Trauma, men and mental health

Andrew Gibbs on men and intimate partner violence in informal settlements in South Africa

Participant acting a scene

Men’s use of violence against women is driven by gender inequalities, and men’s attempts to maintain power over women. Yet men also experience exceedingly high levels of trauma themselves. Despite people connecting these two for many years and suggesting that men’s experiences of trauma increase their use of violence against women, research on this has remained qualitative. In a new, exploratory, analysis the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures [1]team use quantitative data to unpick how men’s experiences of trauma shape and drive their use of violence.

Working in urban informal settlements in Durban, South Africa, the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures team were acutely aware of the generalized high levels of violence that young women and men experience in their daily lives. The study found that men living in urban informal settlements do experience a high level of trauma in their lives: 25% of men in the study reported witnessing the murder of a family member of friend, 43% had witnessed an armed attack, and just over half (52%) had been robbed at knife or gunpoint.

But how does this impact on their use of violence against women? We used structural equation modeling to explore the pathways through which these experiences of trauma led to increased IPV perpetration. We found three pathways for this relationship. First, there is a direct relationship between these two factors – men who experience trauma are more likely to use violence. Second, men’s gender inequitable masculinities are incredibly important in their perpetration of violence, the experience of trauma led to men holding more inequitable masculinities and this then led to greater use of violence. Third, men who experienced trauma had greater mental health challenges, including depression and use of alcohol. These mental health challenges increased men’s perpetration of violence.

So what does this mean? First, men’s gender inequitable masculinities remain central to any analysis of men’s use of violence. The analysis clearly demonstrated that this is an important driver of violence. Second, the importance of traumatic experiences cannot be discounted in understanding men’s use of violence. This is not to justify violence at all, but to recognize that violence begets violence, and an important component of working to reduce violence against women, must be to reduce the overall levels of violence and trauma within any community. Finally, interventions working to reduce men’s use of violence need to think about how to work on improving men’s mental health and reducing their use of alcohol.

Overall, working to reduce IPV by men needs to think about the multi-level components driving IPV. Transforming men’s gender norms needs to be the main component of effective prevention interventions, but these need to be combined with wider interventions to reduce overall levels of community violence and support men’s mental health.

[1] Stepping Stones and Creating Futures is a programme which aims to decrease the rate of intimate partner violence in urban informal settlements in South Africa via interactive and participatory peer-led sessions in which participants reflect on gender norms, conflict in relationships and developing livelihoods strategies.



Why Intimate Partner Violence Is Your Business

By Marat Yu

The recent surfacing of numerous sexual harassment allegations—including multiple allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace—have demonstrated how much work remains to be done to create genuinely inclusive workplace around the world. Business can no longer be in any doubt about its duty to stamp out violence and harassment at work.

However, if there is another learning from the #MeToo movement, it is that violence knows no borders. It occurs at work, on the way to and from work, and at home, and the impact spills over from one aspect of life to the other. Companies have a clear interest in ensuring a violence-free workplace, and for a range of reasons—including the importance of looking after your employees—business must consider how it can go beyond the workplace to tackle violence in the domestic sphere.

International and local instruments increasingly identify employers as important stakeholders to address Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Coinciding with the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) deciding to place a standard-setting item on “Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work” on the agenda of the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference, a tripartite meeting of experts concluded that “domestic violence and other forms of violence and harassment are relevant to the world of work when they impact the workplace.” In another recent development, China enacted its first Domestic Violence Act in March 2016, which includes provisions that require employers to act against domestic violence through measures such as providing assistance to victims.

Furthermore, working to tackle violence against women makes business sense: IPV can have negative impacts on workers’ productivity. Emerging research suggests that domestic violence can cause absenteeism because of stress, injuries, or ill-health; victims also have difficulty concentrating at work, which results in poor performance. An IFC study in Papua New Guinea calculated that staff lost 11 work days per year to gender-based violence, costing the companies 3-9 percent of payroll. Research from UN Women indicates that women workers in Vietnam who suffered IPV earned 35 percent less than those not experiencing such violence. There is a significant cost to business inaction.

Business can take a leading role on tackling IPV in several ways:

