Global Violence against Women’s Issues

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Interventions to Deter Socio-cultural Norms that Support Violence against Women

Ethiopia has committed to a public approach to preventing or mitigation violence against women, by transforming the way programming and polices address this global issue. The Ethiopian’s government new Growth and Transformation Plan of 2010/11 to 2014/15 financial year focuses in the need promote the empowerment of women and youth. The aim of the government and other stakeholders is to prevent the occurrence of violence against women by directing strategies and policies towards changing the primary causes, attitudes and social norms that result in the perpetration of violent acts against women. As of this writing, evidence about the effective interventions in Ethiopia was still emerging and quite disparate because of the diverse nature of settings and programs. Presently Ethiopia has a well articulated objective to reduce violent acts or health threatening practices against women and girls. Violence against women and girls has become a major influence on social, political and economic policy areas in Ethiopia and internationally. There are quite a number of interventions aimed at addressing FGM. Most of these interventions have undergone systematic appraisal; hence more extensive research is needed. Berg, Denison, & Fretheim, (2010), pointed out that there is inadequate evidence about the effectiveness of the available interventions to address FGM. Many interventions have been initiated around the country to address the issue including school and health-based initiatives, community conversations, religious dialogues, legal actions and creation of awareness.

Socio-cultural norms are the central motivators of violence against women across the globe. As noted by the World Health Organization (2009), norms or rules regarding expectations of behavior within a social or cultural group can encourage gender-based violence against women and girls. Therefore, interventions that attend to socio-cultural norms advancing violent acts against women can prevent incidences of violence. The section that follows focuses on examples of interventions that are designed to alter socio-cultural norms that support violence. It also identifies the key challenges facing such interventions. The interventions used to prevent and mitigate FGM in Ethiopia are broadly categorized into the following initiatives: efforts designed to bring social change, religious approach, health approach; using existing social structures including school and religious units; law enforcement, and political commitment. Discrimination and violence against women, especially in developing countries limits their potential and prevents them from fighting out of abstract poverty. As of consequence, women’s organizations, NGOs and IGOs have been in the forefront of initiatives to curb violence against women. These initiatives are funded or supported by foreign donors including the United States, UK, Germany, France, Austria and other developed countries. In addition, the interventions gain support from international organizations including the World Health Organization and UN agencies. Other organization includes African Women’s Organization, Campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (CaGeM) and END FGM European campaign. Their efforts go beyond laws and take the shape of policy and community action. This section examines the social change efforts that have occurred regarding Global Violence against Women’s issues in Ethiopia.

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Mass Media Campaign’s and Social Media Initiatives

Mass media campaigns and movements on social media networks such as Flickr Facebook and Twitter plays a key role in addressing violence against women’s issues. The viral nature of the Internet and communication via radio magazines, newspaper and other printed material convey messages pertaining to violence against women. They increase the amount of educational and factual information available on the subject and as of consequence reduces undesirable attitudes and behavior. Social media campaigns apply diverse strategies to change socio-cultural norms. For example, they avail information to correct misconceptions. In addition, they engrave a social stigma to undesirable behavior or acts against women. The Girl Hub Ethiopia program is partly supported by Department for International Development (DFID) in terms of funding radio and other media platforms to change attitudes. While these campaigns tend to focus on deterring the negative effects of violence against women, they also convey positive appeals. For instance, they encourage constructive relations among youth adults. In essence, these campaigns and social media interventions help keep women’s issues on political and social agendas. They also help relevant entities to legitimize community interventions, as well as act as platform for other initiatives. Besides improving behavior through enlightening messages, these campaigns can also change undesirable behavior ultimately by facilitating changes in perceptions of socio-cultural norms through social media networks.

The effect of mass media campaigns and social media interventions, directed at the society as whole is likely to be effective. This is in reference to their success curbing other public issues such as drink-driving, smoking. Furthermore, education through entertainment initiatives, have shown promise in correction of attitudes and socio-cultural norms associated with violence against women’s issues. For example, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign observes the 25th of every month (Orange Day) as a day to highlight issues important to the prevention and end of violence against women and girls. On 25 September 2014, the Orange Day engaged artists in its efforts to fighting violence against women. Artists employ various media to provide a tough global call for the prevention and elimination of violence of girls and women. Poetry, fiction, visual arts, drama and music are powerful tools for changing perceptions and behaviors, as well as for challenging stereo

Community-Based Interventions

Community-based interventions entail initiatives to empower women; initiatives to work with men and initiatives to change norms, practices and attitudes. A number of community-based interventions challenge socio-cultural norms that encourage violence. In addition they support women’s access to justice. Research has indicated that women tend to turn to immediate family or community members for justice. It implies that informal social networks are crucial in addressing violence against women. For example, the mobilization of local men or women networks can be effective in public shaming of perpetrators.

