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As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, it is an opportunity to reflect on our work to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) and some challenges to measure the effects of programmes which contribute directly to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 5.2 and to the achievement of all of the SDGs.

Research – such as the UN Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence – has shown that VAWG is pervasive in the Asia-Pacific region.  It is a serious abuse of women’s human rights that also has a significant economic cost. While programmes to respond to the needs of survivors of violence against women and girls are growing in the region, to date, less emphasis has been placed on violence prevention programmes that change social norms, including addressing harmful masculinities.

Partners for Prevention (P4P) is a United Nations joint program on prevention of VAWG in Asia and the Pacific Region. The P4P team supports work in five countries to prevent violence before it starts. As a team we have begun to reflect on experiences on each project as they move through implementation and end evaluation phases.

How do we prevent violence against women and girls?

Theoretical models for VAWG prevention are based on data on the causes and risk factors for perpetration of this violence have in recent years driven the field forward. These models suggest that harmful and inequitable constructions of gender (often measured by a gender attitudes scale such as the GEM or Gender Equitable Men scale) are a key driver of VAWG and thus gender transformative interventions – that is, interventions that address, challenge, and transform harmful gender identities, norms, roles, and ideals – are central to effectively preventing VAWG. Programming findings from gender transformative prevention interventions, such as SASA!IMAGE, and Stepping Stones, suggest that such transformations require interventions that are participatory, intensive, and engage with gender issues multiple times and in multiple ways.

P4P aims to build on this global evidence base by adapting and piloting prevention interventions in five countries in Asia and the Pacific region. One project was located in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. It is an island east of Papua New Guinea’s mainland, with high rates of VAWG, which are also found in other Pacific islands. Additionally, Bougainville has the legacy of widespread trauma and violence which is a remnant of nearly a decade-long civil war. While the war has formally ended and the island has become an autonomous region that is now partially self-governed, high levels of violence against women continue to affect its citizens.

The ground breaking results of the The Family Health and Safety Study, which is part of UN Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence found that 80% of men who were surveyed reported perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against an intimate partner in their lifetime. Further, gender inequitable attitudes are widespread among men and women in Bougainville. The research also found high rates of reported depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress among respondents.

Taking action to prevent violence against women and girls

In response to these troubling findings, UN Women, the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation, a local faith-based organisation, developed Planim Save, Kamap Strongpela (PSKS) – Plant Knowledge, Grow Strong – a primary prevention intervention, meaning an intervention focused on preventing violence before it starts. Additionally, the intervention received technical support from P4P to develop, document, monitor and evaluate the intervention.

Set in Southern Bougainville, PSKS worked with 2,000 community members through community conversations to transform social norms in favour of gender equitable attitudes and behaviour, prevent VAWG, promote trauma healing to address longstanding conflict-ridden dynamics, and build peace.  PSKS also trained 20 local villagers to become community leaders that provide conflict resolution services and basic counselling services to women who experience violence.

PSKS facilitators pose with their certificates during graduation. ©UNWomen PNG

Are changes in gender attitudes and behaviors linked?

The evaluation of PSKS, which came to completion late 2016, unearthed interesting statistics and further triggered questioning and reflection of key findings which included a significant drop in women’s experience of intimate partner violence – from 86% to 80% for emotional, 78% to 68% for economic, 75% to 58% for physical and 65% to 52% for sexual when comparing baseline and endline surveys.  There was also significantly lower rates of perpetration of physical intimate partner violence by men – 58% to 48%.

Yet, these meaningful changes in intimate partner violence rates didn’t correspond to quantitative changes in gender attitudes among women or men which remained static over the course of the project. However, qualitative data collected by the Papua New Guinea Institute for Medical Research at the end of the intervention document positive changes in gender equitable and violence rejection attitudes among intervention participants. That is, participants reported less accepting attitudes towards interpersonal violence (including their own use of violence) and a greater respect for life and human rights. Further, several male participants described a change in their attitudes to their wives and the household roles saying they planned to cooperate more and share household and family work.[1]

As a team, we noticed that the qualitative data suggest a link between gender inequitable attitudes and behaviour towards women in particular, and violence acceptance attitudes and conflict resolution or interpersonal behaviour more generally. These links are consistent with theoretical models on VAWG prevention. However, the quantitative data indicate a change in behaviour (significantly less VAWG) but no change in gender equitable attitudes which does not align with expectations based on the theoretical models.

One group reflected on forced marriage and intimate partner violence by writing a song.[1]

So what does this all mean?

The P4P team has reflected on the complexity of measuring and interpreting gender equitable attitudes – issues the broader field of intimate partner violence research and programme evaluation has been grappling with given the need for both an internationally comparable, but also culturally nuanced and overall reliable tool. Evidence-based theoretical models indicate that gender equitable attitudes play a role in VAWG perpetration; however, the specific temporal role of changes in these attitudes in the process of changing behaviour – VAWG perpetration, specifically – is still unclear. It is possible that gender attitudes play a role in maintaining a decrease in violence and long-term social norm change. But perhaps in communities with very high levels of VAWG, attitude change is not necessarily a precursor to reductions in and ultimate prevention of this violence.

Given that gender transformative interventions are core to effective VAWG prevention, it is important that we are able to clearly document gender transformations driven by the interventions. As a field we should continue to interrogate and clarify the role of gender attitudes, identities, and norms in VAWG prevention so that we can further strengthen sustainable and effective interventions. As a potential key mechanism for change, understanding the nuances of gender attitude and norms change is extremely valuable to the field.

As we reflect on this important day for women across the globe and on the achievements and continued urgent need to prevent VAWG, we need to focus on better understanding the contribution of transforming gender attitudes to women’s safety, well-being, and success.

Please stay tuned for the full quantitative and qualitative evaluation reports which will be launched soon!  You can find them on our website and on social media and @PreventVAWG


[1] Kelly-Hanku, A., Mek, A., & Nake trumb R. (2017). Planim Save Kamap Strong: A Qualitative Endline Evaluation of an Intervention to build peace and reduce gender-based violence in South Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. UN Women, Papua New Guinea. (forthcoming)

Written by Kathy Taylor, Manager, Partners for Prevention Joint Programme, Anik Gevers, Consultant, Partners for Prevention Joint Programme and Julius Otim, Women, Peace and Security Adviser, UN Women, PNG


About Partners for Prevention

Partners for Prevention (P4P) is a United Nations (UN) joint programme working to prevent violence against women and girls in Asia and the Pacific. Based on its ground breaking research, the UN Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific (2013), P4P promotes and supports violence prevention initiatives and policies. Combining the strengths of four UN agencies – UN Development Programme, UN Population Fund, UN Women and UN Volunteers – with governments, civil society, and support from the Australian government, P4P programmes transform social norms and practices to prevent violence before it occurs. P4P’s work supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls by 2030.




UN Women


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