How a Highway Hotel is Promoting Violence Free Marriages in Nepal

A hotel, particularly one that is located on a highway, is traditionally a place where women in Nepal are considered to be unsafe. Their home, on the other hand, is meant to be a safe haven where women are protected…And yet a group of radio producers in Nepal have chosen a hotel on a highway as the setting for a new Nepali radio program, which is taking the unprecedented step of reaching out directly to married men and women in their homes to talk about violence free relationships.

This new half hour radio drama and discussion program will soon be launched by Equal Access International in Nepal and is the key component of the multi-faceted ‘Change Starts at Home’ project, part of the DFID What Works portfolio, supported through South African Medical Research Council. The hotel where the drama is set is run by Manarupa and Surya Singh, a married couple who work hard to have a balanced and happy marriage. Through their interactions with each other and the stories of those who visit the hotel, Manarupa and Surya welcome listeners into their lives where they share the daily struggles and triumphs of maintaining a harmonious, peaceful and happy family life.   The program is aptly named ‘Samajhdari‘ meaning ‘mutual understanding’ in Nepali and is targeted at married couples with the aim of reducing intimate partner violence (IPV) and encouraging more happy and healthy relationships between wives and husbands.

As in many parts of the world, gender based violence (GBV) and IPV in Nepal is deeply rooted in social norms, values and cultural practices that set the unequal power relations between husband and wife. From the first day of the marriage, a woman is taught that she needs to bow to everyone in her husband’s family and cater to their needs above her own to be acknowledged as a good daughter-in-law. Taught from childhood that her primary role is to uphold the family reputation (both her own and the family of her husband) women are frequently rewarded as a virtuous wife and daughter for keeping silent about abuse. This lays the foundation for unequal relationships and ultimately contributes to violence against women, including intimate partner violence, and the silence that surrounds it. Violence between married couples is viewed as a private matter in Nepal and IPV particularly is something that no Nepali women should admit or disclose as it is directly linked to the prestige of her family. The teaching that has been given to her since day one is so deep rooted that it shapes her overall personality and thought process. In many instances, she actually believes her husband hits her because he cares and because she must have done something that deserved the punishment.

The preliminary results of the baseline study conducted as part of the project in March 2016 certainly reinforces this, highlighting that 49% of women agreed that if a woman discusses her domestic problems with others, she brings shame upon her family. According to Dr Cari Clark, PI of the Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) being done to assess the project impact, the preliminary analysis of the baseline data shows the 12-month IPV rate among the study respondents to be double that of the most recent DHS survey, which clearly shows the high prevalence of IPV in the project’s target communities.

But can a highway hotel really help bring about change in people’s relationships? Anu Upadhayay, who is leading the production for the Samajhdari radio programs thinks it can, “rather than discussing who is right, what is wrong and how men need to correct their behavior, as many GBV programming does, Samajhdari will encourage people to understand and address the beliefs and norms that underpin negative behaviors and contribute to occurrences of IPV against women in Nepal. Through Manarupa and Surya Singh, the radio program will highlight issues like power dynamics and gender identities & roles; showing the relationship between violence and the cultural norms, roles, codes, and ideals of masculinity“.

Pawan Neupane, production member of Samajhdari radio program believes that this program will also be well received by male audiences, “It’s not just women, often men are also victims of patriarchy. Existing gendered stereotypes prevent men from openly showing their emotions, which they are expected to hide no matter what. Lack of other outlets push men into channeling a wide range of emotional responses into anger which ultimately leads to GBV and IPV. This also prevents men from being truly loving towards their wife and other family members. So at the end, its men who are also losing from such behaviors”.

Whilst the Samajhdari radio program is the central component, the overall project goes beyond radio waves, combining media with direct community mobilization in the three targeted districts- Chitwan, Nawalparasi and Kapilbastu. The combination of innovative and interactive radio programming and weekly listening and discussion sessions aims to support the couples through a process of change that goes beyond gaining knowledge to actually putting what they learn in to practice in their own relationships. The project will also include family members and community / religious leaders so that they can also support the change the couple is going through, while developing knowledge and skills themselves to deal more effectively with family conflict using non-violent methods.

By openly discussing the issues that perpetuate IPV on the radio and in the group sessions, the project will challenge the acceptability of violence and instead promote balanced relationships between men and women that are based on respect, love and support. As one of the newly trained project facilitators highlighted recently “for real change to occur in the lives of women and men in Nepal, it needs to start at home”. With Manarupa and Surya Singh showing the way, Equal Access believes that the highway hotel will soon be inspiring men and women across Nepal to build relationships which are based on true companionship and mutual understanding.

The article is written by Binita Shrestha, Project Director for Change Starts at Home Project.

On strengthening the feminist movement in Southern Africa

To reduce violence against women we must understand the multidimensional nature of female oppression, says Nolwazi Ntini, Ethnographer/Project Manager, Gender Equality and Health Programme, HEARD, UKZN.

The 4th African Feminist Forum (AFF), held in Harare Zimbabwe from the 10th to 12th April 2016, provided a platform for feminists working and living in Africa to connect with each other and share experiences, ideas and strategies to strengthen the feminist movement in Africa. Many African countries were represented, with delegates from West Africa, and Eastern and Southern Africa. The structure of the forum was set up to enable various conversations to happen simultaneously, allowing for dynamic discussions exploring a plethora of themes most pertinent in the African feminist movement. The main area of focus being patriarchy and the many ways it allows for the domination of women.

One theme discussed at the AFF was violence, particularly violence against women (VAW). Global studies show that 30% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence (WHO 2013). Within the context of the AFF, patriarchy and religious fundamentalism were identified as the main drivers of violence against women. These two factors are undoubtedly important drivers of violence for millions of women across Africa. However, the situation is far more complex with many other factors such as poverty, lack of education, unequitable laws, all contributing to the social and systematic oppression of women and their experience of violence. Therefore a more complex analysis of VAW is required, emphasising the intersectional causes of VAW.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) coined the term ‘intersectionality’ as a way of describing and enabling a comprehensive examination of the various systems and structures that drive the oppression of women: race, class, gender, religion and age, to name a few. Furthermore, Crenshaw argued these elements do not work in isolation, but they all interconnect and overlap at various points, thus making the oppression of women that more multidimensional than only one or two factors.

The lack of an intersectional approach in discussions about VAW at the AFF was a concern for two reasons. First, it failed to recognise the multiple causes of VAW in Africa and narrowly focused on only two causes. Second, this has implications on the types of interventions that are implemented to reduce VAW across the continent, if only a small number of causes are identified then interventions will only seek to target a small number of factors. Rather, models and strategies for ending VAW need to address the intersectional nature of factors that exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities to VAW, and aim to empower women to overcome systematic oppression and violence.

Reference

Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color”. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6, PP 1241-1299.