethical manner. It also demonstrates the added value of interviewing couples over time to get their insights into what works well for transforming relationships and reducing IPV. Research under this intervention has provided invaluable findings that have contributed to better understanding and refining the intervention in a way that wouldn’t have been possible with only an impact evaluation.


  1. The Indashyikirwa couples approach speaks to the effectiveness of engaging both partners in a heterosexual couple at the same time. Research suggests that working with heterosexual couples is more effective to change relationships and reduce IPV than engaging men and women separately.


  1. Deconstructing the concept of power was essential in couples’ understanding of violence, especially the link between negative use of power (power over) and different forms of IPV (economic, emotional, physical, sexual). The concept of positive power (power within, to and with) was also inspiring for couples to address IPV in their communities, and to strengthen especially women’s self-confidence.


  1. Legal marriage was identified as a factor influencing women’s access to rights and as a potential protective factor for IPV. Informal marriage could increase the risk of IPV while limiting institutional responses to violence experienced by women. This reinforces the importance of taking an intersectional lens when working with women to reduce IPV. Further evidence on this critical issue is available in this paper Intersectionalities of marital status and women’s risk and protective factors for IPIV.


Read more: A critical aspect of the Indashyikirwa programme is safe spaces for women, which were established to help women feel comfortable discussing IPV and gender inequality, help educate women about their rights, and refer or accompany women for health, social or criminal justice services. Read Eugenia’s story on the What Works website to find out more about the impact of the women’s safe spaces.





It’s not just the women that want to stop Intimate Partner Violence in Zambia, it’s the men too

Screenshot 2017-12-04 13.08.25

Saphira Mulemba, on Violence Alcohol Treatment Zambia (VATU)

VATU means ‘ours’ in Nyanja, one of the main local languages spoken in Zambia. This programme is for our Zambian families, in fact, all families who live in similar settings, as violence against women and children is a daily reality for many in Zambia.

No single “risk factor” can explain why some individuals behave violently towards women or children or why violence against women and girls appears to be more prevalent in certain communities than in others, however, it is clear that alcohol abuse is a significant contributor. Alcohol can be both a cause and a consequence of interpersonal violence. My name is Saphira Mulemba and I am the Project Manager on the What Works project in Zambia. Our intervention programme, the Common Elements Treatment Approach (CETA), is trying to reduce and prevent the perpetration and experience of interpersonal violence in part by addressing alcohol use problems in Zambia. CETA addresses a wide range of mental and behavioural health problems that affect the family dynamics surrounding violence exposure (e.g., depression, anxiety, trauma, behavioural problems, and substance abuse).

Our CETA programme involves locally trained counsellors conducting weekly group or individual therapy sessions with their clients. Sessions are typically 1-2 hours in length and treatment lasts for 8-12 weeks. The clients in our study are families living in three peri-urban communities in Lusaka. The family group that we work with consists of three individuals: an adult woman, her husband or partner, and one identified child (boys and girls, ages 8-17). All individuals of a family received CETA if randomized to this study arm. Although we won’t know the true effectiveness of CETA until the end of the study, counsellors on our team have reported significant positive feedback from their male clients. For example, one male client reported that “This programme has helped me realize that I need not to force my wife to have sex but instead talk to her about it”. Men who have struggled with alcohol use problems have informed their counsellors about positive changes in their relationships with their wives and how their overall family dynamics have dramatically improved. They have also reported that they feel healthier, are able to go to work more consistently, and have even told their friends and neighbours who are experiencing similar alcohol problems about the benefits of our CETA programme.

Conversely, men enrolled in our study who have not yet received CETA have expressed to our team the need for services to help not only themselves but their family as well. We are encouraged by the response to our programme by men in the community and believe that engagement of the entire family unit in CETA increases the likelihood that alcohol use and interpersonal violence will decrease.

What the Stepping Stones Creating futures intervention meant to women

Casper leading group discussion

by Nolwazi Ntini

As the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention data collection draws to a close for the year, I would like to reflect on the experiences of some of the women who attended the intervention workshops. The intervention, funded by the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls Global Programme via UKAID, sought to reduce intimate partner violence (IPV) and improve livelihoods amongst youth aged 18- 30 years living in urban informal settlements, in Durban, South Africa. By conducting participatory peer-led workshops, participants met twice a week and discussed different issues pertaining to their lives, under the guidance of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures combined curriculum. Urban informal settlements are often characterized by high prevalence of violence. At baseline, 65% of women reported having experienced IPV in the past 12 months. This blog highlights reflections from conversations with women who attended the intervention and were part of the qualitative research.

