From growing nutritious food to reducing family violence

A report recently released by Ripple Effect (as Ripple Effect was then named) shows how our work contributes to a reduction in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the communities where we work. The research carried out by the Global Women’s Institute at The George Washington University, co-funded by the World Bank, confirms what programme facilitators have been reporting to us anecdotally for many years: that well-designed interventions have a powerful impact well beyond the initial scope of a project.

Why does a charity working with farmers to eradicate poverty get involved in family relationships?

It’s a reasonable question. Our mission is clear: to see a thriving rural Africa. In projects where our progress will be measured against increased food production, improved nutrition, greater food security and increased income, addressing negative power dynamics and helping to reduce violence in family relationships might reasonably be considered to be beyond our scope.

Except that Ripple Effect’s work is often set against a background of everyday violence for women, and even with three meals a day families can’t thrive in those circumstances.

When our project facilitators first start work in a community, discussing the issues and challenges they face, groups of women would often mention – almost in passing – that men beat their wives if they don’t do the work that is expected of them, or fail to conform in some way.

“Maybe the husband has money but does not put it on the table, which maybe leads to violence because they don't trust each other.”

Anonymous Female research participant

71% of women in Ripple Effect's programme reported experiencing some form of IPV in their lifetime

59% of women had experienced sexual or physical violence

We needed to find out what was happening

When end-of-project feedback was collected there were frequently comments about how family life had changed: relationships had improved; husbands and wives were working well together, showing affection and respect; there was laughter. It was clear that things were better in ways that we hadn’t planned to measure.

We applied for funding from the international Sexual Violence Research Initiative and the World Bank which allowed us to look at this in more detail and to learn more about why and how our programmes were contributing to these changes which could have positive effects for generations to come.

The qualitative and quantitative research was carried out by Global Women’s Institute at The George Washington University, Washington DC, led by Dr Manuel Contreras-Urbina with Maureen Murphy and Elizabeth Rojas and oversight by Dr Mary Ellsberg. They generously shared their knowledge and expertise to guide the research and build capacity of our staff in this important area.

The expertise we’ve developed on gender relationships

We don’t claim to be experts in Intimate Partner Violence, but we do have decades of experience in challenging deep-rooted gender inequalities. Our facilitators are very skilled in questioning harmful norms (who does the work, who has control, who makes the decisions), breaking down barriers for women, and helping women claim their rights.

We use participatory tools to open up careful conversations around difficult topics. We use our innovative Transformative Household Methodology (THM) to explore in a visual way, that’s clear to everyone, how workloads, resources and decision-making are shared in an individual household.

In the picture below, a family in Petauke in eastern Zambia take part in the Transformative Household Methodology task under the guidance of the Ripple Effect project facilitator. The objects placed along one side of the grid on the ground represent household tasks and decision-making. Each member of the household puts a stone in their corresponding square if this task is their responsibility, with everyone discussing the division of work as they go along. At the end, everyone can see who does the most work, and who makes the decisions.

“Before training, women had to take on many roles, she would rise early and work all day. This exercise [THM] helps the man to realize that he is over-working her.”

Anonymous Research participant

Over time relationships between men and women do shift – we see that. Men see the benefits of working in a partnership with their wives. Women are able to contribute to family income as a result of our agricultural training, and that means they are listened to, and have a say in what work will be done on the farm and how the money will be spent. There is a greater mutual respect. We see women taking on leadership roles in their communities over the course of our projects, and we know that this empowerment will last long after our project facilitators have gone.

The EASE route out of violence

All this work has an impact on violence in the home. Poverty is a key trigger for violence. The combination of economic empowerment, and awareness-raising around gender and social inclusion, changes the way family members view each other and builds more respectful, equitable relationships. (We’ve called our approach that’s centred upon this interplay between money and relationships EASE: Economic And Social Empowerment.)

And it’s not only the power dynamics between men and women that are changed: everyone in a household is involved in this training, and relationships change for grandparents and boys and girls as well, so the impact of this work passes upwards and downwards through the generations.

“After training we sit down together as a family, share what we learned with the family – that one really reduced the issue of quarrelling and other violence.”

Anonymous Female focus group participant

“Women are more empowered, more economically independent. Some of them have even become leaders in the community.”

Anonymous Male focus group participant

The big surprise: how MUCH our work reduces violence

We were expecting to see that our approach reduced violence by a small (but nonetheless important) percentage. Analysis of the research in fact showed that project participants experiencing less violence, or an end to violence altogether, was around 60%. And this was in a mainstream programme focused on combating poverty and hunger in rural communities, not one specifically designed to tackle violence.

We did also see a small number of women who experienced an increase in violence as a result of our programme interventions.

This is an important issue which we need to address, but it is not unexpected in situations where power dynamics are being challenged: some families hold on to patriarchal norms and are less open to change; some men are actively resistant and the result may be more violence. We are doing some more research on this and plan to look at how to minimise this risk.

Understanding family violence

The research revealed that violence within families is often accepted as “normal”. An issue cannot be addressed until there is awareness that it’s not normal or acceptable, and our programme work helped to open up conversations about what counts as violence, with discussions about economic violence, emotional violence, physical and sexual violence, and IPV. From there, discussions could move on to what needs to be done to change things.

We know that it’s important to get an understanding of the underlying reasons for violence within families:

“From our experience the causes are a mix of gender and cultural norms: beliefs that men should behave in certain ways, as well as fear of change, particularly around power dynamics. Why would men change how they relate to their wives if they don’t see how they will still have respect, and a role within the family, or if they can’t see how it will make them happier? Communities often lack positive role models who can demonstrate the mutual benefit of more equal relationships.”

Sofanit Mesfin Regional Gender and Social Inclusion Coordinator, Ripple Effect

How does change happen?

Positive changes don’t happen overnight. A lot of the work by our project facilitators centres on enabling discussions within self-help groups, allowing women to speak out safely. They also identify male role models who can act as mentors to others, and particularly be an example to young boys in breaking the generational cycle of violence.

What we do see is that when men develop more equal relationships with their wives, both men and women often become advocates for change within their communities. Ripple Effect's project worker may actively encourage them to share their family experience as well as their farming knowledge, but friends and neighbours also see the positive impact of more equal relations and want the same in their own lives.

How will we follow up on our research?

Our programmes are not designed to address violence directly and we are very clear that this work needs to be undertaken carefully and sensitively with an expert in gender-based violence, ensuring referral services are in place for specialist support.

We plan to incorporate awareness of what gender based violence is in all our work. We do know from this research that our EASE approach shows huge promise in reducing violence against women and girls in the home, and we will continue to review its impact in our programmes.

By Peg Bavin, Director of Ripple Effect Programme Funding, and Sarah Williams, Ripple Effect Programme Funding Manager