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Community-based Initiatives that Involve Men

Many interventions incorporate male peer groups. This inclusion is based on the fact that youth adults have strong influence on others’ behavior. The main strategy is to change misconceptions held about the behavior and attitudes of others. According to Flood (2010), men play a critical role in the prevention of violence against women. In fact, without the inclusion of men, efforts to minimize and prevent violent act against women is bound to fail. The underlying rationale is that when violence against women occurs, it is largely perpetrated by men. Most importantly, men have a vital and positive role to play in addressing the issue. In fact, some men, often in partnership with women groups, are already made a mark in the quest to curb violence against women. Men’s positive roles include intervening in violent activities of other men; avoiding violence against women; addressing socio-cultural causes of violence; and practicing non-violence. As cited by Kabeer (2014), the Ethiopia Male Norms Initiative documented declines in violence, however little shifts in attitude related to violence.

Community-based initiatives that empower women and correct perceptions and behaviors. Ethiopian NGO, KMG is an apt example of successful community-based intervention in the sense that it implemented an effective programmed to address female genital mutilation in the Kembatta Tembaro Zone of Ethiopia. Due to its efforts, the annual FG ritual ended. The NGO also employed mentors to serve as role models of girls. The use of community structures including mosques, churches, gathering and association have also proved to be an effective intervention strategy. Awash Fentale, Alaba and Guba committees were established to create awareness and document incidents of the practice. These committees were supported by both local and foreign non-governmental organizations. This approach is effective subject to the fact that the existing community structures have a broad access to many community members. Further, the structures have increased recognition and acceptance, thereby enabling prevention and control of FGM.

Service-based Initiatives

The health approach entails involving health workers and social workers in community conversations; door to door campaign; counseling and teachings in schools. For instance, trainings are given in Cheha in collaboration with NGOs and the Women’s Youth and Children’s Affairs. In Guba, health education is conducted through social workers. As gender sensitive issue, social workers continue to create awareness in both school and community levels. For example, the Wormankind Worldwide Organization collaborates with the Government and local communities to educate various stakeholders about the impact of FGM. This intervention creates awareness of the health issues linked to FGM.

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Consequentially, more women recognize that the practice should be abandoned because they have experience the horrific process their daughters are likely to undergo. For example, Amibara and Gewane Community leaders, FGM practitioners and clan leaders have been sensitized about the impact of FGM. Additionally they have been trained to carryout effective community dialogue. This approach has increased not only awareness, but also understanding of the negative effects of FGM. The active involvement of prominent members of the society serves as a motivating factor. It also makes community members receptive to the campaign. Besides FGM, most of interventions target girls and youth adults. Some are designed to reduce intimate violence and FGM by challenging the norms and attitudes related to gender discrimination. For example, norms that allow men to control women are discouraged. One of the approaches used to challenge norms encouraging violence against women is the use of charities or organizations to support survivors, empower women, emotional restoration, and education via entertainment. 28 Too Many is one of the organization’s that is at the forefront of eliminating FGM in Africa.

Legislative and Policy-Based Initiatives

Legislation and polices not only makes FGM and other violent behavior against women an offence, but also conveys a message to individuals and the society as whole that violence against women is unacceptable. While nearly all states across the world have legislation against crime, recently most states have begun to jointly enact and implement laws against gender-based violence. In line with these efforts, the government aligns its efforts with the 1981, Convention of the Elimination of all Formed of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The ratification of the 2005 Criminal Code criminalized various acts against women including FGM and other HTPs. NGOs and other community-based entities harmonize customary, religious and statutory law in line with CEDAW.

