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Engage men in ending violence against women

6 March 2009 -- Domestic violence has a big impact on women's health, both physical and mental. In this episode we find out how men can be engaged to end such violence.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast, and my name is Veronica Riemer. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we discuss why domestic violence is a health issue and how men can be engaged to end such violence.

Twaha Kabega: I married my first wife when I was just 25 years old. Like other young men, I was very adventurous. I would spend nights out. When she started questioning me, I beat her. I didn't feel bad about that. My intention was to ensure that she left. Indeed, she left.

Later, when I was told about domestic violence, I realized I had lost my first wife because of that. This project that they brought to us made me a happy man. All my neighbours are happy about this project. I have also started sensitizing them about the issue of domestic violence. They are listening to us and love has increased. The kind of love I have now with my second wife, I had never seen before.

Veronica Riemer: Twaha Kabega from Kampala in Uganda is a changed man. He is now a volunteer and works to change cultural patterns that promote violence and abuse of women in his community. His project aims to engage more men to create safer and more just communities for women and girls. Evidence shows that domestic violence is a problem in countries both rich and poor.

SOLACE is an organization based in London that provides advice and accommodation to women and children escaping domestic and sexual violence. Mary Mason, the Director of SOLACE, describes the extent of the problem.

Mary Mason: We deal with about 4000 women a year. It is a huge problem in England. There are two women murdered every week by a partner or ex-partner. We also know that one in four women in their lifetime will be affected by domestic violence. We know that it crosses all classes, all cultures, all races… If you think that one in four women in the whole wide world are affected by violence in their relationships, then that is a huge number of women and we are still not treating it seriously enough.

Veronica Riemer: SOLACE helps women victims of violence to develop an independent life.

Mary Mason: The whole aim of our service is to empower women and to assist them into independence. So we will, for example, help the family to get into school, help them to register with doctors, help them to begin to plan their finances etc, all with the aim of increasing their own ability to live their lives independently and increase their confidence to enable them to do that and make safe choices for the future.

Veronica Riemer: Economic independence also helps women develop confidence and reduce violence. Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno from WHO's Department of Gender and Women's Health illustrates this for us.

Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno: A good example of a successful strategy is a programme in South Africa called Image, which combined microfinance intervention which gave women some small amount of money and a brief training programme that built on their capacity to take action, to be aware of gender discrimination, to become more self assured in what they did. So it was a combination of economic empowerment with empowering women as individuals. And, this was shown to reduce violence by 50% in the villages where it was tested.

Veronica Riemer: There is a need for such violence prevention programmes, because violence can have a severe impact on women's health, both physical and mental.

Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno: Violence against women is related to injuries, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted infections, to the mental health impacts. We find that a lot of the women who experience violence suffer more depression, are more likely to have considered suicide or to have actually attempted suicide, are more likely to have anxiety problems.

Veronica Riemer: Studies by WHO show that one effective way to prevent domestic violence is to promote, from an early age, respectful relationships that recognize women and girls as equal to men and boys.

Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno: One example is a campaign called "Coaching Boys into Men" which is being carried out now by the Family Violence Prevention Fund. This campaign specifically aims to teach boys how to deal with violence. It encourages fathers and other male role models -- such as sports coaches or male leaders in the community -- to talk to boys about these issues, to talk to boys about how to treat women and girls, how to deal with anger, how to be part of the solution.

Veronica Riemer: A range of other actions also need to be taken at different levels, in order to change the norms of acceptable behaviour between men and women.

Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno: There is a need for support to a wide range of actions from community-based actions to change what is considered normal and acceptable behavoir between women and men, to changing laws that discriminate against women, to training doctors, nurses, police, judges, teachers in recognizing and addressing these issues. In particular, I would emphasize working with children, starting early so that we address these issues from the beginning rather than trying to change people once they develop these set ideas about what is acceptable behaviour and what is normal.

Veronica Riemer: That was Dr Claudia Garcia Moreno from WHO, talking about what needs to be done to prevent domestic violence. If you would like to learn more about this subject, there are links to related information on the transcript page of this podcast episode. Look for the link to the podcast on the home page of our web site.

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.

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For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.