Published on Development Impact

Reducing intimate partner violence through edutainment

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When I started working on HIV, behavior change campaigns were quite in vogue.   The idea was if you bombarded folks with enough information, maybe even made them watch a movie or two, they would get the message and change their behavior.   Then some folks got creative and thought about adding community theater or radio plays to the mix as maybe a way to get the messages across in a more entertaining way.  
As they song goes: video killed the radio star.   And two new papers look at the impact of embedding gender based violence messages in a more entertaining, video based set of messages.    First up, we have a paper by Abhijit Banerjee, Eliana La Ferrara and Victor Orozco.   They look at the impact of an MTV series called Shuga in Nigeria.   While the main focus of this series is a story arc around HIV prevention, there was a sub-plot on gender based violence.    Banerjee and co. look at the impact of this on attitudes towards violence.   
Banerjee and co. randomize screening centers across South-West Nigeria into screenings of Shuga and a placebo TV series.   They then look at the impact of watching Shuga on responses on whether or not respondents think violence is justified (for a set of reasons ranging from a wife going out without telling the husband to burning the food).    On average, there is no impact.  But, this zero masks significant heterogeneity by gender.    For women, the impact is a pretty precise zero, but for men, there is a significant and negative impact.    Men are 6 percentage points (21%) less likely to justify forced sex or beating their spouse at all and cite significantly fewer reasons (25% less) for which this is justified.  
One of the interesting facets of this kind of change is trying to understand how people are changing their mind.   In the case of Banerjee, et. al., the mechanism seems to be people who think about what the characters went through and remember specific aspects of the program (as opposed to be people identifying with the characters).    The folks who have mulled over the plot are significantly less likely to think violence is OK – and this is true for both men and women.  
Now, let’s take off for Uganda, where Donald Green, Anna Wilke and Jasper Cooper are taking a look at how to move norms about violence.    Given their inclination towards political science, their paper takes a look at how changing views about the role of bystanders in speaking up about intimate partner violence (IPV) may be able to reduce perpetration.    The idea here starts with descriptive norms, i.e. our expectations on what others will do.   If we think that no one will believe us when we come forward with a report of violence, and everyone in the community shares this belief, perpetrators are emboldened.  Indeed, this is likely an issue in Uganda, where Green and co. report that the DHS data indicates that “almost one-third of rural Ugandan women…report that they have been punched with a fist, kicked or dragged, strangled or burnt, or threatened with a knife or other weapons.”    And folks are afraid to say things about this:   Green and co. indicate that 56 percent of women say that they would be labeled a gossip if they were to talk about a neighbor beating his wife.  
Green and co. show a series of three vignettes around IPV to a random subset of 112 communities in rural Uganda where they are sponsoring a film festival (the vignettes are shown in the intermission of the film festival).  In the first video, a woman is beaten by her husband, her neighbor hears but says nothing to anyone.   In the second video, the abused woman is hospitalized and eventually dies – and its clear others knew about the violence.    The third video presents a different community – one where the woman discloses the violence to others and they get involved…and things get better.   (You can see the videos here but be warned they contain scenes of violence)
Before getting to the results, there is an interesting methodological twist in the Green, et. al. paper.   Since there is a placebo here (the plain film festival), they can actually do their analysis with the compliers (i.e. the folks who showed up for the film festival) rather than usual community-wide intent-to-treat.    They do two follow-up surveys:  one at 2 months and a second at 8 months.   
Green and co. start by looking at attitudes towards IPV, in a fashion similar to Banerjee and co.   And they find nothing.    They also find nothing for similar measures on violence escalation and even for more general views on gender equality.   So these videos did not move attitudes on the acceptability of violence. 
But remember that the point of the videos is to get people thinking about speaking out more.   And indeed, when they look at willingness to report violence, women are 9 to 13 percentage points more likely to report witnessing violence to others.   Men also show a positive response, but this is both smaller and less robust.   One interesting point here:  Green and co. apparently conducted a similar study in a nearby rural region where they showed these videos to individuals alone (not in the community film festival setting).  In this other context, there is no significant movement in the willingness to report violence.   So it would appear that the communal setting (and possible side conversations?) matter.  
Returning to the film festival group, women exposed to the videos also think reporting violence is now less likely to get them scolded:  those who have seen the videos are 11 percentage points less likely to think this will occur which, interestingly, brings them to the level of men in the control group.    Men are getting this message that the dynamic is now different:   Green and co. find that men are 5 percentage points (significant at 10 percent) more likely to say that people would intervene rather than minding their own business.      
Now does all of this lead to lower levels of violence?    Green and co. (carefully) ask women in these communities whether they have experienced any violence in the last 6 months.   They find a reduction of 5 percentage points (or 25%).    They also find that among those who experience violence, it is happening less frequently.   
Taken together, these papers provide some interesting results on changing how people think about violence against women.   And as, Green and co. show, getting people to engage, even when state enforcement capacity is weak, can make a real difference, with an intervention that may be pretty easy to scale.        


Markus Goldstein

Lead Economist, Africa Gender Innovation Lab and Chief Economists Office

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