Ethics: Preventing Violence against Women and Girls (PVAWG)

This Blog Post has been written by Help The Afghan Children (HTAC).

Afghanistan has experienced more than four decades of war and conflict, leading to extremely negative impacts on development, including lack of access to children’s education, worsened by continuing insecurity. Jawzjan is one of the provinces of Afghanistan affected by conflict, leading to large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), migration to other countries, poor economic conditions, drug addiction and girls’ poor access to education. This has led to a situation in which conflict and violence is common in everyday life, particularly affecting women and children.

As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women And Girls Global Programme, funded by UKAID, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) is mitigating this situation of violence and conflict by implementing a peace education project in Jawzan province, with a range of projects.

Important objectives of the PVAWG project include reducing fighting and aggressive behaviour among boys by educating them to reject violence against women and girls and adopt the principles of peaceful everyday living, and increase the use of non-violent conflict-resolution methods in the home and at school.

HTAC is also conducting research in schools to build evidence on the effectiveness of the project, particularly the peace education programme. In order to conduct the baseline research in schools, HTAC received permission from the Provincial Education Directorate and consent forms from school principals, parents and students, who received information sheets and a verbal description of the research. In one of the schools where all the students agreed and gave their consent to participate in the research, most of them could not be found at school on the day of data collection. HTAC’s team tried to find out why students were not available for interviews and during their discussions with peace education teachers and the principal of the school, they found that a rumour had been circulating that students were concerned about participating in the research and were absent from school.

The students’ absence from school raised ethical concerns among HTAC staff that the students may have a problem with the peace education or the research. Ethical concerns included the possibility that the research or peace education may cause some form of harm, e.g. threats from families or schools.

HTAC was determined to ensure that the students were not harmed by the peace education or research, and that no harm would come to the implementation of the project. Consequently, they contacted the What Works secretariat to brief them and seek advice on how to resolve the issue. The secretariat suggested mobilizing the community, including the school principal and teachers, parents and children, to find out more about the problem and the extent of the harm, and how to address it.

The outcome of the community mobilization was that the students were unaware of this rumour, and were fine and happily attending the school classes and peace education programme as usual. It turned out that the school had shared incorrect information with HTAC, including administrative problems e.g. enrolment lists, leading surveyors to search for students in the wrong classes.

HTAC learned a number of lessons from this experience. HTAC’s team was initially unsure of how to tackle the problem, as this was a new experience. However, HTAC learned that it is their responsibility to understand and address any problems arising from the project, and that asking for support and advice from the What Works secretariat can help to build capacity in troubleshooting ethical challenges. HTAC also learned that before starting research it is very important to ensure that participants understand the objectives and the context of the study before consenting to participate. Finally, learning from this experience included that sometimes, miscommunication can lead to a misconception of perceived problems and that any information coming from schools needs to be confirmed and verified.

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HERproject at 10: Celebrating HERsuccess, Inspiring HERfuture

By Christine Svarer

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day 2017—a good time to take stock of our collective progress toward gender equality. And such a moment of reflection is particularly relevant for HERproject this year, as we are hitting a big milestone: It’s our 10th birthday! On our anniversary, we’re taking a moment to think about what we have achieved and what we have left to do.

The short answer is: We have come far and have much to be proud of. But we cannot (and will not) stop here.

HERproject originated from a piece of research in 2006 into the general and reproductive health of women workers in toy, garment, and electronics factories across six focus countries. The findings were clear: Women often lacked crucial information on health topics, including sexually transmitted infections, nutrition, and pregnancy. Factory managers were well aware that this lack of information—and lack of access to related services—increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, but they didn’t know what to do. And so, HERhealth was born to address this clear need for workplace programs on women’s health.

Since then, much has happened. HERhealth took root, grew rapidly, and spread to 12 countries. But we—as brands, suppliers, NGOs, funders, and HERproject staff—kept going. We realized that we could support women to make the most out of their income by addressing unmet needs around financial knowledge and access to services. We developed HERfinance to provide guidance on financial literacy, planning, budgeting, and savings. This would improve women and families’ resilience to economic shocks, while also helping shift cash payroll to digital wages and raising awareness of the advantages of formal financial services.

Over the course of the last 10 years, we are proud of what we have achieved through our collaboration. Among other things, data from our programs shows:

  • A 50 percent increase in the number of women using family planning products.
  • A 23 percent increase in the number of women making decisions on what to do with their salaries.
  • 91 percent of both men and women stating that they saved a greater portion of their salaries to mitigate future shocks.