When I asked women about their thoughts and feelings about participating in the intervention, they responded positively to the experience and shared their favorite and most memorable sessions. For instance, the mentioned “River of Grief” as a favourite yet, difficult session for the women, because it gave them an opportunity to share their life stories. The aim of this particular session was to assist participants to talk about past trauma and grief and the different ways to process feelings of loss. Through the narration of their experiences, participants were able to identify similarities between their own stories, and those of other women, making them feel less alone and isolated.

Another session women enjoyed was the “menstrual cycle”. Women found learning about how their bodies work, empowering, as for some they had typically learned this only in limited ways at school. For others, it was also important to learn about how to conceive children, which gave them some ability to start making decisions about their reproductive choices.

In addition to the topics discussed in the workshops, the women also always looked forward to attending sessions as it was something different from their daily routines. They described their typical days as uneventful; where they mainly did house chores, looked after family members and occasionally went out to look for work, with limited interaction with people who are not kin, close friends or partners. The chance to be somewhere where they did not have to invest a lot of personal effort or labour, and could engage with different people about topics of importance to them, was just as important as what they were ‘learning’.

The Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention provided an opportunity for the women to build, expand and strengthen their networks. However, the spaces convened were not always harmonious and problem free. In a context of socio-economic scarcity such as urban informal settlements, there was high competition for employment opportunities and intimate partners; such tensions and fights would often spill over into the workshops and therefore had to be resolved in them.

Despite the challenges, women claimed the only thing they would change about the intervention would be to add more sessions, as they felt the standard 21 sessions were not enough; or have more sessions but targeting different people in the communities, such as the elderly or young children. The sessions functioned in multiple ways for women, moving beyond simple learning spaces to ones where they could start to build social relationships, reduce isolation and start to think about their lives in different ways.

Nolwazi Ntini is an ethnographer and fieldwork co-ordinator within the Gender Equality and Health Programme, HEARD


Trauma, men and mental health

Andrew Gibbs on men and intimate partner violence in informal settlements in South Africa

Participant acting a scene

Men’s use of violence against women is driven by gender inequalities, and men’s attempts to maintain power over women. Yet men also experience exceedingly high levels of trauma themselves. Despite people connecting these two for many years and suggesting that men’s experiences of trauma increase their use of violence against women, research on this has remained qualitative. In a new, exploratory, analysis the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures [1]team use quantitative data to unpick how men’s experiences of trauma shape and drive their use of violence.

Working in urban informal settlements in Durban, South Africa, the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures team were acutely aware of the generalized high levels of violence that young women and men experience in their daily lives. The study found that men living in urban informal settlements do experience a high level of trauma in their lives: 25% of men in the study reported witnessing the murder of a family member of friend, 43% had witnessed an armed attack, and just over half (52%) had been robbed at knife or gunpoint.

But how does this impact on their use of violence against women? We used structural equation modeling to explore the pathways through which these experiences of trauma led to increased IPV perpetration. We found three pathways for this relationship. First, there is a direct relationship between these two factors – men who experience trauma are more likely to use violence. Second, men’s gender inequitable masculinities are incredibly important in their perpetration of violence, the experience of trauma led to men holding more inequitable masculinities and this then led to greater use of violence. Third, men who experienced trauma had greater mental health challenges, including depression and use of alcohol. These mental health challenges increased men’s perpetration of violence.

So what does this mean? First, men’s gender inequitable masculinities remain central to any analysis of men’s use of violence. The analysis clearly demonstrated that this is an important driver of violence. Second, the importance of traumatic experiences cannot be discounted in understanding men’s use of violence. This is not to justify violence at all, but to recognize that violence begets violence, and an important component of working to reduce violence against women, must be to reduce the overall levels of violence and trauma within any community. Finally, interventions working to reduce men’s use of violence need to think about how to work on improving men’s mental health and reducing their use of alcohol.

Overall, working to reduce IPV by men needs to think about the multi-level components driving IPV. Transforming men’s gender norms needs to be the main component of effective prevention interventions, but these need to be combined with wider interventions to reduce overall levels of community violence and support men’s mental health.

[1] Stepping Stones and Creating Futures is a programme which aims to decrease the rate of intimate partner violence in urban informal settlements in South Africa via interactive and participatory peer-led sessions in which participants reflect on gender norms, conflict in relationships and developing livelihoods strategies.


