Combining economic and gender transformative interventions to prevent intimate partner violence – Andy Gibbs from SA MRC asks, what’s new?

Andrew-GibbsImage: Andy Gibbs, Medical Research Council, South Africa

Poverty and gender inequalities are mutually reinforcing key drivers of women’s experiences, and men’s perpetration, of intimate partner violence (IPV). Activists, NGO workers and researchers have been working on finding solutions to reducing poverty and changing the way men and women think about gender relationships. To date, the best example of this has been the Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE) study in South Africa, which showed how combining  microfinance (essentially the provision of small loans to poor clients) with ten sessions on gender transformation, could reduce women’s experiences of IPV by 55% (Pronyk et al., 2006).

What Works has been at the forefront of increasing the evidence base around effective combined economic and gender transformative interventions to prevent IPV. At the end of six years of intervention development, programming and evaluation, What Works strengthened the evidence base around this topic. Specifically, it has contributed new insights to the field, around what makes successful approaches, these fall into four key areas:

  1. Interventions need to be strongly focused on transforming gender norms, by using participatory approaches to behaviour change, have a strong basis in theory, include critical thinking, communication skills, and empathy. These approaches were successfully used in a number of What Works studies to effectively reduce IPV;
  2. The majority of combined interventions have, rightly, focused on working with women. However, What Works also demonstrated that including men directly in these interventions (rather than as women’s partners) can impact on men’s perpetration of IPV, in contexts where poverty is a driver of IPV. In the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention with young men from urban informal settlements in South Africa, those who went through a combined economic and gender transformative intervention reported a 39% reduction in physical IPV, a 54% reduction in economic IPV, a 32% reduction in sexual IPV, and a 28% reduction in non-partner rape perpetration in the past year. Importantly the intervention was explicitly focused on challenging gender inequalities.
  3. In highly patriarchal settings, where women’s power, particularly young women’s power is hampered by generations of families, interventions working with whole families may be appropriate. In What Works, the Zindagii Shoista (Living with Dignity) intervention in rural Tajikistan was piloted with approximately 80 families. The intervention focused on gender transformation and livelihoods strengthening over approximately 21 sessions, and provided ongoing spaces for support. Fifteen months after the intervention was completed, the rates of IPV women reported experiencing had halved.
  4. Interventions need to successfully increase women’s economic position to be effective, and this can take time. In Nepal a family centred intervention called Sammanit Jeevan (Living with Dignity) which was adapted from the Zindagii Shoista, showed little impact on economic outcomes at 12 months from baseline, but by 18 months, women’s livelihoods were significantly improved. It took a while for livelihood opportunities to come to fruition.

There remains a lot to be learnt about how best to maximize the impact of combined economic and gender transformative interventions to improve women’s lives and reduce violence. Not all interventions in What Works using these approaches were successful, and this is particularly the case for women living in complex settings, such as conflict-affected communities, and adolescent girls and young women, and learnings from What Works need to be transferred to other contexts.

Overall, combined economic and gender transformative interventions when designed and implemented correctly are incredibly powerful in reducing women’s experiences of IPV and should be implemented where appropriate.

This blog is based on a brief by Andrew Gibbs and Kate Bishop, find out more here.

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