What can we learn from What Work’s school-based programmes?

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Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine student, Ummi Bello, reports from the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls learning event during the 16 Days of Activism campaign 2018.

We live in a world where our women are being broken and torn apart by violence, and where they begin to lose their sense of identity worth. And in that same world, they co-exist with our children. These children symbolize our hope, but they too are exposed to violence and subconsciously internalizing its negative effects. Violence against women (VAW) and against children (VAC) are major violations of human rights and a great public health concern.

Around 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, and children’s exposure to these forms of violence in the home and punishment in schools have been linked to children’s perpetration of the violence against their fellow peers, says the latest evidence from What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls, a global programme, funded by UKAID working in 13 countries across the world building the evidence base on What Works to prevent violence in low-middle income settings. Preventing violence against children is integral to the long-term prevention of violence against women, and to breaking the cycle of violence.

I was glad to have attended an event at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where What Works shared their projects, evaluations, and findings. I would like to share a few of these findings with you specifically those from the school-based intervention programmes.

Right to Play (School-based Intervention, Pakistan)

Atta Somaroo, the Programme Manager of Right to Play, beautifully set the scene on what the Right to Play is and the main aim of the intervention. The intervention was conducted in Hyderabad district in Pakistan. This intervention tested the potential of schools as a platform for preventing both VAW and VAC. The power of sport and play were used in the programme. Children were empowered to reduce peer violence and to change their social norms in order to support non-violence and gender equality. Through interactive play activities, these children learned and understood the different perspectives on gender equality and social norms. Confidence, empathy, leadership and how to deal with negative emotions are only a few of the life skills these children learned. How did this impact on the prevention of violence? Findings showed that peer victimization and perpetration significantly reduced. Corporal punishment in schools also significantly decreased by 45% in boys and 66% in girls. What was amazing was the fact that witnessing domestic violence at home and physical punishment at home also significantly reduced by more than half for both genders. This shows that not only do these school-based interventions create a safe space in schools, but this extends to creating a safe and non-violent space at home. What’s more, depression scores have decreased.

Help the Afghan Children (School-Based Peace Education, Afghanistan)

This programme was implemented over a two-year period reaching about 3,500 children. It was delivered in lessons which taught peace education and peaceful conflict resolutions. It was interesting to see similar results from the Right to Play. Children’s experiences in violence at school decreased by up to 50%. Punishment at school also decreased. At home, the number of boys and girls reporting physical violence also dropped quite significantly. Depression levels reduced. Children’s attitudes regarding gender also shifted to a more equitable thinking. Children were less and less supporting violent attitudes. They began to understand and believe that physical punishment by their parents, teachers or even their peers was wrong.

These findings I believe are important for government and non-governmental organisations to acquire as evidence of what works to prevent violence against women and children. By understanding this they can implement these evidence-based findings into the community. I believe preventing violence against children is a necessity and one of the critical first steps to ending the ongoing cycle of violence later on in life and against women.

“I hope that together with the power of this knowledge and evidence as well as ongoing commitment and effort we can move that bit closer to a world where no woman has to live in fear of violence and every girl can grow up knowing she is safe.” –Emily Esplen (DFID Social Development Advisor)


Inclusive gender-based violence prevention: “They taught us that though we are disabled, no one has the right to commit violence against us” (Ghana, woman with a disability)

Ingrid Van Der Heijden, Senior Researcher – Gender and Health, African Medical Research Council


Violence against women with disabilities is a human rights issue. On Human Rights Day, 10 December 2018, we reflected on the #16 Days of Activism campaign and considered how violence can happen to any woman, regardless of age, place, economic status, culture, or disability status.

Despite freedom from violence being enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the rights of persons with disabilities remain unrealized. While the International Day of Disability, commemorated on the 3rd December 2018, highlighted the marginalization and human rights violations of people with disabilities worldwide, the #16 Days campaign did not fully shine the spotlight on the lives and violence experiences of women and girls with disabilities, and/or what is being done to protect them.

We know that women and girls with disabilities are marginalized and at greater risk of violence because of their gender as well as their disability. Perceptions of women with disabilities as passive, weak, and defenseless exaggerates their risk. They also experience many more barriers to help-seeking and resources for protection and justice, than women without disabilities.