While an important step, however, access to information and services does not in itself equal empowerment or equality for women workers. This will require a shift in perceptions around the value and roles of women. And so, to address the root causes of gender inequality, we have launched HERrespect. This piece of the HERproject program creates a space to re-evaluate the norms and structures that underpin discrimination, reset the relationship between women workers and their (often male) managers, and tackle knottier issues around sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace. This endeavor is not simple or easy, but the fact that brands, factories, and farms see the value in investing time, effort, and money in HERrespect is a great indicator of how far we’ve come.

Women’s empowerment is no longer a footnote at the bottom of the to-do list. Ten years on, we’re spending less time making the case on why to invest in women, and more on how to do it effectively. It’s why a decade of HERproject programs have brought together more than 50 global companies and more than 500 farms and factories to find solutions for women workers. Together, we firmly believe that the workplace can be a space for change, improvement, and opportunity for women—and that an empowered female workforce is critical for the long-term resilience of global supply chains.

Women’s empowerment has gained prominence on the international stage in recent years, for example with the launch of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment’s first report in 2016, which squarely emphasized the importance of business action for gender equality and the global benefits of women’s empowerment. This wider discussion (and action) is an important impetus for us to deepen and expand our work.

And yet, in all the talks of global supply chains and high-level panels, we might lose sight of the heart of HERproject. When I talk to women involved in HERproject, I am always struck by the incredible gamble they have taken and are taking. Many have left their villages and families to move to a busy and not always welcoming city, with the goal of working hard to provide a better future for themselves and—especially—for their families. That’s bold.

And when I sometimes get frustrated about the slow and incremental progress required to achieve equality and empowerment for women workers, the women we serve always keep an optimistic long-term view. When I asked Mossammat Moklesa Parvin, a HERhealth peer educator in Bangladesh, what her dreams were, she said she wants her daughter “to study well…I would like to see her as a doctor. Otherwise being a teacher is also good.” Or I think of Antara Akhter Arifa, a HERrespect Change Maker also working in Bangladesh, who wants to send her daughter “to a good college for a better education.” Just as they left their communities to build a better life for their families, they are participating in HERproject for the same reasons.

Throughout 2017 for our 10th anniversary, we’ll be “Celebrating HERsuccess and Inspiring HERfuture.” That’s the theme of our campaign. But when we talk about “HERfuture,” we’re talking less about the future of HERproject as a project, and more about someone like Parvin. It’s her future that matters, her future that is being improved through the collective commitments from businesses and all the participants in HERproject. Now, we need to ensure that she can make her future a reality.

The HERrespect project is funded by UK aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme.  The funds were managed by the South African Medical Research Council.

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16 Change Stories in 16 Days

The ‘Change Starts at Home’ project is designed, developed and implemented in Nepal by EqualAccess.   The project is funded by the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women programme,  a DFID funded global programme.  In commemoration of the Official 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, the project aims to share stories of working with couples to prevent intimate partner violence in Nepal during the campaign period.  Click on the link to access the ‘Change Starts at Home’ stories.  


Acting to Understand and Prevent VAW: learning from the SAFE Ireland Summit, 2016

SAFE Ireland is a membership organization working with 40 direct service providers for domestic violence victims and survivors. Its mission is to make Ireland a safer place by improving the response to violence against women and children through creating culture change, providing evidence-based guidance and supporting policy and legislation development for prevention and response. As part of its five-year strategic plan to end domestic violence in Ireland, SAFE Ireland launched the 2016 SAFE Ireland Summit on November 14th and 15th, bringing together over 20 experts to discuss strategies to reach this goal and to “make Ireland the safest country in the world”, including the Principal Investigator of Component 3 of the What Works to Prevent Violence programme. The following post provides details of day one of the Summit.

The opening keynote speaker was Maria Dempsey, who gave a brave and emotional account of her own personal experience of domestic violence and homicide. In 2010, Maria’s daughter, Alicia was murdered, as was her friend Sarah and her two young children, Reece and Amy, by Sarah’s ex-partner. She asked what we can do to make sure deaths like these, the deaths of women and children through domestic violence, are prevented. Taking steps like making sure we are recognizing and recording these victims, and classifying them as domestic homicides to give ourselves an accurate look at the scope of this endemic problem. Maria received a standing ovation from the audience and her stand for ‘social justice, peace and love’ set the tone for the rest of the day’s proceedings.

