Behaviour change to end gender-based violence

  • Date: 24/06/2021
  • Author: Jo-Ann Ward

Through funding from Irish Aid, Department of Foreign Affairs, ActionAid Ireland has been collaborating with University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change on a new approach to reducing gender-based violence in Kenya, Ethiopia and Nepal. The approach integrates, for the first time, an in-depth analysis of what is behind the behaviours that drive gender-based violence. It uses the Behaviour Change Wheel framework to do this.

We piloted the Behaviour Change approach as we recognise that development programmes regularly support people in the short-term, but can find it difficult to create long-term impact. We found in our work that to create change, we need to support people to understand their behaviours. Therefore, we have put the Behaviour Change methodology at the heart of all of our work so that we can tackle the root causes of problems.

Using this approach, we are working in the heart of communities, developing a deep understanding of the causes of violence. We work collaboratively with community members to develop co-ordinated interventions to bring about transformative change.

Working with men to end gender-based violence

In Kishushe, Kenya, we have been working with men to deepen their understanding of gender-based violence. Recently, one of the participants in the local men’s forum, Donald Mkala,(pictured above) intervened to stop a young girl with mental health issues from a serious sexual assault. The attack was happening nearby, and he and other people heard of it and rushed to rescue the girl. He also handed over the perpetrator to the police.

Donald told us that he took action following his involvement in the local men’s forum led by ActionAid. He now understands that everyone, including girls living with mental disabilities, has the right to be safe from violence.

In the area, people with mental health issues are often neglected, shunned, discriminated against and hidden from society. There is a lack of health, education and rehabilitation services for people with mental disabilities living in poverty. As a result, our team in Kenya inform us that cases of sexual violence and gender based violence involving girls with mental disability are common in this community.

Men are the main perpetrators in such crimes, making the men’s forums promoted by ActionAid all the more important.

Previously, men in the area perceived the fight for equal rights for women and girls in the community as a move to usurp them from their traditional roles. They thought that women would gain ‘control’ over men. Now these men’s forums create awareness on basic human rights; what the law entails; and aim to reduce cases of gender based violence. As a result, the forums help men to understand their behaviours. So, men learn how to change behaviours for the good of everyone in the community.

ActionAid’s work with men

NGOs working on women’s rights  and gender-based violence usually focus on women and girls empowerment only. Yet, most of the perpetrators of violence are men.

After realising that this might be a losing war if men are not involved, ActionAid initiated a men’s forum just like the women and girls’ forum. At the forums, men discuss issues affecting women and how men can be champions of women’s rights. Understanding how individual behaviours can impact the family and others is an important part of this analysis. These are the initial stages. But men are already reporting cases of gender-based violence so that justice can be sought.

Working with female leaders from marginalised communities to improve the lives of women and girls

Tara Kaji Mahato (pictured above) is the Vice Mayor of Madi municipality in Nepal. She has been working with ActionAid for several years as a member of the local women’s forum.

Marginalised women and girls in the community generally lag behind in access to education and other services. In Tara’s community the majority of women are not allowed to leave their homes. She is the first women from the community to take-up a decision making position. In the beginning, she faced discrimination and challenges to go out and work. Initially, some community members attacked her character.  She faced blame for ruining other women’s lives. Her own family even blamed her for not taking care of the house and family.

Tara started working with ActionAid and received various trainings on women’s rights and understanding behaviours with other members of the local women’s group.

She was elected as Secretary of the Village Development Committee. There, she was educated on funds available locally to help women (gendered budget funds) and how to access these for her community.

Since she became Deputy Mayor, ActionAid trained Tara on the gender-based violence referral mechanisms. (This involves explaining what to do when someone reports a case of violence/where to take them etc.) In addition, she was trained in procedures to gain access to justice. This boosted her knowledge and confidence to carry out her role more effectively. As Tara comes from a marginalised background herself, she works to understand the challenges facing local women. And so, she advocates to the government on their behalf to achieve more resources and services for women.

Already, Tara has achieved the following:

  • A budget allocation for resources and services for women in her municipality.
  • Availability of free sanitary pads at schools.
  • Established a basket fund for women survivors of violence to enable them access legal and other services.
  • Initiated the construction of a safe house for women in Madi, Nepal
  • Supported ActionAid’s behaviour change programme and coordinated with local police to eradicate sexual harassment on public buses.
  • Prioritised budgets for women’s economic empowerment in the municipality.
  • Advocated for land certificates for landless women.
  • Established a help desk in Madi (on border between Nepal and India) to assist survivors of trafficking.
  • Increased women’s participation in a mediation committee for gender sensitive advocacy.

ActionAid has found that by working with local female leaders such as Tara, we are seeing substantial change. These women can bring about the participation and buy-in of high-level stakeholders we are targeting for change. As a result, we will continue to shape lasting change for the communities we work with.

Using the Behaviour Change approach to shape our Covid-19 response

Since the pandemic hit, ActionAid used the Behaviour Change Approach as part of its Covid-19 response. It helped us to determine several interventions needed for Covid-19 prevention. We have worked with the Centre for Behaviour Change to understand the best ways to create immediate behaviour change. For example, we installed billboards in villages with information on the importance of washing hands and wearing masks.

In 2020, Irish Aid kindly allowed us to re-allocate 50% of the annual funding for our overseas Women’s Rights Programme for  humanitarian response to the pandemic.

Selam Getnet is a daily labourer and local drink seller who lives in Kimir Dingay, Ethiopia with her two daughters. Selam supported her two children prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, following its impact on trade, she essentially fell into severe poverty overnight. Therefore, the local ActionAid team identified her as someone in need of support.

Through the support of ActionAid, Selam received a cash transfer to support her whilst her business could not continue. This allowed Selam to buy the books needed for her daughters’ education and food for her family.

ActionAid was able to ensure Selam did not fall into the poverty trap as a result of Covid-19 by providing the temporary solution of a cash transfer.

Applying behavioural science to reduce gender-based violence

In addition, ActionAid and University College London Centre for Behaviour Change have produced a guide to apply the behaviour change approach to reduce gender-based violence. Read more here.

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