  • Understand the root causes, raise awareness, and create the business case for intervention. Business can commission or conduct research to understand the root causes of gender inequality and violence. One example of this is the partnership between Diageo and CAREto promote women’s empowerment in the agricultural and hospitality value chain. Business can also clarify laws and regulations on the responsibilities of employers in relation to IPV. A costing study of the economic and social cost of IPV can help generate internal buy-in, which in turn supports investment decisions.
  • Leverage the workplace as an engine of positive social change.The workplace can be a powerful space to shape attitudes and behaviors, as well as to create positive role models. Workers—men and women—will be less willing to accept violence at home and in their communities if they work in a respectful environment. Particularly, business should engage with men in company policy dialogue and program interventions, especially in the context of adverse social norms toward women. Implementing gender policies and programs without engaging men could create a perception of male disadvantage, leading to backlash against women. BSR works to engage men through HERrespect, supported by DFID’s What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls, while programs such as MenCare and Program H are other good examples of male engagement in program development.
  • Facilitate access to services and opportunities for victims and enhance the response mechanism.Business can facilitate access to essential services such as hotlines, counseling, legal aid, and housing—as Kering demonstrates—for IPV survivors. Business can also create economic opportunities for victims, as Sodexo is doing. Effective redressal mechanisms are traditionally a government’s responsibility, but initiatives such as Avon Foundation’s Justice Institute could support the strengthening of the justice system.
  • Campaign against violence.Companies can promote positive concepts of masculinity through campaigns or design products to provide direct support to women who seek help. The 16 Days of Activism campaign and others such as NO MORE provide a good opportunity for business to speak up against IPV.

It’s time for companies to be bold. That means adopting a comprehensive strategy on violence in the workplace, which companies have the power to eliminate, as well as helping to change norms and tackle social acceptance of violence beyond the workplace. Whether through raising its voice or protecting and supporting survivors, business has a key role to play in addressing the systemic issue of violence against women in every sphere.




This blog was originally posted at


Working as a social mobilizer has transformed my life: Jalimaya’s story

IMG_0511For the last three years, I have been working as a Social Mobilizer in Bhimapokhara Youth Club (BYC), for the One Community; One Family Project in Baglung, Nepal. I have witnessed first-hand, the positive impact that the work I have done has had on the communities with whom I have lived. I pride myself on being a true agent of change.  I feel positive when I interact with people and share real-life experiences helping them in clarifying various gender-based violence issues (GBV), of which they are often unaware. These include referrals available within the district for GBV survivors, information about the different forms of violence, maintaining trust and confidentiality and so on. Moreover, I encouraged the community to take the initiative in bringing a positive change within themselves as well as in their family.

My role working as a Social Mobilizer for the One Community; One Family Project run by VSO Nepal and BYC Baglung, which forms part of the UKAID funded global initiative, What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls has brought me much joy.

“I still recall those days where I used to hide behind others so that I wouldn’t be pointed out to share my opinions during any workshops. I felt nervous and experienced stage fright which made me hesitant to face even a moderate crowd”.

Participating in the project, I was afforded the opportunity to enhance my communication, leadership and writing skills. All these improvements are a result of the rigorous effort put in over a period of time, which has been wisely invested in training all the social mobilizers. And as a result, we are much better at implementing the interventions.

“As a result of being associated with the project, I have successfully addressed my stage-phobia and I no longer feel uncomfortable or nervous about expressing my opinions, as well as constructive arguments in any meetings or programs that I’m involved.”

After the successful completion of all the interventions, I am delighted to see young married women starting their selected Income Generating Activities (IGA) and committing to leading a dignified life.

“I have been able to witness harmony and mutual support among family members and often observed them strive and pave their paths towards commercialization of IGA, which can help women to be empowered economically in the future.”

Women’s independence and empowerment will undoubtedly uplift their status as well as deter domestic violence against women and girls in Nepal.

All of the insights have been shared by Jalimaya Thapa, working as a Social Mobilizer for One Community One Family Project in Bhimapokahra Youth Club ( BYC) Baglung. Neeta Gurung is acknowledged for translating Jalimaya’s story.

Can working with the whole family be effective in tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Tajikistan?

“I used to set the table for breakfast, lunch or dinner every day and, as usual, when I joined others around the table, it was already empty. Last week, when I set the table for dinner…everyone was waiting for me. I was so shocked positively that I could not eat. When I cleaned the table, and washed the dishes after, my father-in-law nursed my son to sleep. This happened for the first time in my life in my husband’s family and this is due to the ZS sessions”.

These were the words of a young woman who has benefitted from the ZS sessions currently being implemented in four villages in South and North of Tajikistan. Her story and that of many others have been testimony to the positive changes experienced in relationships with husbands and in-laws.

Levels of violence against women and girls are high in Tajikistan, driven by gender inequalities and livelihood insecurity. Young daughters-in-law are particularly vulnerable to intimate partner violence (IPV) and violence from in-laws. In many countries in Asia the family unit is not a husband/wife dyad, but extends to a complex grouping of in-laws who often exploit, and are violent towards, younger daughters-in-law. Therefore, interventions may be more successful if they extend beyond the husband/wife dyad to the family unit. However, there is a major gap in evidence-based interventions to reduce IPV and violence from in-laws, both in Tajikistan and globally.