Additionally, they strengthen policies and laws to curb violence against women. The Criminal Code was established as a legal aid mechanism to assist victims of domestic violence by ensuring effective prosecution and punishment of the person responsible for crimes. Legal action against FGM is the widely applied interventions at both national and international level. However, laws alone are not effective, but they create an environment for other interventions at national level. In other words, a pool of anti-FGM programmer from other countries should continue to be used to develop policies and guidelines for addressing the issue.

Violence against women and girls is not only an issue of health, but also one of inequality or injustice. Law enforcement approach involves using constitutional legal system and other conventional mechanisms of administering justice. In Gewane, perpetrators are punished based on the traditional law. In Amibara and Awash Fentale, cases are handled in collaboration with clan leaders. When formal justice system is used to punish the perpetrators of FGM, Ethiopian women can access justice. Most importantly, the practice is recognized at local, national and global level as crime. Therefore stern law may make people shun away from the practice in fear of fines and or incarceration. The law enforcement approach takes a global perspective in the sense that it garners support from both local and international stakeholders. For example, UNICEF and the WHO collaborate with the government and community-based entities to establish laws and policies meant to control and prevent FGM. In Cheha, the society is encouraged to develop rules and regulations to handle the cases of FGM. The establishment of circuit courts and temporary courts enables the community to discipline culprits either through the traditional justice system or the formal justice system. Most village elders and clan leaders have recognized that criminal cases involving children and women can only be addressed through the legal system. In each police station, units have been established to address the gender issues. Laws and policies can serve as key tools in correcting perceptions and behavior of socio-cultural norms. Legislation that makes violent acts against women an offence conveys a message to the whole society that is both unethical and unconstitutional. In spite of the fact that the implementation of laws and polices many impact positively on the behavior or attitudes through fear of fines, punishment or imprisonment, changes in deeply engraved beliefs that encourage such behaviors may take longer to be realized.

Coordination and Challenges

Coordination among various key players including government agencies, NGOs and community-based organizations aligns interventions and avoids the duplication of the initiatives or contradiction in messages mean to fight FGM. These approaches take transnational approach in the sense that international non-governmental organizations are involved. Coordination makes the fight against the practice time effective and cost efficient. The strong coordination or collaboration among government agencies, for example, social health workers, police and the Prosecution office mitigates the problem. Multi-dimensional effort involves religious leaders, government, community leaders and NGOs. School-based approach creates awareness about the negative impact of FGM. It also creates opposition against peer pressure.

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Despite the fact that numerous effective interventions have been initiated, there are a number of challenges that emerge in the process of fighting FGM. Firstly, the legal process intended to prevent and punish culprits of the practice are usually hurdled by the intervention of religious leaders and clan elders. When FGM is conducted, religious leaders or clan elders normally intervene through traditional structures of settling disputes. Consequentially, pressure mounts on victims and their families to reconcile. In the end, the due process of law is affected. The second challenge to the fight against FGM is weak enforcement from the legal structure. In spite of the fact that FGM is a prohibited act, the victims are not protected adequately under the law. Further, the punishment received by the perpetrators is also weak. As of consequence, the deterrence and preventive effect of the formal legal system is weakened. Strong religious belief and deep rooted culture makes is difficult to initiate changes in perception of people. FGM is intensified by peer and social pressure among girls leading to despising among women that they may not get married if they are not part of the process. The belief among Ethiopian men that FGM is beneficial also poses a challenge to the fight against the practice. Weak leadership, commitment and inadequate coordination towards the intervention against FGM are mirrored by problems of logistics and inadequate budget resources.


Violence against women is largely influenced by social and cultural norm. Therefore efforts to prevent FGM and other violent acts against women and girls must consider the way in which social expectations and cultural pressures influence individual behavior.

This explains the widespread and prominence of interventions that aim to alter socio-cultural norm and attitudes supportive of violence against women’s issues. Despite the fact that it is challenging to ascertain the efficacy or effectiveness of the policies and legislation in correcting social attitudes and norms, enforced legislation sends the right message to society that violent acts against women is not acceptable. Empirical studies that investigate the effectiveness of interventions that tackle norms and attitudes supportive of FGM and other violent acts against women are rare. Extensive investigation of such interventions are possible, but face numerous challenges, including complexity in the mechanism pertaining to changes in social and cultural norms, and narrow line between confounding factors and the effects of the interventions. Therefore, future studies should factor in the effectiveness or efficacy of the interventions meant to deter socio-cultural norms that support violence against women’s issues.

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