Everything is extremely lush in Nepal and a steady curtain of monsoon rain falls. I’m just back after three days visiting project activities in Nawalparasi, one of the three intervention districts – a 20 min flight or up to 12 hours drive during the monsoon from Kathmandu.
The Equal Access ‘Change Starts at Home’ project targets young married couples and their close family members, community and religious leaders; and the community as a whole in the intervention areas. The main aim of the project is to reduce Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) through the use of media plus community outreach to address existing social norms, and individual attitudes and behaviours that reinforce violence against women and girls. Initial findings from the baseline survey indicate an IPV rate of 28%, double that of the latest DHS survey.
Central to this project is a 39 episode radio series ‘Samajhdari’ (meaning Mutual Understanding) highlighting issues relating to IPV and the skills required for strengthening a healthy and happy relationship between married couples. Alongside this are 72 facilitated listening and discussion groups (LDGs) for couples (mainly in separate groups of women and men) and a programme of community engagement with local leaders and the wider community. A two-armed random control trial (RCT) is in place to assess the impact of this intensive media and community engagement intervention on the occurrence of intimate partner violence, attitudes toward violence, and gender equity norms; additional qualitative studies will help identify pathways of change and activities that are effective, replicable and scalable so that changes in the status of women and girls in Nepal can be sustained over time.
After many months of intensive work integrating the research and intervention design, and detailed work on the curriculum (programme content and production), the Equal Access team and partners are now in full implementation mode – and excited about this ground-breaking work!
Local Radio Kalika is one of five stations airing Samajhdari. The station is buzzing with activity – from here ‘Samajhdari’ is broadcast across Nawalparasi, Chitwan, and Kapilvastu. The storyline is based in a highway hotel called Hotel Manarupa, run by an ‘ideal’ couple who discuss issues and attitudes around relationships with their customers and various regular characters. The location of Hotel Manarupa actually exists on the East-West Highway – and we had lunch there the next day!
At VDRC’s headquarters (EA’s key partner) we observed a mixed training session for 36 of the 72 LDG male and female facilitators. This was the third day of a refresher course covering episodes 1 – 6, and the topic was ‘sex and sexuality’. The discussion was open and lively covering sensitive issues such as sexuality, consensual sex and marital rape. Jaya Luintel, a renowned Nepali gender expert, had been specifically chosen as the trainer and ‘role model’ for this session because women are often criticised for talking openly about such topics. These 72 facilitators are in the front-line, their training and skills are critically important to the project as we observed when visiting two LDGs in action the next day.
The two LDGs we sat in on were joint male and female sessions – involving around 9 couples in each group. In the first village, which was less poor, the women worked mainly in agriculture or with animals, and did not describe themselves as ‘housewives’, the men were mainly in small businesses such as chicken farming, one owned a small grocery shop. The second village was a more marginalised community (speaking an ethnic dialect), poorer, and less educated. The men were tractor/lorry drivers, handymen, carpenters etc, and the women described themselves as housewives. In both LDGs participants listened attentively to Episode 7 on ‘Love and Respect’, but the levels of discussion that followed on social norms and how they affect behaviours, and the behaviour of mother-in-laws, were very different. What was interesting for me is that it highlighted the challenges EA faces in managing such a wide spectrum of groups at different starting points.
What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, Global Programme