Why Intimate Partner Violence Is Your Business

By Marat Yu

The recent surfacing of numerous sexual harassment allegations—including multiple allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace—have demonstrated how much work remains to be done to create genuinely inclusive workplace around the world. Business can no longer be in any doubt about its duty to stamp out violence and harassment at work.

However, if there is another learning from the #MeToo movement, it is that violence knows no borders. It occurs at work, on the way to and from work, and at home, and the impact spills over from one aspect of life to the other. Companies have a clear interest in ensuring a violence-free workplace, and for a range of reasons—including the importance of looking after your employees—business must consider how it can go beyond the workplace to tackle violence in the domestic sphere.

International and local instruments increasingly identify employers as important stakeholders to address Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Coinciding with the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) deciding to place a standard-setting item on “Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work” on the agenda of the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference, a tripartite meeting of experts concluded that “domestic violence and other forms of violence and harassment are relevant to the world of work when they impact the workplace.” In another recent development, China enacted its first Domestic Violence Act in March 2016, which includes provisions that require employers to act against domestic violence through measures such as providing assistance to victims.

Furthermore, working to tackle violence against women makes business sense: IPV can have negative impacts on workers’ productivity. Emerging research suggests that domestic violence can cause absenteeism because of stress, injuries, or ill-health; victims also have difficulty concentrating at work, which results in poor performance. An IFC study in Papua New Guinea calculated that staff lost 11 work days per year to gender-based violence, costing the companies 3-9 percent of payroll. Research from UN Women indicates that women workers in Vietnam who suffered IPV earned 35 percent less than those not experiencing such violence. There is a significant cost to business inaction.

Business can take a leading role on tackling IPV in several ways:

  • Understand the root causes, raise awareness, and create the business case for intervention. Business can commission or conduct research to understand the root causes of gender inequality and violence. One example of this is the partnership between Diageo and CAREto promote women’s empowerment in the agricultural and hospitality value chain. Business can also clarify laws and regulations on the responsibilities of employers in relation to IPV. A costing study of the economic and social cost of IPV can help generate internal buy-in, which in turn supports investment decisions.
  • Leverage the workplace as an engine of positive social change.The workplace can be a powerful space to shape attitudes and behaviors, as well as to create positive role models. Workers—men and women—will be less willing to accept violence at home and in their communities if they work in a respectful environment. Particularly, business should engage with men in company policy dialogue and program interventions, especially in the context of adverse social norms toward women. Implementing gender policies and programs without engaging men could create a perception of male disadvantage, leading to backlash against women. BSR works to engage men through HERrespect, supported by DFID’s What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls, while programs such as MenCare and Program H are other good examples of male engagement in program development.
  • Facilitate access to services and opportunities for victims and enhance the response mechanism.Business can facilitate access to essential services such as hotlines, counseling, legal aid, and housing—as Kering demonstrates—for IPV survivors. Business can also create economic opportunities for victims, as Sodexo is doing. Effective redressal mechanisms are traditionally a government’s responsibility, but initiatives such as Avon Foundation’s Justice Institute could support the strengthening of the justice system.
  • Campaign against violence.Companies can promote positive concepts of masculinity through campaigns or design products to provide direct support to women who seek help. The 16 Days of Activism campaign and others such as NO MORE provide a good opportunity for business to speak up against IPV.

It’s time for companies to be bold. That means adopting a comprehensive strategy on violence in the workplace, which companies have the power to eliminate, as well as helping to change norms and tackle social acceptance of violence beyond the workplace. Whether through raising its voice or protecting and supporting survivors, business has a key role to play in addressing the systemic issue of violence against women in every sphere.




This blog was originally posted at


Working as a social mobilizer has transformed my life: Jalimaya’s story

IMG_0511For the last three years, I have been working as a Social Mobilizer in Bhimapokhara Youth Club (BYC), for the One Community; One Family Project in Baglung, Nepal. I have witnessed first-hand, the positive impact that the work I have done has had on the communities with whom I have lived. I pride myself on being a true agent of change.  I feel positive when I interact with people and share real-life experiences helping them in clarifying various gender-based violence issues (GBV), of which they are often unaware. These include referrals available within the district for GBV survivors, information about the different forms of violence, maintaining trust and confidentiality and so on. Moreover, I encouraged the community to take the initiative in bringing a positive change within themselves as well as in their family.

