Interventions Developed in South Africa Can Reduce Violence Against Women: Study
Sat, December 3, 2022

Interventions Developed in South Africa Can Reduce Violence Against Women: Study

Women and girls living in urban settlements are more likely to experience violence, especially from their intimate partners, prompting South Africa to recognize the issue as a national crisis / Photo by: Felix Lipov via 123RF


Women and girls living in urban settlements are more likely to experience violence, especially from their intimate partners, prompting South Africa to recognize the issue as a national crisis.

Over the years, activists have developed and implemented interventions to prevent intimate partner violence (IPV) on the female demographic. Two of these interventions are Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, which researchers assessed in a new study to see if they can reduce and strengthen livelihoods among South African women.

The results, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that Stepping Stones and Creating Futures are both effective in reducing men's self-reported perpetration of IPV and upholding women's livelihood—but not women's experiences of IPV.

High rates of IPV against women

Global estimates show 35% of the female population have experienced either physical and/or sexual IPV or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, leading to higher rates of depression, having an abortion, and acquiring HIV compared to those who don’t experience IPV.

IPV has also led to thousands of women’s deaths. The UN estimates 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017—58% of which were by intimate partners or family members.

A 2018 study found that the rates of physical and/or sexual IPV were high among South African women in informal urban settlements. In that study, published in the journal PLOS, both young men and women in informal settlements perpetrate and experience (respectively) high levels of IPV.

Among the 680 female participants, 65.2% reported experiencing a form of IPV in the past year—a stark difference to the number of men who reported perpetrating such behaviors towards women (56.9% of the 677 male participants).

The 2018 study determined the structural drivers of IPV, notably food insecurity in the sample population which the researchers said: "has multiple impacts on young people’s lives, in turn increasing vulnerability or perpetration of IPV."

They added that other factors include different forms of poverty that shape IPV dynamics and childhood traumas (physical and sexual abuse).

"Interventions to achieve this need to be combined with interventions that focus on supporting women and men to rethink gender relationships, if impact is to be maximized," they said, similar to reducing childhood trauma and schooling as the means for effective IPV prevention.

The researchers of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures study used the findings of the 2018 research to determine if the said interventions would yield significant results in reducing occurrences of IPV against women.

Effectiveness of interventions

The researchers conducted their study in 34 clusters near the urban metropole of eThekwini, where they applied and assessed the effects of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures.

Stepping Stones is an intervention developed in Uganda in the 1990s that focuses on relationships, communication, violence prevention, and sexual health. Creating Futures was a project developed in South Africa designed to strengthen people's ability to support themselves.

A total of 677 women and 674 men participated in the randomized trial that applied the combined interventions. Two years after implementation, the researchers found male participants reported lower rates of perpetrating violence.

The results show 71% of the male participants reported lower past-year IPV perpetration while 74% said the same for sexual IPV perpetration. Men also reported reduced alcohol intake and improved livelihoods (earning 20% higher), saying they saved more money (three times larger) and were more engaged at work.

"The positive finding of men’s behavior around violence and reduced alcohol use mirrors an earlier trial of Stepping Stones in the Eastern Cape with younger school-going men and women," the researchers explained in The Conversation.

"In that trial, men reported a significant reduction in intimate partner violence after two years, and there was a reduction in alcohol use after one year. This gives us great confidence that this intervention can benefit young men."

However, the results are different for women. While female participants also experienced improved livelihoods after two years, earning 47% higher and saving 25% larger, most of them reported having no experience of reduced violence from their partners over the previous year.

The results show 92% of the female participants reported no differences for past-year physical IPV, 90% for sexual IPV, or severe IPV (93%). These findings led the researchers to conclude that while Stepping Stones and Creating Futures can reduce men's self-reported IPV perpetration, they cannot do the same for women's experiences of violence from their partners.

"Understanding the lack of impact for young women is a critical next step, as is developing more effective approaches to preventing intimate partner violence for women," the researchers said.

Preventing violence

The combination of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures interventions is the first to strengthen young people's livelihoods while also addressing gender-based violence.

However, the difference between gender-based outcomes indicates the need for improving the combined interventions. Current evidence also suggests delivering the interventions to both male and female populations, "for reasons of equity and to enable women to benefit from the economic dimensions."

As researchers work on improving and developing new interventions to reduce—and hopefully, eliminate IPV against women—the UN act on measures to address the root and structural causes that lead to violence against women and girls.

The organization says prevention should begin in early life through educating and working with young boys and girls to promote and uphold respectful relationships and gender equality.

"Working with youth is a “best bet” for faster, sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender-based violence," the UN explains. "While public policies and interventions often overlook this stage of life, it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality are forged."

Through education for prevention, the organization aims to help young people understand the root causes of violence and involve their peers to prevent these instances while also learning where to get support if such violence is experienced.

Meanwhile, working with men and boys means providing the said demographic knowledge and help them change their attitudes towards social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate gender-based discrimination and violence.

With these interventions, the UN hopes to make public spaces safer for women and girls while also ensuring women's economic autonomy and security.