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Changing notions of masculinity reduce gender violence

Apr 03, 2017

Population Council’s Innovative Do Kadam Barabari Ki Ore (Two Steps Towards Equality) Builds Evidence to Address Violence Against Women and Girls in Bihar. violence against women

New Delhi: Four independent interventions to address violence against women and girls in Bihar implemented by the Population Council have been able to bring significant changes in gender attitudes and notions of masculinity. In addition, an assessment of the effectiveness of the helpline run by the state government was found to have significant effect on improving women’s well-being.

According to KG Santhya, senior associate, Population Council, who presented an overview of these projects under their Do Kadam Barabari Ki Ore (Two Steps Towards Equality) programme, this was an important achievement considering every two out of five women in the state has experienced violence and the level of violence against women and girls in Bihar is the highest in the country.

It is widely accepted that the vulnerability of women to violence arises from their secondary status within and outside their homes, gender disparities and deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes. However, evidence on what works and what does not work to change notions of masculinity and femininity, reverse the widespread acceptability of marital violence at community level, and reduce women’s experience of intimate partner violence is limited in India.

These projects, which were implemented in two districts of Bihar, sought to build evidence to prevent, address and reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the state in partnership with the Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and UK Aid.

KG Santhya, who is leading the programme, said it was the first time five independent projects had been launched, each lasting over a period of six months to a year to address all three dimensions of prevention of VAWG. “Not only did the projects look at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of prevention, each project addressed prevailing gender norms, tested best practices to mitigate risk factors and, promote protective factors to reduce violence worked within existing government structures,” she said.

Thus, the Nehru Yuvak Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) youth clubs supported by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, was chosen for the intervention to change attitudes and practices of adolescent boys with the help of a life skills curriculum covering topics such as gender discrimination, notions of masculinity, and violence against women and girls.Cricket coaching and games was used to convey a sense of fair play and resolution of conflict in a non-violent way.

Sharing the findings of this intervention implemented in rural areas of Patna district, Santhya said that the positive effect of their gender transformative life skills education and sports-coaching programme on the attitudes and practices of adolescent boys and young men in the ages 13–21, particularly toward violence against women and girls, underlined the importance of starting young. “There is strong evidence that exposure to the intervention had a significant effect on making boys denounce attitudes justifying the right of men and boys to control the females in their life. Gender role attitudes became more egalitarian and notions of masculinity became more positive,” she pointed out.

Nineteen-year-old Amit Kumar, a NYKs club member in Rakasia village in Patna district, used to pass rude comments and whistle at girls. “I enjoyed passing remarks and whistling at girls. I realised this was wrong after I joined the programme. I understood what was fun for me was harassment for the girls. Now, all 55 members of my club have stopped harassing girls. We also stop other boys from doing so,” he said.

Another intervention used the platform of self-help groups to empower women and address VAW. Implemented in Nawada district of Bihar with SHGs supported by the state government’s Women Development Corporation, the intervention comprised gender transformative group learning sessions.

It was implemented among married women who were members of SHGs and their husbands. At the end of the intervention it was found that a significantly large number  SHG members agreed that a woman need not obtain her husbands’ permission in most situations and, that a woman need not be subservient to her husband.

Sulekha Devi, a member of Jyoti SHG from Sidhaul village in Nawada district always believed her husband had the right to beat her. She only understood that it was an act of violence after she became a part of the programme. “I realized it was wrong to tolerate all forms of violence, including sexual violence. My husband, who also attended some of the sessions of the intervention, also understood men and women were equal partners. Things have improved at home now,” she said.

While the intervention with Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members succeeded in bringing about significant change in their gender role attitudes, including about violence against women and girls, the intervention with accredited social health activists (ASHAs) and anganwadi workers helped the frontline health workers screen women for violence, counsel and refer those who had experienced marital violence.

AnganwadiworkerPhool Kumari from Kurkuri village and Gayatri Devi, an ASHA from Hinduni village, who work in Phulwari shariff block in Patna district, said that the intervention gave them greater confidence to discuss violence-related matters with women after being sensitized on women’s rights and the unacceptability of marital violence; “We told women not to remain quiet and speak up if they had experienced violence. Once they gained confidence in sharing their experiences with us, we were able to help them seek help as we had been trained by the programmeabout services available for women in distress,” said Gayatri Devi.

A fifth project to assess the effectiveness of services provided by the state government-run helpline found 91 percent of the women between the ages 21-49 who sought helpline service had reported lifetime experience of emotional violence. While 86 percent reported physical violence, 70 percent reported sexual violence within marriage. While husbands were clearly more likely to perpetrate violence against women, other members of the husband’s family also inflicted violence on women.

Majority of the women interviewed said there was a significant decline in their experience of physical violence perpetrated by the husband and other family members, including sexual violence perpetrated by the husband, and suicidal ideation.

The Population Council has made several recommendations based on the findings of their four interventions and assessment of available services like the Helpline. These include the need for a continuum of prevention – primary, secondary and tertiary-to stop incidents of violence against women and girls. It also recommends working at all levels with different stakeholders within the government system as it can help upscale the process to transform attitudes relating to gender roles, reduce marital violence experience, and enhance women’s agency.

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