Leane Ramsoomar, Research Uptake Manager, What Works

The #metoo campaign, developed by Tarana Burke a decade ago, recently turned into a hashtag which went viral this week, with survivors of sexual assault, violence and harassment sharing their experiences on social media across the globe.

The campaign has seen women across the world virtually joining hands in a collective display of support, empathy and bravery in the face of what is, a devastating reality for too many. Some have used the campaign as an opportunity to draw attention to the scourge of sexual violence experienced by women and girls across the globe; others have used it as outlet to disclose their experiences of sexual assault, violence or harassment during a time when they feel less lonely in the journey. Still others, use the campaign to help remove the stigma that surrounds disclosing one’s status as a sexual assault /violence survivor. While recognizing that some men have been victims of sexual violence, the campaign has justifiably focused on women, who overwhelmingly experience disproportionate levels of sexual violence and harassment; and whose experiences are fundamentally different from those of men.

The #metoo is not just about sexual assault and violence- it is about the daily harassment of virtually every woman who has to endure catcalls, whistling, unsolicited attention to their bodies and their dressing in their offices, neighborhoods, streets and public spaces.

Men have not been silent in the campaign. Many have come forth to assume responsibility either for perpetrating sexual assault, violence or harassment or being complicit in its occurrence. Others have used the campaign to reflect on how their socialization has impacted on the toxic masculinities that result in, and sustain violence against women and girls.

The campaign has also stimulated discussion and opinion from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community about the extent to which the campaign extends across the gender spectrum. Some feel that the very conception of the #metoo campaign has polarized the heterosexual and LGBTI communities. Others are of the opinion that the campaign has been inclusive across the gender spectrum. The debate continues.

One thing is clear, the #metoo campaign has sparked conversation and drawn attention to the lived experiences of women (and men). There is indeed solidarity in the campaign. Yet there remain many women and men who have chosen not to participate, despite being survivors of sexual assault violence and harassment. This is understandable. With its well-intentioned aim of “stomping out the stigma”, shaming perpetrators, raising global awareness, the decision to publically declare surviving sexual assault, violence and harassment remains a huge emotional burden for many. This must be acknowledged and validated.

To survivors who have chosen not to participate in the campaign, we understand, we respect you, we support you. You are valued. We recognize that raising awareness about the magnitude of the problem does not on its own address it, nor does it even begin to capture your pain. Like many who have joined hands to support those who have chosen to participate, we join hands with you. We remain committed to addressing the drivers of interpersonal physical and sexual violence and ending violence against you.




Ending Intimate Partner Violence One Couple at a Time

Saprina Panday, from Equal Access International, on the power of group discussions in transforming troubled relationships

“In the past my husband used to abuse me. He didn’t count me or our daughters as human beings… he used to force me into having sex.” That is how Bikani, a Nepali woman, with two daughters, initially summarized her ten-year marriage. The experience of Ashram and Bikani is not uncommon in Nepal. A recent study carried out by Equal Access International and Emory University found that 34 percent of survey respondents had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 25 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse from their spouse in the past 12 months.

Today, things could not be more different for Bikani and her husband Ashram, thanks to Change Starts at Home.

“The programme had a very influential impact in our life. Earlier he did not talk to me about any of his plans… now we talk to each other about most of the things we do. Even our sexual relationship only happens after mutual consent,” said Bikani. Her husband, Ashram, said, “from the sessions we learned how to analyze the consequences of our behavior and how it will impact us. Now, even when I get angry, I remember the things that were discussed in the sessions and try to tame my temper.”

asha bikani 2 Equal Access Pic

Change is a research-based intervention we developed at Equal Access International, an NGO that creates positive social change for millions of people across the developing world through interactive media and community engagement programs. We have been working in Nepal since 2003. Change is implemented with Emory University and is funded by DFID as part of the ‘What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women’ programme.

In May 2016, through Change we enlisted 360 married couples, including Bikani and Ashram, to participate in nine months of weekly listening and discussion groups sessions (LDG) where they would meet to talk about the original radio programme focused on how couples in Nepal deal with real-life problems. The accompanying discussion sessions, guided by trained facilitators using the Change curriculum, allowed participants to express themselves, both to peers of the same sex and their spouses, whilst taking part in activities focused on the major theme of that week’s episode. For many, this was the first time that they communicated openly and, most importantly, communicated as equals with their partners, a simple yet powerful change.

By the end of our project, over 90 percent of group members said they noticed a positive change in themselves or their relationship and almost 90 percent noticed a change in their spouse. Overall, the couples involved in our Change groups report a decrease in arguments and an increase in communication and joint-decision making, including husbands discussing financial planning with their wives; husbands openly supporting their wives with household chores and childcare, and couples engaging in consensual sex.

Both Bikani and Ashram are keen not to return to the way things were. With their daughters doing better at school now, the couple is looking forward to a more positive future. Ashram is grateful to his wife for initiating a change and hopes they can inspire the same in others. “I know if it weren’t for my wife, then my home would have been destroyed. My wife endured everything in the hope that I would change and now we have a good relationship and good relationships with our relatives. I even tell my friends and neighbors about the good things I have learned from the radio program and the weekly sessions,” said Ashram.

Change is a successful example of how innovative research and programming can be used to address and end intimate partner violence. Our key findings were shared by Equal Access’ Lead Researcher Binita Shrestha at the fifth SVRI Forum in Brazil in partnership with What Works.

To hear more from Bikani and Ashram, and other couples involved in the Change intervention, you can watch a short video about them on the Change Starts at Home Website.

asha bikani 5 Equal Access Pic