My role working as a Social Mobilizer for the One Community; One Family Project run by VSO Nepal and BYC Baglung, which forms part of the UKAID funded global initiative, What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls has brought me much joy.

“I still recall those days where I used to hide behind others so that I wouldn’t be pointed out to share my opinions during any workshops. I felt nervous and experienced stage fright which made me hesitant to face even a moderate crowd”.

Participating in the project, I was afforded the opportunity to enhance my communication, leadership and writing skills. All these improvements are a result of the rigorous effort put in over a period of time, which has been wisely invested in training all the social mobilizers. And as a result, we are much better at implementing the interventions.

“As a result of being associated with the project, I have successfully addressed my stage-phobia and I no longer feel uncomfortable or nervous about expressing my opinions, as well as constructive arguments in any meetings or programs that I’m involved.”

After the successful completion of all the interventions, I am delighted to see young married women starting their selected Income Generating Activities (IGA) and committing to leading a dignified life.

“I have been able to witness harmony and mutual support among family members and often observed them strive and pave their paths towards commercialization of IGA, which can help women to be empowered economically in the future.”

Women’s independence and empowerment will undoubtedly uplift their status as well as deter domestic violence against women and girls in Nepal.

All of the insights have been shared by Jalimaya Thapa, working as a Social Mobilizer for One Community One Family Project in Bhimapokahra Youth Club ( BYC) Baglung. Neeta Gurung is acknowledged for translating Jalimaya’s story.

Can working with the whole family be effective in tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Tajikistan?

“I used to set the table for breakfast, lunch or dinner every day and, as usual, when I joined others around the table, it was already empty. Last week, when I set the table for dinner…everyone was waiting for me. I was so shocked positively that I could not eat. When I cleaned the table, and washed the dishes after, my father-in-law nursed my son to sleep. This happened for the first time in my life in my husband’s family and this is due to the ZS sessions”.

These were the words of a young woman who has benefitted from the ZS sessions currently being implemented in four villages in South and North of Tajikistan. Her story and that of many others have been testimony to the positive changes experienced in relationships with husbands and in-laws.

Levels of violence against women and girls are high in Tajikistan, driven by gender inequalities and livelihood insecurity. Young daughters-in-law are particularly vulnerable to intimate partner violence (IPV) and violence from in-laws. In many countries in Asia the family unit is not a husband/wife dyad, but extends to a complex grouping of in-laws who often exploit, and are violent towards, younger daughters-in-law. Therefore, interventions may be more successful if they extend beyond the husband/wife dyad to the family unit. However, there is a major gap in evidence-based interventions to reduce IPV and violence from in-laws, both in Tajikistan and globally.

To develop an integrated social and economic approach with a family-level focus, we used the ‘Stepping Stones’ intervention as the basis for an innovative livelihoods intervention which integrates efforts to prevent violence against women and girls and promote gender equality. Formative research on IPV, gender and livelihoods was conducted to inform the intervention. An adaptation workshop was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, bringing together implementing partners and the What Works global team to brainstorm and draft a training manual based on the contextual analysis and the findings of the formative research. Following this, local partners joined the group and were introduced to, and consulted on, the draft methodology through 3 days of pilot training with the draft manual.

The adapted intervention was named “Zindagii Shoista” – “Living with Dignity” and is now being implemented in four villages in Tajikistan, covering 81 target families with around 270 members, including 60% women (above 35 years old) and 40% men (18-35 years old).

Feedback indicates that the approaches used through Zindagii Shoista (ZS) are being very well received and found relevant to the Tajik context: Zuhro from partner organization Women of Orient (WoO): “At first glance, the information provided in ZS sessions seems to be simple, but makes you realise that we usually omit to pay attention to simple but very important things”.

Dilorom from partners organization ATO): “There were challenges at the initial stage of the intervention, but successes now outnumber the challenges. We are very pleased that in our village, out of 20 target families, in 15 families (75%) we already have improved family relationships”.

Mehrinisso (partner organization Farodis): “I was walking in the street and an old man, who was not our target beneficiary, approached and thanked me for working with families to improve relationships and the economic situation. He said, ‘you’re doing a very important and valuable job and my wish is you cover as many families in the village as possible’”.

Another young woman gave this testimony: “My mother-in-law is gradually changing positively and is looking after her grandchildren now. She is trying now to avoid criticising me… My husband is becoming kinder. Yesterday we chatted and I joked about whether he was thinking of taking another wife. He responded that no, why should I marry someone else? I have a son and a daughter and I am content with my life”.

