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Violence against women and violence against children intersect in many ways, often within the same family. Parenting programmes offer a promising avenue to address both simultaneously, given the impact that family violence can have on parenting and on children’s health, as well as children’s own propensity for future violence. In a collaboration with Clowns Without Borders South AfricaPlan International and the University of Cape Town, this project supported by a research grant from the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, aims to adapt and pilot-test the Parenting for Lifelong Health (PLH) Teen programme, which has evidence for preventing violence against children, to expand and include a more explicit focus on preventing violence against women.

Can a co-parenting intervention reduce both Intimate Partner Violence and Violence against Children?

To answer this question, the study has three parts, the first of which is nearly completed, with the wonderful assistance of Catholic Relief Services Zimbabwe. First, parents and teens who had, and had not, experienced PLH for Teens, as well as the programme facilitators, have been interviewed for their advice about how to best adapt the PLH programme. Second, the actual adaptations will take place, with guidance of both expert and parent advisory boards, as well as being based on findings of similar studies from around the world, and our findings in Zimbabwe. Third, the adapted programme will be pilot tested in Zimbabwe, with a view to testing it in a randomised controlled trial (the gold standard of programme evaluation).

Gendered roles in the family and violence

Part One of the study has given us several interesting ideas. Most notably, we gained insight into how participants see the role of mother and father and what they wanted out of a potential programme. Gender norms underlie much of violence against women and children, and so views of mothers’ and fathers’ roles in the family can help us understand this.

Participants spoke of separate roles for men and women. Women were expected to provide emotional care and maintain the household, while men were expected to be the breadwinner and to provide food, clothing, shelter and school fees. These ideas were echoed in the way participants emphasised that ideally men should have a role in preventing violence within the home. Women overwhelmingly said men should play a role in preventing violence because they are the head of the family, while men spoke of men as perpetrators of family and intimate partner violence and talked about the need for men to control their emotions and remain calm. This particular power dynamic is not new to those with an interest in gendered violence: Women were positioned as the nurturing carers, which may disempower them by preventing them from expressing their anger, while men spoke of longing to take a more nurturing role in the family.

Aspirations for parenting programmes differ by men and women

Similarly, women’s and men’s suggestions for a new programme differed considerably. Women wanted economic support including funds and business skills, yet when speaking about their role in the household, their focus was on emotional and household labour. Men, in contrast, focused on communication skills and learning about child development as key to a potential parent supportive programme, yet saw their role as that of provider. This suggests that men and women are looking to redefine their roles in the home.  It also raises further questions: do women think that violence in the home is affected by the household economy; and if women are granted more access to income generating strategies, how might this affect violence in the home?  We will explore these questions further with both men and women, in developing the programme.

Our findings do provide hope, however, that men and women may both be interested in transforming gender roles, and therefore hope that violence against women could be tackled though a parenting programme.

Follow us at @ParentingLH and @planinternationalzimbabwe

For more information email Natalie Davidson Natalie is a Master’s student at the University of Cape Town, under the supervision of Prof. Catherine L. Ward, professor in the Department of Psychology and Safety and Violence Initiative. Sheila Murimoga is the technical lead at Plan International Zimbabwe.

#16DaysofActivism 2021 Blog Series

Written by Natalie Davidson, Prof. Catherine L. Ward and Sheila Murimoga

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