Combined Interventions Found to Reduce Violence Against Women in West Africa

Gender-based violence against women remains a pervasive public health and human rights issue around the world—one that has severe physical and emotional health consequences that can affect the victim long after the abuse has stopped. 

New research led by the Yale School of Public Health, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian organization, has found that a two-pronged intervention to address intimate partner violence (IPV) is effective in reducing the levels of such abuse in settings marked by armed conflict or civil unrest, where levels of IPV are often pronounced.

Jhumka Gupta, Sc.D., assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, led a study that consisted of 934 women in 24 rural villages in the West African nation of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Her research team found that both the levels and acceptance of IPV lessened, in some cases significantly, through a combined intervention that addressed both women’s economic empowerment and their role within the household.

The randomized study examined the impact of adding gender dialogue groups to an economic empowerment group savings program (known as Village Savings and Loans Associations) on IPV levels. Developed by IRC, the gender dialogue groups consisted of eight sessions with women and their male partners focused on joint decision-making regarding household budgeting, household contributions, the role of women and domestic violence.

The study found that participants who took part in both the gender dialogue groups and the group savings program were far less likely to view wife beating as acceptable. Also, women who attended at least 6 sessions with their partners were 45 times less likely to report physical IPV than their peers, who only took part in the savings program.

“Economic empowerment programs, such as microfinance or group savings, have many benefits to women’s development and health, but increasing access to money without addressing deeply entrenched norms and attitudes about the role of women may also render a woman vulnerable to IPV,” said Gupta.

There has been little research on effective strategies to reduce IPV against women in conflict-affected settings such at Côte d’Ivoire. This West African nation experienced widespread conflict from 2004 to 2006, and again from 2010 to 2011 following elections.  The researchers note that women living in such locations are particularly vulnerable to violence, both from armed combatants and their male partners.

One community-based survey found that nearly 48 percent of Ivorian women experienced IPV within the past year and that 60 percent had experienced it within their lifetime. A recent World Health Organization report estimates that 1 in 3 women who have ever had a male partner around the world experience IPV at some point in their life, and the estimates in the Africa region are 36.6 percent. 

“The gender dialogue groups are a way of engaging men on financial topics that interest them while challenging norms that make violence against women acceptable and keep women from having equal access to resources,” said Jeannie Annan, Ph.D., a study coauthor and IRC’s director of research and evaluation.

Kathryn L Falb, Sc.D., postdoctoral associate at Yale School of Public Health and a co-author, noted “IPV is an issue that is often overlooked in settings impacted by conflict, but it is very pervasive before, during and after a war.”  The IRC released a report last year highlighting IPV as a key humanitarian issue. 

“While more research is needed to investigate sustainability, the reduction of IPV and improvements in attitudes toward justification of IPV are promising.” said Gupta. “It’s also important to note that it is possible to rigorously evaluate an IPV reduction program in a conflict-affected setting—even in the midst of a period of heightened post-election violence. These findings are an encouraging next step towards addressing IPV in such challenging and unstable contexts.”

The findings are published in the journal BMC International Health and Human Rights. Gupta said that a larger-scale study is needed to validate the findings.  The World Bank State and Peace-building Fund funded the research. Innovations for Poverty Action and researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health also contributed to the study.

To view the full study, click here:

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on November 6, 2013.