Maria’s suggestion of collecting accurate data on the scope of the problem and its impacts was a theme throughout the event. A session on Turning Data into Understanding had speakers address the need for registering the murders of women and the reasons they were murdered; of looking at the data to find effective solutions in the criminal justice system for ending the cycles of violence; of looking at the physical, mental, and economic costs of violence against women. From the National University of Ireland, Galway and Component Three, What Works to Prevent Violence: Economic and Social Costs of VAWG, Dr. Nata Duvvury spoke about the significant financial costs to countries and women caused by violence against women and the need for government policies to proactively address this and support these strategies to end gender based violence.

The social justice aspect of Maria’s speech was reflected very clearly in a segment on Disrupting what is Political, with speakers talking about how social movements, awareness, and challenging violations through the legal system can all create change and bring justice. Particularly inspiring were talks by Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and founder of One in Four, who talked about coming forward with his experience of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and how this brought to light the multitude of similar cases and the result of suing the Catholic Church for these abuses. Additionally, Mona Eltahaway, Award-Winning Columnist, talked about her own experiences of abuse at the hands of the government while fighting against injustices and how it is everyone’s responsibility to not get comfortable in their status but to use this status to fight injustices against others.

While it was challenging to hear these stories of violence perpetrated against individuals, it was inspiring to see the responses and strategies to prevent similar cases in the future. To see people taking action to do the research, and to examine and build future solutions based on this research. To hear about the grassroots activism taking place to create culture change, and to shape the future response to these crimes. To witness people working within the legal system to create systematic change in governmental prevention and response.

Blog Post written by Rachel Apfelbaum, MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway and co-authored by Jenny Liston, MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway.

Innovations in data collection – implementing assisted surveys in Rwanda

SONY DSCAn interview can be an unnatural environment: someone comes to your house, asks a variety of questions – often very personal in nature – and then leaves. It is clear to see how this situation could lead individuals to feel uncomfortable, or compelled to modify their responses to fit perceived social expectations, especially when the topic of study is sensitive in nature.  In these circumstances, researchers face a dual obligation to first make the respondent feel as comfortable as possible during the interview process, and second to ensure that they gather high quality data that reflects, as accurately as possible, the topic they are studying.

How can researchers study highly sensitive topics in a way that is unobtrusive and that makes respondents feel comfortable enough to share their true experiences and opinions without fear of judgement? One answer is to take the interviewer out of the survey process, allowing the respondent a level of confidentiality and anonymity they would otherwise not have.    Self-reported responses collected through voice-assisted surveys is one way to accomplish this. Self-reporting takes away the potential discomfort and bias caused by talking directly to an enumerator, and voice assistance offers the possibility of collecting data from populations with low levels of literacy.

Laterite has teamed up with the What Works Global Programme (  to undertake a program evaluation using voice-assisted surveys as part of a campaign to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.  To carry out this study, Laterite and the Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC) pioneered one of the first voice assisted self-report surveys in Rwanda. Thus far we have interviewed approximately 1,600 couples and 3,000 community members across 7 Districts using ACASI (Audio-enhanced Computer Assisted Self Interview) software on touch-screen iPods.

We sat down with Kristin Dunkle, one of the study’s co-Principal Investigators, to better understand the technology and why it was chosen for this study.

How does a voice-assisted survey work?

We used ACASI software loaded on iPod touch devices to conduct this survey. The questions were verbally recorded in Kinyarwanda and the question with response options is presented on a screen. The software reads the question and response options aloud, along with the number that corresponds with each option. The respondent then touches the appropriate answer on the screen.  ACASI software is a well-established technology and has been in use in the western world for 15-20 years. Its application for facilitating self-reported surveys in low-literacy populations in the developing world, however, is more recent.

In the field, we sent out teams of enumerators like in a traditional survey. The enumerator sat with the respondent to explain the purpose of the research and ask the respondent’s consent. The interviewer then introduced the respondent to the voice-assisted survey technology through a series of practice or training questions. If the respondent felt comfortable continuing with the device, and most people did, the enumerator then allowed the respondent to listen to the survey questions and fill out the answers on the device on their own. Enumerators stayed close at hand in case of questions or technical problems, but usually the respondent was able to complete the survey on their own. In the cases where a respondent did not have a level of literacy sufficient enough to match the responses read aloud with the options on the screen, or if they asked to do a live interview, we carried out a traditional face-to-face interview.