To develop an integrated social and economic approach with a family-level focus, we used the ‘Stepping Stones’ intervention as the basis for an innovative livelihoods intervention which integrates efforts to prevent violence against women and girls and promote gender equality. Formative research on IPV, gender and livelihoods was conducted to inform the intervention. An adaptation workshop was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, bringing together implementing partners and the What Works global team to brainstorm and draft a training manual based on the contextual analysis and the findings of the formative research. Following this, local partners joined the group and were introduced to, and consulted on, the draft methodology through 3 days of pilot training with the draft manual.

The adapted intervention was named “Zindagii Shoista” – “Living with Dignity” and is now being implemented in four villages in Tajikistan, covering 81 target families with around 270 members, including 60% women (above 35 years old) and 40% men (18-35 years old).

Feedback indicates that the approaches used through Zindagii Shoista (ZS) are being very well received and found relevant to the Tajik context: Zuhro from partner organization Women of Orient (WoO): “At first glance, the information provided in ZS sessions seems to be simple, but makes you realise that we usually omit to pay attention to simple but very important things”.

Dilorom from partners organization ATO): “There were challenges at the initial stage of the intervention, but successes now outnumber the challenges. We are very pleased that in our village, out of 20 target families, in 15 families (75%) we already have improved family relationships”.

Mehrinisso (partner organization Farodis): “I was walking in the street and an old man, who was not our target beneficiary, approached and thanked me for working with families to improve relationships and the economic situation. He said, ‘you’re doing a very important and valuable job and my wish is you cover as many families in the village as possible’”.

Another young woman gave this testimony: “My mother-in-law is gradually changing positively and is looking after her grandchildren now. She is trying now to avoid criticising me… My husband is becoming kinder. Yesterday we chatted and I joked about whether he was thinking of taking another wife. He responded that no, why should I marry someone else? I have a son and a daughter and I am content with my life”.

Target families are running small enterprises in which young women, particularly daughters-in-law are actively involved. The economic empowerment component is contributing positively not only to family economies and increasing daughters’-in-law earning power, but also improving gender attitudes, knowledge and behaviors within families and reducing violence: Mavluda U. purchased a cow and calf through project support to the family business. She gets 5 litres of milk a day and can sell and market dairy products, bringing in 55-60 somoni (£5-6)/week to the family fund. “The sessions and activities that I and my husband are involved in on income generation helped us to improve our relationship. We had a cow before as well, but my husband was not interested to help me to look after her. Now, he pays special attention to the new cow and is very motivated and interested to look after her. He even bathes the cow twice a week”.

Zindagii Shoista is generating evidence and lessons about how best to tackle the high levels of violence experienced by women in Tajikistan. But it is important that we scale up the approach in other areas of Tajikistan, particularly urban areas, in order to improve, and share widely, our understanding of how to prevent violence against women and girls and positively transform our society to one in which women and girls are treated equally. For more information, please visit


The Key to a good relationship



Picture credit: Rezwanul Haque

Tasnova Rahman from Change Associates in Bangladesh sharing a few lessons in life

Do not be misled! I am not a love guru. But after some years of working on a range of content, concepts, and resources combined with delightful experiences post marriage, I have learned a few lessons that I thought I wanted to share.

First, the least expectations you have the merrier you are. This pointer is applicable for your spouse, in-laws and everyone you have in your life. Second, you can never be a pizza! What I dramatically mean is that only a pizza can cater to a family’s diverse needs and make everyone happy. An individual, no matter how angelic the person is, can never make everyone happy. So before stressing yourself out in your efforts just stop, think and prioritize. Keep a balance and keep yourself sane. My last and favorite pointer is – effective communication. Every good relationship, besides love and friendship, requires honest communication. Be it happiness or troubles (personal or related to that particular person/relationship) it is extremely important you communicate it. The time you stop talking is when all other mushrooms of doubt and boredom arise. The lack of effective communication brings distance in a relationship and this is why it is so core.

I got case studies, personal sharing from women (garment factory workers)who earned respect from her in-laws, made a position in her family where her opinion now matters. There are women and men (yes we convinced men!!) who are in their own way practicing active listening, noticing body language (non-verbal gesture). Most interestingly ‘I’ statements (where you express yourself logically, using ‘I’ without blaming or indicating the opposite person) is something I wasn’t expecting anyone to internalize it so well. These workers and management (surprised again? yes we convinced them too!!) are implementing this learned skill with their spouse, supervisor, in-laws. This indicates that we all care about our relationships, we want to be happy in it and we want to try to better things. And guess what? These life skills worked for them. It worked for me. Sometimes we just have to be little strategic but not manipulative!

Communication is a life skill that we do not acknowledge.

My father says those who do not talk or speak are like ‘jalebi’ (circuitous looking dessert) because they suppress themselves and complicate things. So, unwind your words and talk, listen carefully and strengthen your communication skills.


Tasnova Rahman is working on HERrespect with Change Associates Ltd for the What Works To Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls from the Global Programme