Globally one-third of urban residents live in urban informal settlements; these are sites of exceedingly high rates of violence against women and girls.

Two What Works-funded projects in South Africa, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, and CHANGE, are pioneering new approaches to reducing VAWG in urban informal settlements, and undertaking rigorous evaluations of these approaches.

All around the world the population is rapidly urbanising. Of the seven billion people on earth, an estimated 50% live in cities and a third of those live in urban informal settlements. Sub-Saharan Africa is no exception where the urban population is expected to double in the next two decades (UN Habitat, 2015). In Africa, 61.7% of urban dwellers live in informal settlements and, in terms of numbers, this is expected to have increased from 400 million to 1.2 billion by 2050 (UN Habitat, 2015), resulting in multiple health, employment, sanitation and educational challenges. South Africa is no different.

Urban informal settlements globally are sites of particular health challenges, including violence and intimate partner violence. In Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest informal settlements in the world, research has shown that lifetime experience of GBV for women is 84.5%, double the national Kenyan average (Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2008). Similarly, in urban Bangladesh, women living in urban informal settlements were more likely to experience physical IPV in the past year (35%) than those not living in informal settlements (20%).

In South Africa, initial pilot work undertaken by the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Project Empower and the Gender and Health Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council in urban informal settlements in Durban found that 45% of men interviewed reported perpetrating IPV in the past year, and 32% reported perpetrating non-partner sexual violence in the past year; while 40% of women reported experiencing IPV in the past year.

The underlying causes of these high rates of violence experienced by women lie at the intersection of gender inequalities, widespread unemployment for both women and men, limited access to formal services and the hard reality of living in urban informal settlements.

In South Africa two innovative projects are rigorously testing highly promising strategies to reduce VAWG. In eThekwini Municipality, the NGO Project Empower is leading the implementation of Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention. This intervention works with young women and men who are out of school, to transform their gender relationships and strengthen their livelihoods. Through a series of 21 group-based sessions, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures encourage participants to reflect on how they can transform their realities. A pilot study undertaken over one year in 2013 showed great promise, with women reporting a reduction in IPV and women and men reporting greater earnings in the past month. The evaluation is being led by HEARD.

In Diepsloot, Gauteng, the NGO Sonke Gender Justice is implementing the CHANGE intervention. Building off their One Man Can project, it combines group-based sessions with community mobilisation seeking to build gender equality across whole communities. The evaluation seeks to show that such an approach can reduce men’s perpetration of IPV. The evaluation is being led by researchers at the Witwatersrand University, School of Public Health.

Both of these projects introduced their research projects, at an event in South Africa in November that was attended by government officials, donors and project partners. Over the coming years, research on these programmes – what makes them successful, what may be replicable or adaptable, will become available via the What Works website.


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