Rihanna, that clip, and why it kinda matters IRL

The latest media storm around Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money,’ is likely to be the biggest story on violence in 2015. It will eclipse news of women being raped as a tactic of war in Syria, or any of the daily news stories around the world of women who have been killed by their partner. So, let’s use this opportunity, while we’re all talking about it, to look at why we’re so okay with images of violence against women, and whether there is a connection to the use of violence in real life.

The images in BBHMM are brutal and sexualized. The link that violence is supposed to be cool, sexy and titillating is nowhere made clearer than a scene in which Rihanna’s famous derriere is juxtaposed next to a woman’s floating corpse. Linking sex, violence and the degradation of women is not a new phenomenon, and neither is the act of critiquing it, but let’s look to the research, too see whether it matters.

What we know, is that rates of violence against women and girls are higher in areas where community attitudes make it normal, or okay, to use violence. What Works’ Lori Heise recently published an article in the Lancet Global Health which showed that gender inequality at the macro-level, including societal norms supporting male authority over women and discriminatory ownership rights, was associated with rates of violence between couples.

Similarly, comparing rates of violence across countries in Asia and the Pacific, the UN Multi-country Study on Men’s Use and Experiences of Violence, showed that men were more likely to use violence if they lived in areas, or had grown up in family circumstances, where it was seen as a justifiable way to resolve conflict. And it’s the same in the west – in Australia, regular surveys on community attitudes towards violence, show it is more likely to occur in areas and communities where people regularly justify or excuse its use.

What has been interesting about the commentary around Rhianna’s clip, is the willingness of people to entirely deny any concern around these images – why are there headlines asking how the kidnapee’s breasts look so great upside down? Or, to actively justify it as somehow clever because the violence is perpetrated by a woman against another woman, or because the clip’s casting shows a rare level of ethnic diversity, or because of Rihanna’s own background as a survivor of domestic violence. Why are we so keen to find ways to say ‘it’s okay to enjoy watching a woman get tied up and tortured’?

If we want a world where violence against women and girls doesn’t happen, we need to foster a culture that rejects and renounces violence. It needs to feel so abnormal, so repugnant to even think about using violence that no person would ever resort to it. It is possible, and is being achieved around the world through projects that, amongst other tactics, also use television and music to reach the same young people who watch clips, with other messages and tactics on how to resolve conflict in their homes and relationships.

It is also being achieved through community-led petitions, protests and legal action by people who are tired of sexual objectification loosely dressed up as ‘art,’ or ‘just a bit of fun’. New Zealand denied rapper Tyler the Creator a visa, over the pro-rape lyrics in his songs. College and university students around the world joined their voices to object to call out Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines for promoting rape culture. Can we quantitatively say that this will prevent a woman from being raped – no. But, we can say that people have stood up en masse to say ‘this is not okay, I do not want this in my community,’ and they have been heard. Politicians have responded, and the ensuing media conversations have ensured that millions have heard, and perhaps understood the term ‘rape culture’; it has been understood that rape is a social-cultural phenomenon, not just an act committed or experienced by lone individuals. And that is a promising basis from which we can build prevention interventions that work.

For those of us working to prevent violence against women and girls, it can seem like an uphill battle when you’re coming up against a youth/ pop cultural phenomenon like Rihanna, but that’s where everyone can help. If you feel like switching the clip off and ignoring it, that’s understandable, but this is also an opportunity to have a conversation in your family, or community about violence. If your kids have seen it, talk to them about the need to value and treat women and men equally. If your friends are talking about it in ways that make violence against women and girls seem fine, you can challenge that by simply asking ‘why do you think that?’ Nothing big, nothing confrontational, just a simple act that challenges the way violence is seen. That is how we will achieve a world where violence against women and girls doesn’t happen, through a million small acts from people in their homes and communities making it known they don’t find the use of violence normal or okay.


What we can learn from the fight for marriage equality

We at What Works would like to join in the world’s biggest wedding toast, and raise our glasses to the US Supreme Court, on its momentous decision to legalise same-sex marriage across all 50 states of the US.

What shone out from the pages of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Majority Decision Statement, was the constant connection made between ‘rights’, and notions of dignity, respect and decency, most beautifully sumated in his closing paragraph: “They ask for dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right”.

We in the violence against women and girls sphere have the same ambition, to create a world where everyone is treated, and treats others, with the same level of respect, irrespective of their gender, sex, or sexual preferences.

This win reminds us, that goal is absolutely achievable, but it comes on the back of a million acts, large and small, to keep pushing for a change.

