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Programming principles and considerations

Last edited: December 13, 2013

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  • Use a human rights framework.  Engage all actors in supporting human rights for all people, focusing on the benefits for the entire community that come from women enjoying basic human rights (Michau, 2007).  That said, care must be taken to understand and apply locally relevant language when framing the problem of VAWG; in some instances using a framework of universal human rights without adequately exploring its meaning may elicit defensiveness, as communities may be unfamiliar with or misunderstand the premise of human rights. This can also be true for the term “gender”.
  • Prioritize the safety of women and girls, and be mindful of unintended consequences such as backlash.  Maintain a focus on women and girls as the primary beneficiaries of transformative social change projects, while also recognizing that everyone – women, men, boys and girls – benefits from a world free of violence (IRC, 2009). Interventions must be careful to not inadvertently reinforce attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and norms that contribute to VAWG.  For example:
    • In trying to dissuade a behaviour, awareness-raising messages may accidentally communicate that such behaviour is normal and therefore increase community members’ acceptance of such behaviour.
    • Interventions must never pressure women to speak out, and should never provide personal information of any individual or groups without explicit informed consent (Drezin & Laney, 2003).
    • Care must be taken to ensure that any male-engagement programmes do not take away from or divert resources for survivors or women’s groups. Programmes must be continuously evaluated against the possibility of becoming male-dominated, and checks and balances should be built into projects (e.g. partnering with women’s groups to ensure transparency) to ensure that they remain women-centred (Bott and Guedes, Prevention Module. forthcoming).
    • Ensure that service providers are prepared to respond to any increased demand that may be created as a result of increased awareness on the issue.
  • Take a participatory approach that fosters community ownership and empowerment.  Participatory initiatives designed to prevent VAWG in crisis-affected settings are few.  Because they depend on sustained engagement of community members and partner organizations, they are hindered by challenges such as ongoing instability, mobile populations, lack of or damaged infrastructure, minimal resources, short donor funding cycles and focus on immediate needs (Cooper & Goodsmith, 2010). Many product-focused campaigns – such as the use of billboards or t-shirts with campaign messages – are low in participation and manage to reach large numbers of people in a short amount of time; however they do not prioritize community involvement or feedback in the broadcast of their messages (Goodsmith & Acosta, 2011).  Campaigns and materials that are developed by and with the full participation of the target community resonate with community members in deeper ways, and are able to challenge deeply-held beliefs around roles, status and the overall treatment of women and girls (Michau, 2007). 

Source: excerpted from Cooper & Goodsmith, 2010, p. 6.

  • Base programming and interventions on sound situational and contextual analyses. It is imperative to understand local culture, norms, policies, beliefs, and practices about gender and VAWG and to identify the specific risk and protective factors for perpetration and victimization in each setting (Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2005; Paluck & Ball, 2010a).
  • Ensure that activities are thoroughly grounded in theory and research, and are part of or mainstreamed through broader humanitarian programming where possible.
  • Recognize that creating social change is a long-term process.  Changing long-held beliefs is a slow and gradual process that requires a lot of work and occurs over time.  The process is not always linear and sometimes there is regression before progress can be seen again. Communities and individuals should be supported through this process in an empowering way that respects and facilitates the natural process of change, and positively reinforces the use of alternative behaviours (Michau, 2007).
  • Reinforce messages with multiple strategies and repetition.  No activity should be done in isolation or as a “standalone” approach.  Research suggests that change occurs when coordinated and sustained multi-component interventions are consistently applied over time.  With such a multi-faceted approach, “the potential sum of a coordinated approach is much greater than the number of individual actions” (Lang, 2012).  Repeated exposure to ideas through different forms of media raises awareness, builds capacity and gradually shifts the climate to create change (Michau, 2007). Messages must never exploit, stigmatize, stereotype, or sensationalize.
  • Carefully monitor and evaluate the outcomes of all interventions over time to ensure programme effectiveness, and minimize unintended outcomes that contribute to or exacerbate the risks faced by women. Social change work should define clear and measurable objectives and evaluate effectiveness through baseline measurements, indicators, data collection and monitoring mechanisms. (Adapted from Harvey et. al., 2007). 

See the monitoring and evaluation section of the campaigns module.

See the Gender-based Violence Information Management System (GBV IMS)