What are the benefits of voice-assisted self-reported surveys? Do they improve data quality? What is the evidence?

 There is a well-developed literature that supports using self-complete surveys for studies on sensitive or stigmatized subjects. Taking the enumerator out of the equation facilitates disclosure, making it easier for respondents to give more honest answers in response to questions around highly sensitive topics like sexuality, substance use, or violence.  Similarly, it also serves to reduce bias in reporting behaviour that might be performative or socially valued.

Self-completion not only improves data quality by facilitating more accurate disclosure on the part of the respondent, it also limits the potential for bias introduced by the enumerator. Enumerator bias is a concern in most survey work. Some interviewers may be more skilled than others, some might have good or bad days, and some interviewers might get along very well with some respondents and not at all with others. By standardizing the interview process using voice-assistance, we can limit any variance in results driven by the personality, mood or skill of the interviewer.

There are two additional important benefits from voice-assisted interviews.  First, these interviews allow the interview team to do a better job in ensuring privacy and confidentiality. In the densely populated areas where we are working in Rwanda, it is often difficult to find an area to carry out an interview that is guaranteed to be private. In practice, there are often people walking by or working within an audible distance of an interview. This type of system helps ensure confidentiality in respondent answers. Second, this system minimizes any discomfort or secondary trauma for interview staff who would otherwise have to listen to and record incredibly difficult stories — such as instances of gender-based violence — when conducting interviews.

Finally, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests self-completion specifically increases disclosure rates in studies on gender-based violence. While there are few examples of studies that involve randomization of the method of data collection (i.e. voice-assisted vs face-to-face) a comparison of studies asking similar types of questions using different methods often reveals higher rates of violence reported in voice-assisted, self-report surveys.

What about the challenges? Does this method increase error rates?

 This method has the same advantages that other computerized systems do in preventing entry of out-of-value ranges and managing skip patterns automatically. Still, errors with this kind of survey can occur. There are some unique challenges in areas with high levels of illiteracy and low levels of exposure to technology (such as rural Rwanda). If a person is not literate at all, or is uncomfortable with new technology, they may struggle to report accurately or become frustrated. Usually, you can pick this up in the analysis phase because people who are uncomfortable, or bored, start giving the same answer to every question – usually either all the first option or all the last option.

While errors are a risk to consider, systems can be put in place to determine if a respondent has a level of literacy and comfort with the technology that is sufficient for them to accurately complete the survey. In this case, as mentioned above we had enumerators carry out a set of test-questions together with the respondents to assess their ability to carry out the survey on their own. We did have to rely on the enumerator’s assessment of the ability of each respondent to understand the questions and how to use the iPod, etc. so, in this situation, enumerator training was key.

 How have people reacted so far?

 Regardless of the level of a respondents’ tech-savviness and their level of literacy, it seems that respondents have found interacting with the iPod to be novel and exciting. For many respondents this was the first time they had used a touch-screen device (which we expected), and even the first time they had ever seen or worn headphones (which was a surprise to us)!

  Overall, the response has been very positive, and the quality of the data, including disclosure on sensitive topics, is really excellent.


How do you “do” ethnography in studies?

As part of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures impact evaluation funded by What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls? Programme and UKAID, the team undertakes much qualitative research to understand our young women’s and men’s lives and how the intervention helps them negotiate life’s changes. In addition to the many in-depth interviews, we have carried out over the last two years, we have also spent time with participants and observed their lives from within, this is call participant observation or ethnography.

In the past ethnography has often involved ‘foreigners’ from distant places (often white) observing people from completely different cultures and communities (often black). This has presented a number of challenges such as language barriers and adjusting to the socio-cultural contexts, all of which shape the dynamics of the interaction between the observer/s and people being observed. Moreover, as a significant body of reflexive research about ethnography (that is research reflecting on the process of doing ethnography) has come to recognise these encounters have often been hugely problematic, with ethnographers bringing unconscious biases about the ‘other’ to their research.

My experience could be perceived as somewhat similar – yet it is different. I am a young Black woman observing other young Black women in urban informal settlements in the same country and city in which I was born (Durban, South Africa). However, due to the historical and (even contemporary) socio-political conditions, South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world, as measured by the GINI co-efficient. This, and a range of factors, e.g. urbanisation and socio-economic disparities, has meant that I have to ride two public-taxis, go to the field and shift from a young Black woman in the city, to an observer in an informal settlement (same country, same city, same language).