Data of increased risk for women and girls with disabilities is largely based on research from developed country contexts, but little is known about the violence prevalence and experiences of those living in developing countries, or what we can do to prevent violence. Understanding that 80% of women with disabilities live in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) (World Bank, 2011), the What Works programme is the first global violence prevention initiative with a focus on women and girls with disabilities across multiple settings in LMICs (see link at the end of the article).

Over the past five years, the UKAID funded What Works programme conducted global research with over 6,000 women with disabilities who were living in poor, under-resourced communities across multiple countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and who were participating in a range of different mainstream violence prevention interventions.

The inclusion of disability questions in the What Works research enabled What Works to track the participation of women with disabilities in its interventions, assess their risk of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, and assess the barriers and enablers of their participation in violence prevention efforts.

Three key findings have emerged from this research, that women with disabilities in LMICs are:

  1. FOUR times more likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV) than women without disabilities (age adjusted).
  2. Twice more likely to experience non-partner sexual violence.
  3. Severity of disability is associated with an increased risk of experiencing violence (IPV & non-partner sexual violence).

What Works’ research also revealed that stigma and prejudice around their disability status underpinned many women’s accounts of IPV:

Emotional IPV: [My husband] does not call me by my name, he calls me lame. He calls me lame every day. I cry and feel sad. (Tajikistan, woman living with a disability)

Neglect and physical IPV: My husband saw that I was ailing and would not look after me. He would not take me to hospital…he began beating me, and calling me sick… He ruptured my eardrum, I was all in blood when I came up, and had to stay for ten days in the hospital. (Tajikistan, woman living with a disability)

Abandonment and physical IPV: My husband’s attitude changed toward me, when I became sick, he brought and left me here alone. He would not visit me. I remember when he beat me so hard. (Tajikistan, woman living with a disability)

IPV leads to further injury and impairment, and resulted in shame, depression, and anger amongst female participants, highlighting how IPV impacts on mental health:

He tells me he doesn’t want to live with a sick person. He insults and tells me I am a dirty woman. That my disabled fingers look like an animal and that he is ashamed to walk with me. When he says that I also get angry (Ghana, woman living with a disability).

Do Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) prevention interventions differentially impact women and girls with disabilities?

Reflecting on the emerging evidence from What Works, there were no statistically significant differences in programme benefit, suggesting that existing mainstream interventions may benefit all women, regardless of disability status.

What are the barriers for women living with disabilities to access VAWG prevention interventions? Participants with disabilities explained how lack of outreach to people with disabilities, lack of specialised transport, physical access issues, disability-related stigma, and shame about their impairments meant they could not participate equally in the intervention. Lack of self-esteem and feeling embarrassed about their impairments undermined their confidence to actively participate in the interventions:

I participated in all sessions, but I did not participate in the scenes because my lip stretched, and I was ashamed…I would have participated if not ashamed (Tajikistan, woman living with a disability).

What are the benefits to women living with disabilities who participate in VAWG prevention interventions?

For some participants, their inclusion in the interventions increased their self-esteem, increased their access to social support, and helped raise awareness and challenged social norms around disability. For those participating in income-generating interventions, the benefits of economic empowerment allowed them to contribute to the household and toward the purchase of assistive devices.

People started treating us differently. (Tajikistan, woman with a disability)

They taught us that though we are disabled, no one has the right to commit violence against us. (Ghana, woman with a disability)

How can we start to build inclusive programmes to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities?

Disability inclusion means that people living with disabilities are accommodated and given opportunities to participate in all aspects of life, including interventions and strategies that could protect them from violence.

  • Service providers and programming staff must commit to understanding the unique ways that women and girls with different disabilities experience IPV. This understanding is a critical first step to being able to adapt and develop programmes that effectively serve women and girls with disabilities.
  • GBV prevention programmes should facilitate appropriate disability-sensitive selection, outreach (such as home visits), and ensure physically accessible and supportive programming that addresses the unique risks and needs for a range of women with disabilities.
  • Social norms change: Programming should be both gender and disability transformative in terms of challenging stigma and discrimination related to both identities. Prevention of violence against women and girls with disabilities should not focus on functioning difficulties, but rather challenge disability-related stigma and social norms associated with being a woman with a disability.
  • Raising awareness: Programming should incorporate disability awareness training among participants with disabilities, programme staff, community members and service providers.
  • Economic empowerment: Programmes should foster resilience, capabilities, and economic empowerment of women with disabilities.
  • Safe spaces: Program staff must identify accessible places of safety that can accommodate the needs of women with disabilities.
  • Couples: Couples programming where one of the partners has a disability can help foster healthy and safe relationships.
  • Inclusive materials: Programming materials and approaches should be designed in collaboration with women with disabilities and disabled peoples’ organisations and advocates, to complement existing guidelines, protocols, and tools for VAWG prevention and response.

