Fiona Samuels
Nicola Jones
Taveeshi Gupta
Publication Date
March 1, 2017

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

This report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explores multi-level influences that shape the perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV) by men and boys in South Asia. It also examines the policy, programming, and institutional dynamics that mediate attitudes and behaviours around IPV. Drawing on a mixed-methods approach from 3 countries facing different forms of state fragility - Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan - it explores 3 questions: To what extent do social norms drive male perpetration of IPV in South Asia?In what ways do broader political economic dynamics shape attitudes, behaviours, and service provision regarding IPV? What are the entry points for policy and programming to tackle male perpetration of IPV? Figure 1 on page 6 shows a conceptual framework: understanding intimate partner violence from an ecological and institutional lens in fragile states. In addition, the report provides programming and policy recommendations, stressing the importance of engaging with men and boys in efforts to tackle IPV, particularly given a backlash that appears to be growing as women become more empowered in the region.

The report provides a look at the inter-related factors at the individual, household/relationship, and community levels that have been identified as making boys and men more likely to inflict IPV. On the consequences of IPV, many studies have found that those experiencing IPV are far more likely to face serious health problems, with IPV a leading cause of morbidity and mortality for women in many contexts. Turning to the researchers' primary data, trends across the 3 countries show that while physical violence seems to be decreasing, other types of violence (psychological and economic) were thought to be increasing. The research points to the need to include definitions of IPV that are culturally resonant and context-specific in any umbrella conceptualisation of IPV in the region. For example, dowry-related violence, acid throwing, fatwa violence, and polygamy-related violence are all significant dimensions of IPV experiences in the study countries.

From the perspective of many men and boys in the sample, some form of violence in relationships with intimate partners - wives and girlfriends - is acceptable and can be justified by the need to control girls and women and correct their behaviour to ensure compliance with conservative gender norms. Women were seen to justify and accept IPV - a reflection of the strength of patriarchal norms. There was a sense in all countries that norms are changing, but unevenly. There was also a sense that new freedoms have created other vulnerabilities for girls and that there is evidence of a backlash, with many men viewing these new freedoms as a threat. This backlash can be seen in men turning even more to rigid patriarchal and religious prescriptions for the control of women and this, in turn, fuels IPV.

According to a senior researcher from BRAC in Bangladesh, "the use of technology such as mobiles has increased violence by increasing interactions between girls and boys." These interactions are dangerous, s/he added because "most boys and girls have not learnt yet how to behave with one another and technology has come too fast." Recognising this new and growing threat, in early 2016 Bangladesh hosted an expert consultation on cyber-violence against women and girls (VAWG). Participants highlighted issues around social stigma for victims of online violence (e.g., how women are called "bad women"), but also how "consent" is understood by technology users. Key informants noted that while new technologies are opening virtual spaces for VAWG, they can also prevent and respond to it. In Bangladesh, for example, many adolescents use their mobiles to listen to the radio, including programming from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). There is also some evidence that technology is helping to address VAWG in Nepal and Pakistan. A key informant from Nepal explained: "the media nowadays with its ever broadening coverage is the major source of information [about VAWG] and has helped generate awareness even in our village." Male respondents in Pakistan added that Indian soap operas were empowering women.

Along those lines, the report goes on to explore policy, programming, and informal responses. For example, the Multi-Sectoral Programme (MSP) on Violence Against Women (VAW) is implemented jointly by the Governments of Bangladesh and Denmark and aims to develop a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to gender-based violence (GBV). The MSP includes telephone helplines (staffed by personnel trained to university level, most of whom are women), 20 regional trauma centres, 30 One Stop Crisis Centres (OCCs), and Violence Prevention Committees. Under-reporting of IPV to the police and formal justice system is a major challenge in all 3 countries as a result of entrenched beliefs that IPV is a "private" matter. A lack of capacity to address VAWG was noted in all 3 countries, with agencies and departments under-staffed, with poorly trained staff, and facing poor coordination and limited leadership. The invisibility of women in debates and dialogues was also highlighted.

As is consonant with the ecological model, the researchers note that institutions (formal and informal) at all levels play a vital role in both promoting and stalling progress on eradicating IPV. At the micro-level, these institutions include extended family and tribal groupings, informal courts and arbitration systems, and the women's GBV monitoring groups, community-based organisations (CBOs), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are often the first port of call for survivors. Findings suggest that religious leaders at community level often serve as a conservative force and that women may not turn to them. Meso-level institutions such as schools, health clinics, police stations, formal legal structures (including legal aid), and sub-national representatives of political parties also emerged as key mediators of IPV responses. At the macro-level, given the range of fragilities faced in these contexts, there is considerable diversity in the patterning of institutional responses to IPV and support for broader women's rights agendas.

Table 1 on page 20 identifies key recommendations and opportunities for changes in policy and practice to address IPV, setting out responsibilities that span all levels in the ecological framework. In short:

  • Promote definitions of IPV that have cultural resonance.
  • Ensure that programming responds to regional patterning of IPV.
  • Engage with men and boys to better tailor programme interventions, while maintaining a strong gender and rights focus that is inclusive of women and girls.
  • Ensure that programming approaches respond to the multi-level influences of IPV.
  • Map and engage strategically with key institutions at different levels, especially in an effort to counter backlash against women and girls' empowerment.
  • Invest in, strengthen, and improve programming, including monitoring, evaluation and lesson-learning related to programming.
  • Strengthen data collection and analysis that involves both men and women, boys and girls from diverse geographical, ethnic etc. groups with regard to IPV practices.

Slimline C4D Network Twitter Trawl: 6 - 12 March 2017; and ODI website, March 13 2017. Image caption/credit: "The bumper sticker on this Nepali van reads: 'Good wife is someone whom the husband likes'." © NISER Nepal 2016