The sun was out in full for the first day of the What Works Inaugural Annual Scientific Meeting in stunning Stellenbosch, South Africa. This echoed the bright ideas and enlightening discussion shared by more than forty researchers, policy makers, and programmers on what works to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Being the first scientific meeting for programme, the day focused on sharing new learning across the three components; and discussing research methods and approaches to understanding VAWG, with a view to strengthening the science of “What Works”.
Katie Chapman from DFID opened the meeting and noted the high expectations for the innovative programme. “We are looking for the What Works programme to break new ground and further the field to prevent violence against women and girls”, she said. The welcoming session acknowledged the tremendous progress made in the last 20 years towards ending VAWG, and the important point at which we now stand – with a high degree of political will, and the inclusions of specific targets on ending VAWG in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. Claudia Garcia-Moreno from the World Health Organization who chaired the opening session, reiterated her excitement about the breadth and depth of the research being undertaken under the programme and its potential to build on the current momentum and significantly advance the field.
The first technical session, which included presentations from Stacey Scriver, Lori Heise, Esnat Chirwa, Kristin Dunkle and Rachel Jewkes, was on the links between structural economic, political and social factors and the prevalence of violence. Some interesting findings and ideas that arose from the presentations and discussions were:
- That what drives the population level prevalence of VAWG may be different to what increases an individual women’s risk of experiencing violence.
- However, the acceptability of violence is a key driver of both population prevalence and individual risk. Drawing on evidence from the RCT of SASA! (a community mobilisation intervention in Uganda), Lori Heise showed that one of the strongest pathways through which the intervention reduced violence was changing the norm around the acceptability of wife beating. The analysis suggested that community norms play a more significant mediating role than changes at the relationship and individual levels.
- Studies to evaluate interventions should also include measures of potential pathways to reduce violence over time.
- Individual attitudes measured through the GEM scale were better at predicting men’s perpetration than women’s experiences of violence.
- Shorter versions of attitude scales can be as predictive and valid as longer versions and therefore make surveys more efficient.
- Underlying constructions of violent masculinity are related to the use of violence against women. And interestingly socio-economic status and experiences of child abuse appear to shape violent masculinity and sexual entitlement.
The second session focused on assessing the economic and social costs of violence and value for money. During this session Component 3 presented on conceptualising links between structural economic, political and social factors and the prevalence of violence. They explained how they plan to use gender responsive budgeting to show the cost of inaction compared to the amount of money actually being allocated to service provision by governments. This will provide a strong argument for why governments should invest in preventing VAWG.
Andy Gibbs from HEARD discussed what forms of economic empowerment interventions are effective in preventing violence, and concluded that economic only interventions generally are not effective but adding a gender component to these interventions seems to improve them. Giulia Ferrari from LSHTM presented on costing violence prevention programmes. The discussion around this session highlighted the importance of bridging the gap between the language of researchers and the language of policy makers. Important in this is the need to think about who we are trying to influence, what motivates them, and what is the main gain. It was suggested that the most compelling story wins and therefore we need to use the evidence to create a meaningful story for policy makers.
We’re looking forward to Day 2!