In his statement, Kennedy gave a synthesised history of the US LGBTI rights movement that kept pushing, and in a later address, Obama also recognised the efforts of millions of individuals over the decades. What was not mentioned, is that this is, and always has been, a global movement for change.

The first community group openly dedicated to campaigning against LGBTI discrimination was the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, formed in Berlin in 1897, which in turn inspired similar groups in other parts of Europe. Archived letters show that in the 1960s, long before the advent of the Internet, activists in Australia, the US and Europe were sharing their ideas and strategies for political action. In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS was a global epidemic that drew a globalized response that saw medical bodies connecting with community groups, connecting across the world. And now, following this win in the States, other countries will find inspiration and practical ideas to keep pushing for equality in the eyes of their own governing bodies.

These global ties have strengthened the LGBTI rights movement, and played a part in making this one of the most rapid evolutions in public and political sentiment in human history – less than a generation ago, it was still illegal to be gay in Australia, last Sunday, 26 million people around the world changed their Facebook pictures to rainbows, in support of LGBTI equality.

To build the same kind of momentum behind the movement to end violence against women and girls, we need to adopt the same approach to sharing our information and strategies with each other globally.

We have struggled with this, partly because of the perception that violence against women is a problem that results from crazed lone men and dysfunctional couples. It’s hard to build a social movement around something that is seen as an individual’s problem. But, this is a societal problem that requires a societal response.

Evidence shows us that rates of violence against women are higher in communities where it is acceptable to hold sexist attitudes or beliefs. Evidence also shows us that, by working in and with communities, we can dismantle these beliefs, and reduce the rates of violence. In Kampala, Uganda, Raising Voices SASA! has done this by building community groups, developing soap operas and connecting people around plays and events that challenge ideas around sexism and violence. And, it’s an approach that has worked. In the areas where they worked, SASA! managed to half rates of violence between couples, in less than a generation. That’s right, in less than a generation!

As with the LGBTI rights movement, we are achieving success through community action. But it’s happening in pockets. To take it to the next level, to achieve the same sort of resounding, worldwide shift we have seen in perceptions of LGBTI issues, we need to learn from last week’s win, and start building our mechanisms for sharing information and strategies across borders.

The What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme wants to create the connections to make that possible. Over the coming years, we will be developing cross-country, comparative research on programmes that are working to stop violence against women from happening. In the meantime though, if you’re working on a programme, or want to be involved in stopping violence against women and girls, get in touch with us. Send us an email, drop us a line at Facebook, or say hi over Twitter. Tell us about the work you’re doing and what’s working for you.

Stopping VAWG is child’s play in Pakistan

Schools-based programmes to prevent violence against women and girls seem intuitively right, but little quantitative evidence exists, to show what impact these programmes can have on wider rates of violence, or to tease out how work in schools can impact on a number of risk factors at once. The What Works Global programme is filling this gap by evaluating a large schools-based programme in Pakistan.

Right to Play works in 600 government schools, with 2,000 teachers, and provides over 200,000 children across Pakistan with a programme of sport and play. Amidst all the fun, children learn problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, and are encouraged to develop their sense of self-esteem and respect for equality.

The What Works Global Programme was recently in Pakistan to conduct initial focus groups with schools, as a first step in establishing this groundbreaking piece of research.

“To reduce rates of violence within marriages, we need to reduce the overall use and acceptability of violence. We need to look at the extent to which bullying and violence is a problem for children and what we can do at this stage to change things,” Director of the What Works Global Programme, Professor Rachel Jewkes said.

Working in schools also provides an opportunity to have an early impact on a range of situations and problems being faced by children.

“Some children are experiencing violence at home. Some children need to work so they can afford to attend school. And some have depression or other mental health problems. We know that in social situations where people have little, and come from a background where the use of force is normal, there is an increased risk that they will use or experience violence,” Jewkes added.

“Right to Play gives children a break, and offers a necessary escape, but also targets some of the root causes linked to violence. Depression is a risk factor for violence, and this programme works to address that, alongside other elements, by giving children the skills they need to resolve conflict positively, while building a culture which makes violence unacceptable.”

The programme evaluation will be completed by 2017. The measures used will be standardised alongside other research being conducted by Help the Afghan Children – another schools-based programme that is being supported by What Works via funds from the UK Department for International Development. Combined, the research will provide new perspectives on how the affects of violence cumulate over time, and show what works to diffuse the affects of a culture where violence is normalised. It will also provide some of the first cross-country, large-scale evidence to show how prevention programmes that work with children impact on overall rates of gender-based violence.

