What Works Inaugural Annual Scientific Meeting – Day 2

Group photo

“The more we can share our challenges, the more we can advance scientifically.” – meeting participant

Day 2 of the What Works Scientific Meeting covered a diverse range of topics including VAWG in conflict & fragile states, programming for children, working with men to prevent violence against women and girls, as well as innovative prevention interventions in Asia. It was a fascinating day. Some of the key discussion points that were raised included:

  • That we need to look at how VAWG in conflict and humanitarian crises is similar and how it is different to VAWG in non-conflict settings.
  • That we need to bring together humanitarian, VAWG and women, peace and security sectors.
  • That we need to better understand the pathways to violence including the normalization of violence across multiple settings. “Its no longer good enough to say that ‘this affects that’ we need to know why and how and under what circumstances.” – Lori Heise
  • That our work, for example with Faith Leaders, needs to focus on the disconnect between what people say is wrong and what they do. Many people report that they agree that violence is bad in the abstract sense, however their behaviours tell a different story.
  • In terms of working with men, it was noted that men and boys are a critical part of the solution but we must work as allies with existing women’s rights movements. It was also highlighted that we need to identify the vulnerabilities and differences among men. That context matters. “Change is voluntary. We need to ensure that interventions encourage men to Think Feel and Act.” – Dumisani Rebombo
  • One common message that consistently emerged from the scientific meeting was the valuable role of formative research, and of piloting interventions accompanied by research for intervention strengthening.

In terms of working with children the presentations and discussions highlighted a number of important learnings and recommendations for future work:

  • We need to address violence against children urgently, and not just physical violence but subtle experiences of emotional abuse and neglect during childhood as well.
  • We need to start intervening with children, engaging with boys and girls at a very early age, including in conflict and humanitarian settings, in schools and other settings, before gender norms are firmly established.
  • We need to bring together the child protection and VAW sectors and better determine how we can complement each other’s work.
  • We need to look at violence across the life cycle, and show that it is possible to work with both adults and children in families, and draw links across different types of violence.
  • We need to be able to show people that it is possible to work with children in complex environments.

We also learnt more about the ground-breaking interventions being funded under the What Works programme, including a programme using radio to prevent violence in couples in Nepal, an intervention to prevent violence among sex workers in India, a programme integrating violence prevention into garment factories in Bangladesh, and a programme that uses play in schools to prevent bullying and other forms of violence against children.

We heard more about research methods and emerging findings from formative research and pilots. Self-defence as a strategy for preventing VAWG has been highly controversial because it seems to put the onus on women and girls to protect themselves rather than stopping the perpetrators. Further there has been some suggestion that it puts women and girls at increased risk of violence. However, emerging findings from the Ujamaa Africa programme show very promising results. Interestingly qualitative and anecdotal evidence coming out of the programme suggest that while girls learnt physical self defence along with other empowerment strategies, in situations of attack they rarely had to resort to the physical, but were successful warding off sexual assault through other strategies such as using their voice. The rigorous trail being planned will contribute significantly to our understanding of this type of intervention because it will track potential negative outcomes and also explore how much the physical defence element is needed to prevent assault.

We learnt about the promising impact of economic empowerment programmes that are accompanied by gender transformative approaches. However, caution was noted because group based economic empowerment does not necessarily address the large structural economic problems such as high rates of youth unemployment that exist in many settings. We also learnt that change may not be as radical as we think it is theoretically – we tend to see incremental change and spaces for change rather than a radical reconstruction of masculinity and femininity.

Overall, it was wonderful to have such a diverse range of participants from so many projects together in one place. Despite the diversity what emerged were the many linkages, cross cutting issues, and opportunities for learning from each other. The 2 days highlighted how much incredible work has been accomplished in such a short period of time. It showed that What Works is well positioned to develop an incredible amount of new knowledge over the next three years, on what works and also what it costs and how we can scale up. We ended with our uplifting What Works Song led by Dumisani: “What Works wants to work, innovatively!”

We look forward to building on this knowledge in the years to come to advance the field to prevent VAWG. Thanks to all the amazing participants and partners of What Works for making the first Scientific Meeting such a success.


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