A day in the deep South African countryside, a cow, a banana and one swinging bin

The day Dumisani Rebombo first understood the need to focus on rural development

Dumisani blog Pic

I’m a little over 50 years of age now and have periodically worked in the very deep rural areas of South Africa. When I used to do my rounds, I would psych myself enough to blend well with rural life to a point of somewhat accepting the surroundings which are often characterised by overt poverty and squalor. My defence to this helplessness new normality was derived from the fact that I viewed my Gender Based Violence prevention work as part of my sacrifice of middle class life, and thus I see myself ‘doing something for the poor!’ In the past eight months though, drought hit South Africa and things were dire in these settings. Food prices started soaring and I discovered families and individuals were going to bed without food!

One beautiful morning when I was walking to the office whistling and thinking to myself that all is not doom and gloom; after all as black people we’ve gone through many droughts socially and economically but survived, today will turn out just fine. Suddenly, to my left I heard this squeaking sound and when I looked, there… a cow was trying to salvage some banana leaves from a swinging rubbish bin at the side of the road! My heart just sank, not only was this my first experience but the cow just registered a deep eerie feeling in me of how people lived similar lives in the rural areas. All of sudden I quickly realised that I had money in my pocket, a car, I could go to any nearby town and have a decent meal, but not the same for the people with whom I worked. I started thinking of how rural development was always a ‘by the way’ concept from political arenas, but no resources were commissioned to circumvent this. It dawned on me that unless community members are sensitised and taught about citizenry and human rights, we may have the most beautiful and progressive constitution, which does nothing to change the lives of people on the ground. Understanding that my work is ring-fenced within a Randomised Control Trial study, I am equally determined to include self-worth sessions and advocacy principles in my work. I don’t know how this will taste to my organisation or to the researchers, but I call to both to look deeper into this need and join me with those that I’ll invite to join the idea, to do something about it; for I believe we will find a way!


Overcoming my fear of blogging

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Geeta Devi Pradhan, Head of Programme-Gender & Inclusive Governance at the VSO Nepal Country Office on the day she found her blog voice.

 I think my fear of blogging has a lot of baggage of my own fear of being critiqued by others, my wanting to be always perfect, trying to keep up with our society’s expectation of flawless women. Working in a very competitive environment where as a women, I always have to try harder, work harder, to prove that I am good as leader as anyone else.

Until yesterday’s session run by Gemma Ferguson and Rebecca Ladbury on “How to write a Blog” as part of the What Works Capacity Building Workshop, I had the utmost fear of blogging and thinking that this was far too complicated a thing to do, and that it would take up too much of my time to write a perfect blog. I really like the way they shared their shared personal stories and especially Gemma’s journey from what motivated her to start blogging, the circumstances she was in, and how she made the most of the situation she was in, as an inspiration for blogging.

This sessions help me get over my fear of blogging, liberating the hidden layers of my own fear, and so thank you both for helping me find my blog voice.

By Geeta Devi Pradhan, from the Cap Dev workshop in Pretoria, South Africa. 4 July 2017.

BSR Collaborates with Indian Business Association to Address Sexual Harassment in Garment Industry

BSR PicBusiness for Social Responsibility is proud to announce a new collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development (CII-ITC CESD). The aim of the collaboration is to mobilize commitment from Indian business leaders to ensure a safe working environment for female workers in the garment industry. As an industry-led business association with a wide membership across the textile and apparel sector, CII-ITC CESD plays a unique role in engaging with textile and apparel factories to strengthen the role of business leadership in preventing violence against women.

BSR has developed “Women’s Safety in the Workplace,” a HERproject toolkit supporting managers in the garment industry to take action against sexual harassment in the workplace. The toolkit developed in collaboration with CII-ITC CESD and with support from C&A Foundation, includes ready-to-use training materials and step-by-step guides on how to strengthen workplace systems to prevent and address sexual harassment.

Over the next months, BSR and CII-ITC CESD will co-host a series of events across India for business leaders in the garment industry to discuss how to address sexual harassment in the workplace, writes Andrea Bergstrom, Manager at Business for Social Responsibility.  Click here to access the full blog post.

4 lessons for adapting evidence-based programmes: An example from a social norm change project in Rwanda

Preventing intimate partner violence (IPV) won’t happen overnight. It requires a lengthy process of social change, and achieving that requires both time and funding investment.

In 2014, DFID funded an innovative gender-based violence prevention programme in Rwanda called ‘Indashyikirwa’ aimed at changing social norms that condone gender-based violence. Indashyikirwa is the result of thorough adaptation of key evidence-based prevention and response programmes. It is being delivered by a CARE led consortium made up of Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), Rwanda Women Network (RWN) and What Works to prevent violence against women and girls (WW).

The adaptation process which took one year generated valuable lessons. In the blog post, Sonia Martins highlights the four main learnings from Indashyikirwa adaption process so far, while emphasising the added value of working with a research partner.  Click the link below to access the blog post written by Sonia Martins of CARE International, UK.


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. http://www.whatworks.co.za/about/global-programme/global-programme-projects/innovation-projects/item/30-prevention-of-violence-against-women-and-girls.

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. https://change-starts-at-home.com/  


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 (http://www.whatworks.co.za/)  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.