Target families are running small enterprises in which young women, particularly daughters-in-law are actively involved. The economic empowerment component is contributing positively not only to family economies and increasing daughters’-in-law earning power, but also improving gender attitudes, knowledge and behaviors within families and reducing violence: Mavluda U. purchased a cow and calf through project support to the family business. She gets 5 litres of milk a day and can sell and market dairy products, bringing in 55-60 somoni (£5-6)/week to the family fund. “The sessions and activities that I and my husband are involved in on income generation helped us to improve our relationship. We had a cow before as well, but my husband was not interested to help me to look after her. Now, he pays special attention to the new cow and is very motivated and interested to look after her. He even bathes the cow twice a week”.

Zindagii Shoista is generating evidence and lessons about how best to tackle the high levels of violence experienced by women in Tajikistan. But it is important that we scale up the approach in other areas of Tajikistan, particularly urban areas, in order to improve, and share widely, our understanding of how to prevent violence against women and girls and positively transform our society to one in which women and girls are treated equally. For more information, please visit


The Key to a good relationship



Picture credit: Rezwanul Haque

Tasnova Rahman from Change Associates in Bangladesh sharing a few lessons in life

Do not be misled! I am not a love guru. But after some years of working on a range of content, concepts, and resources combined with delightful experiences post marriage, I have learned a few lessons that I thought I wanted to share.

First, the least expectations you have the merrier you are. This pointer is applicable for your spouse, in-laws and everyone you have in your life. Second, you can never be a pizza! What I dramatically mean is that only a pizza can cater to a family’s diverse needs and make everyone happy. An individual, no matter how angelic the person is, can never make everyone happy. So before stressing yourself out in your efforts just stop, think and prioritize. Keep a balance and keep yourself sane. My last and favorite pointer is – effective communication. Every good relationship, besides love and friendship, requires honest communication. Be it happiness or troubles (personal or related to that particular person/relationship) it is extremely important you communicate it. The time you stop talking is when all other mushrooms of doubt and boredom arise. The lack of effective communication brings distance in a relationship and this is why it is so core.

I got case studies, personal sharing from women (garment factory workers)who earned respect from her in-laws, made a position in her family where her opinion now matters. There are women and men (yes we convinced men!!) who are in their own way practicing active listening, noticing body language (non-verbal gesture). Most interestingly ‘I’ statements (where you express yourself logically, using ‘I’ without blaming or indicating the opposite person) is something I wasn’t expecting anyone to internalize it so well. These workers and management (surprised again? yes we convinced them too!!) are implementing this learned skill with their spouse, supervisor, in-laws. This indicates that we all care about our relationships, we want to be happy in it and we want to try to better things. And guess what? These life skills worked for them. It worked for me. Sometimes we just have to be little strategic but not manipulative!

Communication is a life skill that we do not acknowledge.

My father says those who do not talk or speak are like ‘jalebi’ (circuitous looking dessert) because they suppress themselves and complicate things. So, unwind your words and talk, listen carefully and strengthen your communication skills.


Tasnova Rahman is working on HERrespect with Change Associates Ltd for the What Works To Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls from the Global Programme






Leane Ramsoomar, Research Uptake Manager, What Works

The #metoo campaign, developed by Tarana Burke a decade ago, recently turned into a hashtag which went viral this week, with survivors of sexual assault, violence and harassment sharing their experiences on social media across the globe.

The campaign has seen women across the world virtually joining hands in a collective display of support, empathy and bravery in the face of what is, a devastating reality for too many. Some have used the campaign as an opportunity to draw attention to the scourge of sexual violence experienced by women and girls across the globe; others have used it as outlet to disclose their experiences of sexual assault, violence or harassment during a time when they feel less lonely in the journey. Still others, use the campaign to help remove the stigma that surrounds disclosing one’s status as a sexual assault /violence survivor. While recognizing that some men have been victims of sexual violence, the campaign has justifiably focused on women, who overwhelmingly experience disproportionate levels of sexual violence and harassment; and whose experiences are fundamentally different from those of men.

The #metoo is not just about sexual assault and violence- it is about the daily harassment of virtually every woman who has to endure catcalls, whistling, unsolicited attention to their bodies and their dressing in their offices, neighborhoods, streets and public spaces.