Whilst I do not have to learn a new language or go the extra mile to try and adjust and understand the context in which I work, I have had a few reality checks that forced me to introspect on this research dynamic. One example of this was an encounter during the earlier stages of my interactions with this group of women. My colleague and I decided that I probably should not share much about my own education to the participants – I am currently in the middle of my Master’s degree – as this might cause the women to view me as different to them and privileged (less than 40% of the participants have completed grade 12 – the high school leaving certificate).

This speaks to a number of issues. For example, the decision to withhold information about myself in a strategic manner serves to highlight some of the challenges of doing ethnography in this context of contradictions, where you have to observe people similar to yourself, however you also occupy a space of “privilege”. Coming to terms with being the same as, yet also very different to the women I observe, poses multiple challenges that I need to confront on a daily basis, as I seek to develop a deeper understanding of young women’s lives.

The continuous reflection and interrogation of my own class positionality in relation to the young women in the study has enabled me to quickly build rapport with the participants and has assisted in overcoming some of the historical challenges of ethnographic research.

Blog Article written by Nolwazi Ntini, HEARD UKZN on unpacking the ethnographic process.


Stepping Stones and Creating Futures Facilitators: The Fanatics

As an ethnographer on the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention trial currently underway in Durban, South Africa, I have been absolutely amazed hearing the stories of the facilitators. Their incredible resilience in overcoming challenges when they head out to run the intervention in informal settlements around the city and has led me to call them: the fanatics.

The Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention is seeking to reduce men’s perpetration of violence against women, improve gender equality and reduce HIV-risk behaviours. Through participatory discussions and interactive methods delivered by facilitators, male and female participants reflect on their lives and actions in ways that lead to positive behaviour change.

Facilitators are scattered across many informal settlements around Durban. To get to their sites they travel via public transport, carrying refreshments for participants who will be present on the day. While venues were secured prior to the start of the programme, things can change during the course of the intervention and not always for the better. Political disputes in some communities have led to the unexpected locking of halls, forcing some groups to gather under a tree (a classical African story even for formal education). One facilitator faced with these challenges was fortunate to come across a kind tavern owner (who sells beer) who was supportive of the work of the project and allowed the group to run the workshop in his venue.

What was also inspiring was the commitment participants displayed in ensuring sessions ran. In one community a participant offered their shack for use on a regular basis as a group meeting place. Such alternatives venues were not without risk – in one case, since they were using a woman’s shack, the facilitator was perceived to be a secret lover by a jealous boyfriend who lived nearby. Luckily, quick intervention by the Project Empower team defused the situation and now the project runs without a hitch there.

Facilitating in the informal settlements where participants live has proved to be a complicated task, but nonetheless was met by a resilient and dedicated team of facilitators. They went the extra mile, dealing with emotional stories of young men and women living in informal settlements. Alongside this where the challenges of working in informal contexts: lack of water, lack of toilets, buildings with dangerous and illegal electricity, and community protests.

What moved me the most as I observed the intervention being delivered is the commitment and passion all facilitators showed as they saw themselves as agents of change – it is why I refer to them as the ‘fanatics’. They were fanatical in their commitment to overcoming the challenges of delivering Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, achieving the appreciation of the participants who valued their presence and the insight they brought to their lives. The fanatics went above and beyond any reasonable commitment to their work, in so doing I hope they continue doing great work in these informal settlements and make a contribution in alleviating a fraction of violence and HIV in South Africa.

Blog written by Thobani Khumalo, Ethnographer & Filmmaker, Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division (HEARD).


‘Change Starts at Home’ tackles IPV through use of media and community outreach.

Everything is extremely lush in Nepal and a steady curtain of monsoon rain falls. I’m just back after three days visiting project activities in Nawalparasi, one of the three intervention districts – a 20 min flight or up to 12 hours drive during the monsoon from Kathmandu.

The Equal Access ‘Change Starts at Home’ project targets young married couples and their close family members, community and religious leaders; and the community as a whole in the intervention areas. The main aim of the project is to reduce Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) through the use of media plus community outreach to address existing social norms, and individual attitudes and behaviours that reinforce violence against women and girls. Initial findings from the baseline survey indicate an IPV rate of 28%, double that of the latest DHS survey.

