Learnings in developing government policy on preventing gender-based violence

Wed 26 Mar 2014

The Asia Pacific group 'Partners for Prevention', which incorporates UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV, have published a report describing the process ...

The Asia Pacific group 'Partners for Prevention', which incorporates UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV, have published a report describing the process that led to the development of the first ever example of a whole-of-government policy on gender-based violence focusing on stopping violence before it starts.

The report, Preventing violence against women and girls: From community activism to government policy, highlights insights learnt from the policy formulation and incorporates them into a practical actionable framework to guide governments and others working on violence prevention. A summary report is also available.

A Right to Respect: Victoria's Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2010-2020 was a ten year government plan to promote respectful gender equitable relationships within communities and homes to prevent violence against women and girls in Victoria, Australia. 'A Right to Respect' was never fully implemented due to shifts in the Victorian political landscape: the government changed at the 2010 election and key government advocates and systems were lost. However the plan stands as a model and has lessons for others interested in undertaking a similar venture.

The report discusses how to work towards a prevention policy including identifying and addressing the underlying causes for violence against women and establishing prevention strategies which are both evidence-based and evidence-building. The key insights and lessons learnt are as follows:

1. Build a sound evidence base

Ensure that rigorous evidence on the scope and nature of violence is compiled and disseminated. Without sound evidence about the nature, scope, impact and outcomes of gender-based violence, engaging other parties is likely to be a difficult project. Evidence can also help to shift beliefs that violence is a private, family affair by highlighting the health impact and burden of disease and the financial costs of violence against women to the community.

2. Build an authorising environment

Any organization or state wanting to embark on prevention must have the backing of an agency and leaders who are committed to the vision of ending violence against women. Whether it be a government or NGO agency, leadership from an organization with the credibility and resources to commission local research to demonstrate the scope and impact of the problem is essential.

3. Ensure that service and prevention are part of a holistic system

Effective prevention policy and programmes depend on a well-functioning service system. Prevention can only occur if the system that responds to victims of violence is operating effectively to ensure the safety of individuals. Prevention requires specific skills different to crisis response, and while the two are inextricably linked, it is important that the workforce for each has a clear understanding of its roles and responsibilities and work together cooperatively.

4. Prevention is a long-term project

Real change takes time. Ensure that strategies are in place for sustainability. This includes engaging a wide range of parties in partnerships for prevention, including those from government, the community and private sectors. Building a movement for change must be capable of lasting beyond the span of potential electoral changes.

5. Strategic stakeholder education

Provide information sharing, formal presentations, briefings and teachable moments to ensure that all parties, from government ministers to community workers, are well informed. In some cases, formal education may be necessary, particularly in the case of pre- and in-service training for service providers and others who are likely to come into contact with victims of violence. However, informal, adult education approaches are also suggested. Use “teachable moments”.

6. Coherent conceptual approaches for prevention policy and programmes

The socio-ecological model, based on a public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary primary prevention, addresses factors related to violence across individual, community and society levels and targets change at each of these levels for a comprehensive prevention and response approach to violence.

7. Inclusion of relevant and culturally sensitive practices

Although gender-based violence is not acceptable in any circumstance, different groups have different needs and require different approaches. A singular approach for all does not work; understanding different community needs and ensuring the principles of inclusion, relevance and cultural sensitivity should be enshrined in policy and programme design.

The authors write, "One of the strongest insights from the Victoria project is that change management is a process. There is no step-by-step formula for establishing prevention policy. Rather, it is about preparing for change through leadership, establishing evidence, managing people and resources, developing partnerships and networks and reinforcing change. It requires skills, knowledge and understanding. Most of all, it requires patience to focus on a long-term goal with small steps and preparedness to celebrate each small gain."

'A Right to Respect' followed a decade of legislative and policing changes and whole-of-government coordination in Victoria and built on over $140 million of reform initiatives.

Image: Human Rights by H d C Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image: H d C