Men have not been silent in the campaign. Many have come forth to assume responsibility either for perpetrating sexual assault, violence or harassment or being complicit in its occurrence. Others have used the campaign to reflect on how their socialization has impacted on the toxic masculinities that result in, and sustain violence against women and girls.

The campaign has also stimulated discussion and opinion from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community about the extent to which the campaign extends across the gender spectrum. Some feel that the very conception of the #metoo campaign has polarized the heterosexual and LGBTI communities. Others are of the opinion that the campaign has been inclusive across the gender spectrum. The debate continues.

One thing is clear, the #metoo campaign has sparked conversation and drawn attention to the lived experiences of women (and men). There is indeed solidarity in the campaign. Yet there remain many women and men who have chosen not to participate, despite being survivors of sexual assault violence and harassment. This is understandable. With its well-intentioned aim of “stomping out the stigma”, shaming perpetrators, raising global awareness, the decision to publically declare surviving sexual assault, violence and harassment remains a huge emotional burden for many. This must be acknowledged and validated.

To survivors who have chosen not to participate in the campaign, we understand, we respect you, we support you. You are valued. We recognize that raising awareness about the magnitude of the problem does not on its own address it, nor does it even begin to capture your pain. Like many who have joined hands to support those who have chosen to participate, we join hands with you. We remain committed to addressing the drivers of interpersonal physical and sexual violence and ending violence against you.



Ending Intimate Partner Violence One Couple at a Time

Saprina Panday, from Equal Access International, on the power of group discussions in transforming troubled relationships

“In the past my husband used to abuse me. He didn’t count me or our daughters as human beings… he used to force me into having sex.” That is how Bikani, a Nepali woman, with two daughters, initially summarized her ten-year marriage. The experience of Ashram and Bikani is not uncommon in Nepal. A recent study carried out by Equal Access International and Emory University found that 34 percent of survey respondents had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 25 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse from their spouse in the past 12 months.

Today, things could not be more different for Bikani and her husband Ashram, thanks to Change Starts at Home.

“The programme had a very influential impact in our life. Earlier he did not talk to me about any of his plans… now we talk to each other about most of the things we do. Even our sexual relationship only happens after mutual consent,” said Bikani. Her husband, Ashram, said, “from the sessions we learned how to analyze the consequences of our behavior and how it will impact us. Now, even when I get angry, I remember the things that were discussed in the sessions and try to tame my temper.”

asha bikani 2 Equal Access Pic

Change is a research-based intervention we developed at Equal Access International, an NGO that creates positive social change for millions of people across the developing world through interactive media and community engagement programs. We have been working in Nepal since 2003. Change is implemented with Emory University and is funded by DFID as part of the ‘What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women’ programme.

In May 2016, through Change we enlisted 360 married couples, including Bikani and Ashram, to participate in nine months of weekly listening and discussion groups sessions (LDG) where they would meet to talk about the original radio programme focused on how couples in Nepal deal with real-life problems. The accompanying discussion sessions, guided by trained facilitators using the Change curriculum, allowed participants to express themselves, both to peers of the same sex and their spouses, whilst taking part in activities focused on the major theme of that week’s episode. For many, this was the first time that they communicated openly and, most importantly, communicated as equals with their partners, a simple yet powerful change.

By the end of our project, over 90 percent of group members said they noticed a positive change in themselves or their relationship and almost 90 percent noticed a change in their spouse. Overall, the couples involved in our Change groups report a decrease in arguments and an increase in communication and joint-decision making, including husbands discussing financial planning with their wives; husbands openly supporting their wives with household chores and childcare, and couples engaging in consensual sex.

Both Bikani and Ashram are keen not to return to the way things were. With their daughters doing better at school now, the couple is looking forward to a more positive future. Ashram is grateful to his wife for initiating a change and hopes they can inspire the same in others. “I know if it weren’t for my wife, then my home would have been destroyed. My wife endured everything in the hope that I would change and now we have a good relationship and good relationships with our relatives. I even tell my friends and neighbors about the good things I have learned from the radio program and the weekly sessions,” said Ashram.

Change is a successful example of how innovative research and programming can be used to address and end intimate partner violence. Our key findings were shared by Equal Access’ Lead Researcher Binita Shrestha at the fifth SVRI Forum in Brazil in partnership with What Works.

To hear more from Bikani and Ashram, and other couples involved in the Change intervention, you can watch a short video about them on the Change Starts at Home Website.

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