Central to this project is a 39 episode radio series ‘Samajhdari’ (meaning Mutual Understanding) highlighting issues relating to IPV and the skills required for strengthening a healthy and happy relationship between married couples. Alongside this are 72 facilitated listening and discussion groups (LDGs) for couples (mainly in separate groups of women and men) and a programme of community engagement with local leaders and the wider community. A two-armed random control trial (RCT) is in place to assess the impact of this intensive media and community engagement intervention on the occurrence of intimate partner violence, attitudes toward violence, and gender equity norms; additional qualitative studies will help identify pathways of change and activities that are effective, replicable and scalable so that changes in the status of women and girls in Nepal can be sustained over time.

After many months of intensive work integrating the research and intervention design, and detailed work on the curriculum (programme content and production), the Equal Access team and partners are now in full implementation mode – and excited about this ground-breaking work!

Local Radio Kalika is one of five stations airing Samajhdari. The station is buzzing with activity – from here ‘Samajhdari’ is broadcast across Nawalparasi, Chitwan, and Kapilvastu. The storyline is based in a highway hotel called Hotel Manarupa, run by an ‘ideal’ couple who discuss issues and attitudes around relationships with their customers and various regular characters. The location of Hotel Manarupa actually exists on the East-West Highway – and we had lunch there the next day!

At VDRC’s headquarters (EA’s key partner) we observed a mixed training session for 36 of the 72 LDG male and female facilitators. This was the third day of a refresher course covering episodes 1 – 6, and the topic was ‘sex and sexuality’. The discussion was open and lively covering sensitive issues such as sexuality, consensual sex and marital rape.  Jaya Luintel, a renowned Nepali gender expert, had been specifically chosen as the trainer and ‘role model’ for this session because women are often criticised for talking openly about such topics. These 72 facilitators are in the front-line, their training and skills are critically important to the project as we observed when visiting two LDGs in action the next day.

The two LDGs we sat in on were joint male and female sessions – involving around 9 couples in each group. In the first village, which was less poor, the women worked mainly in agriculture or with animals, and did not describe themselves as ‘housewives’, the men were mainly in small businesses such as chicken farming, one owned a small grocery shop. The second village was a more marginalised community (speaking an ethnic dialect), poorer, and less educated. The men were tractor/lorry drivers, handymen, carpenters etc, and the women described themselves as housewives. In both LDGs participants listened attentively to Episode 7 on ‘Love and Respect’, but the levels of discussion that followed on social norms and how they affect behaviours, and the behaviour of mother-in-laws, were very different. What was interesting for me is that it highlighted the challenges EA faces in managing such a wide spectrum of groups at different starting points.

Charlotte Heath,

What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, Global Programme

Technical Advisor

Aug 2016 Nepal Project Photo





Engaging religious leaders in the prevention of violence against women and girls

Written by Wahid Siddiq and Julienne Corboz

As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls Programme, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) is implementing and building evidence about the effectiveness of peace education as a form of violence prevention in Afghanistan. HTAC is delivering a peace education curriculum to high school students (boys and girls), and is working with community members, civil society organisations, and influential and religious leaders to build awareness about the rights of women and girls, and the prevention of violence.

Religious leaders are key stakeholders in HTAC’s intervention and vital to its success. Religious leaders are extremely respected by local communities in Afghanistan and are a source of knowledge and guidance on Islamic, customary and socio-cultural issues. Religious leaders also play an important role in resolving or mediating problems, conflicts and disputes within the community and within households.

There are a number of benefits to working closely with religious leaders in projects addressing the prevention of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. Religious leaders can assist with mobilizing community support for projects that are sensitive in nature, such as projects involving women’s rights and participation. Also, due to religious leaders’ key role in disseminating messages to community members during Friday prayers, raising awareness among these leaders on how the rights of women and girls are supported in Islam is vital to ensuring that messaging is supportive of project objectives.

HTAC’s experience working in Afghanistan has led to some key learnings about how to improve project engagement with religious leaders and how to ensure their participation is effectively integrated into project implementation. Below are a few tips that have helped HTAC to maximize their engagement with religious leaders.