Debating what it means to be a man in Pakistan

Activists, students and gender researchers alike were encouraged to consider the way in which men are brought up to embody certain ways of being a man, as part of a wider conversation on gender equality at the ‘Men, Masculinities and Gender Justice,’ hosted by Rozan and Trocaire in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Director of the What Works Global Programme, Professor Rachel Jewkes, was part of a panel discussion, alongside other prominent gender researchers that included the Dr. Judith McFarlane of the Texas Women’s University, the Managing Director of Rozan Babar Bashir and gender activist Kausar Khan.

The panel explored the need to involve men in challenging community attitudes and practices that de-value women, as a critical part of the movement to end violence against women and girls. They highlighted the need for training for young boys and girls, on how to challenge gender stereotypes, and the expectations placed on them, and for more community-based work to change social norms around appropriate roles for men and women, and around the use of violence in general.

RESOURCES| DFID guidance note

The economic cost of violence against women and girls has been estimated to range between 1.2 and 3.7% of GDP. Women and girls experience violence in the home, workplace, in market places and on the way to work. This not only restricts their ability to earn an income, but also restricts business productivity, profitability and prospects for economic growth.

A new guidance note, developed by the UK Department for International Development, teases out the complex relationship between economic development, economic empowerment and violence against women, and provides practical advice on how to include elements that could help to prevent VAWG, into wider projects devoted to economic empowerment and growth.

It can be accessed here.


Component 2 of the What Works programme is now well into its implementation phase, with efforts currently focused on formative work for two of the project’s largest research studies: an assessment of a comprehensive case management model using a task sharing approach with refugee community workers in Dadaab Kenya; and a population-based mixed methods prevalence study in South Sudan.

In June, research partners London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the African Population Health and Research Center (APHRC) conducted formative research in Dadaab in northern Kenya, working closely with International Rescue Committee (IRC) and CARE programme teams in Hagadera and Dagahaley refugee camps.

The formative work will use qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand the experiences of refugee community workers and national staff delivering comprehensive case management services. The findings from the formative research will inform the development of a cohort survey where researchers will explore whether a comprehensive case management approach using task sharing to deliver gender-based violence response services is an acceptable, feasible and effective approach to improving the safety, health and well-being of GBV survivors. The researchers will be based with IRC and CARE staff in Dadaab, with the cohort survey due to take place in early 2016.

In South Sudan in July, the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at the George Washington University will conduct formative research in urban, rural and Protection of Civilian (PoC) camp settings in Central Equatoria and Lakes states of South Sudan. They will lead a team of experts from the GWI, IRC, CARE and Forcier Consulting to conduct participatory research with a range of stakeholders, from government, NGO and humanitarian sectors, and communities in the selected research sites. Through the formative research the GWI plan to gain a richer understanding of the context of violence against women and girls and the conflict in South Sudan, which will inform the design of the population-based survey due to take place later in 2015.

In addition to formative research, Component 2 will soon be publishing a research report and policy brief on our retrospective study on the international response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – looking at how the specific needs of women and girls were taken in to account in immediate aftermath of the disaster. It is hoped that findings from the study can feed in to discussions around implementation of the new Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action. The Consortium will also publish an evidence brief summarising recent systematic reviews on gender-based violence in conflict and humanitarian settings, which will form the basis of a searchable online database being developed by the GWI, to guide effective and evidence-based prevention and response to violence against women and girls.

Preparatory work is also underway for two further studies within the Component 2 portfolio of research: a study that will systematically assess and synthesise existing evidence of the impacts of state building and peace building related to violence against women and girls in four countries; and an evaluation of the impact of cash programming on women’s protection, agency and empowerment in the immediate onset of a humanitarian emergency. For the cash study, IRB approval has recently been obtained and the research team is now developing criteria for site selection of potential emergencies.

ISSER Ghanna joins as national research partner

The Institute for Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) based at the University of Ghana has joined Component Three as the national research organisation in Ghana. ISSER brings a wealth of knowledge and more than half a century of experience in conducting statistical and social science research with an emphasis on policy development. Led by Professor Felix Asante, ISSER joins the Social Policy and Development Centre in Pakistan, and Dr. Khalifa Elmusharraf in South Sudan, to provide contextualised, technical in-country support for Component Three’s implementation of research in the three countries.

What Works meets the royals

Stacey with Duchess of CornwallOn the 5th of May, Their Royal Highnesses, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, made a historic visit to National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. Component Three of the What Works Programme, led by NUI Galway, was asked to present their work in a research showcase. Dr. Stacey Scriver of Component Three met with the Duchess of Cornwall and introduced her to the What Works Programme as a whole and to the work of Component Three. The Duchess wished the programme well on our future endeavours.