For violence prevention to be inclusive, input is required from people with disabilities and those organisations that represent them.

  • Monitoring: Programmes should monitor inclusion of and accessibility to people with disabilities, and make adjustments based on lessons from monitoring data.
  • Evaluation: evaluate programmes to see how, and if, they effectively serve women and girls with disabilities
  • Funding: Donors should prioritize disability inclusive VAWG programming and provide funding opportunities for disability-inclusive programme development, costing, provider training, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and scale up.

We have reached the end of this year’s #16 Days of Activism campaign, and if we truly want to prevent violence against women and girls and leave no one behind, we should meaningfully explore and understand the lives of women and girls with disabilities globally. What Works is a unique opportunity to ask questions and build evidence that will have a meaningful impact on our understanding around how to effectively include women and girls with disabilities in LMICs in violence prevention and ensure they benefit.


“I do not come to school because the teachers do not teach us”, deaf and mute school girl, Pakistan

Today, the International Day of Persons with Disability, Yasmeen H. Somani, Researcher from Aga Khan University, Pakistan, asks, “do you know a child with disabilities?”

Edited by: Dr. McFarlanec

photo credit: whatworks.co.za

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Do you know a child with disabilities? Over five million people in Pakistan have a disability. Many of these people are children, who are frequently kept in homes and removed from play and important interaction with other children. Does our government provide programs for these disabled youth and the parents who care for them? To learn more about these special youth with disabilities, I spoke to disabled youth in Hyderabad, Sindh. I visited 3 schools for blind and deaf and mute disabled youth. The schools were operated under the Director of Social Welfare Department, Government Service Center for Blind School and Government College for Special Education.

I felt the children were deprived of needed teachers and resources for successful study. I talked to boys and girls of 12 to 18 years of age. I learned their lives are very limited to home and school only. They are not included in our neighborhoods and society. They live very isolated lives with limited access to information and knowledge. How can they receive needed education and social services when systems are not in place? I met blind students who learn through brail and are required to appear at a written board exam with sighted students.

A girl who is deaf and mute said, “I do not come to school because the teachers do not teach us”. A boy who is also deaf and mute reported; “my teacher does not understand sign language, so how can he teach me?” Another boy who is blind said “Teachers just sit, listen to students talk, and later blame us for not learning” Despite learning limitations, the disabled youth were happy to go to school as their world is limited to home and school, especially for blind girls. One youth mentioned, “I was happy when I was a child at least I can go play outside my house but now that I’m older, I am not allowed to go outside alone, and I do not have any friends.”

When we hear the word school, we automatically think of friends, books, library, playground, teachers and most important learning to gain knowledge and prepare for a future path. Our disabled children in Pakistan also want to have fond memories of school. They want to learn and develop skills for making a future for themselves. However, the children I spoke with are not being challenged at school. The children report harassment at school, with stones thrown at them, and one child reported being locked in the washroom. The children were not safe at their home. One girl reported being harassed by neighbors when left alone by her parents.

In Pakistan, only 14 percent of persons with disabilities are employed. The remaining disabled persons depend on family members for financial support. The Directorate General of Special Education & Social Welfare has developed institutions for the disabled. These institutions are not sufficient. Disabled children and adults need quality education for skill building for career paths. Teachers of the disabled need capacity building to learn strategies for effectively teaching the disabled. Government schools need application of new technology to mainstream disabled youth to learn and interact with non-disabled youth. All youth in Pakistan deserve schooling to learn and develop to their fullest.

The What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls programme is working to understand the status of disability in lower and middle-income countries, find out more here: https://whatworks.co.za/resources/film-and-audio