  1. Projects should be appropriate to the cultural and religious context. Implementing projects associated with the rights of women and girls can be highly sensitive, particularly if community members feel that men and boys will not benefit, or if they feel that projects will go against Islamic traditions. Engaging religious leaders in a participatory way from the beginning of a project, and ensuring that their perspectives are fed into project design, can help to build trust and ensure that project implementation is culturally and religiously appropriate.
  2. Despite religious leaders being an important source of knowledge and support for interventions, project should invest in capacity building and awareness raising of religious leaders in relation to the role of women and girls according to an Islamic perspective. There are varying interpretations of gender in Islamic texts and these are often misinformed. Experience suggests that religious leaders often welcome and appreciate learning different interpretations of the Quran and the roles and rights of women and girls in religious texts.
  3. Religious leaders often want to be actively involved in development and humanitarian projects, including those related to women and girls. There is sometimes a perception that religious leaders will reject such projects due to assumptions that they will not support women’s rights activities. However, HTAC has found that religious leaders in general complain about not being consulted enough, and that when given the opportunity they have welcomed participating in projects that support women’s rights and participation in community affairs.
  4. Remember that although religious leaders are important stakeholders, there are other important stakeholders, such as government officials, civil society organizations (including women’s CSOs), and traditional community leaders. Different communities have different power relations and traditional customs, and different stakeholders relate to each other in different ways. Understanding these relationships (particularly power relations) and the specific cultural context is important for understanding how to establish relationships and trust in the community.1c0ae2205709722b62e843abc0471a55_XL HTAC Pic


Life in Dadaab

Life in Dabaad PicComponent 2 is conducting research in Dadaab refugee camp, assessing a comprehensive case management model where tasks are shared between national staff and refugee community workers to provide services for women who have experienced violence.

Here a young researcher provides us with a glimpse into what it’s really like to live and work in Dadaab refugee camp and on the realities of women and girls who have made it their home.

Not everyone fully comprehends gender-based violence (GBV) and the adversity that comes with it. It is a topic I myself had little knowledge of. GBV is a term for harmful acts against another on the basis of their sex, and includes threats or acts of physical, sexual, or mental harm. Because of the systemic inequalities between men and women, the term GBV is often used interchangeably as referring to violence against women and girls. Deciding to carry out research on women and girls who experience GBV in Dadaab refugee camp was an eye opener.

I was nervous and excited at the same time. I remember having a “manufactured” image of Dadaab. Living in Nairobi and never seeing a refugee camp made me somehow oblivious to the hardships refugees go through. Dadaab is known around the world as being the world’s largest refugee camp, but many people do not really know what life is like in Dadaab. When I got here the first thing I noticed was the weather and the landscape. It was hot and very humid, and the land was very dry and populated by small thorny shrubs. That aside, my biggest concern was security and my own safety – as the mention of Dadaab often goes hand in hand with discussions of terrorism.

Throughout the course of my research, however, I have come to understand the realities of those who have had to seek refuge in Dadaab. Refugees are vulnerable people who are easily exploited, more so for women and girls who are seen as holding less value in society and who have limited opportunities in education, employment, and accessing services. Talking to these women and hearing of their stories is agonizing. The things they have been through and still go through are unimaginable, as though I’m watching them through a movie.

That is when I realized the magnitude of the problems that women and girls face. My first encounters with them were heavy on me and at times I would feel as though my mind was “paralyzed”. I kept on asking myself how another human could carry out vicious acts on another. It was hard to swallow and understand. One needs a lot of emotional intelligence in a situation like this.

Irrespective of all their problems refugees are optimistic and do not like to be viewed as weak, hopeless people who have given up. Many of the women here are the providers for their families and strive to educate their children. They have dreams of giving their children a better life than theirs. The refugees in Dadaab had a “life” before civil war broke out in Somalia. They had businesses and houses that were theirs. They were valued and respected by their neighbors. The people I have met did not give up everything to get “free materials” as some outsiders think. Most of them would love to go back to their country and rebuild their lives, but Somalia is still unstable and traumatizing for them and they are afraid – afraid for their children this time around. The repatriation debate has awakened painful memories for some of the women and girls here. Many also worry about their sons being radicalized if they are forced to go back due to the limited options for food, stability, and protection.

The refugees I meet and work alongside in Dadaab are very friendly and welcoming; they are hospitable and invite you to their homes to share a meal. Dadaab is the only home for many refugees who have been here as long as 25 years or who were born here. Being a refugee requires a lot of resilience and working with them has made me humble and appreciate my own blessings. Life in Dadaab is far from being glittery but is a “safe haven” for more than half a million people.

Fatuma Yussuf is conducting research as part of a study co-led by the African Population and Health Research Center (Kenya) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK). This project will contribute evidence to a larger research program called What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and managed by the International Rescue Committee. For further information please visit