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Educate to prevent

we need to be telling young women in communities about what they need to do when they become aware of relationships that involve domestic violence and that it is an individual responsibility for us to get involved and help the victims out”.

Education at individual, community, and societal levels is the single best primary prevention intervention to reduce incidents of violence. Educating girls, boys, women, and men about violence, about acceptable practices, about gender equality, and about preventing harm is one of the only interventions that has been proven to be successful through evidence-based evaluations.

According to the WHO study, lower educated males are 1.2 to 4.1 times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence than higher educated men [1]. Another study found that younger men and men with higher educational attainment showed more gender-equitable attitudes and practices, which translates into less risk of becoming perpetrators of gender-based violence (evolving men). The first step to eliminating violence against women is, therefore, to continue work to increase access to education at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels for both men and women, whilst ensuring that the school environment is safe and non-violent.

Once boys and girls are enrolled, school-based educational programmes, which target children young enough to not have too many pre-conceived notions, but old enough to understand the content, have been shown to be an incredibly effective tool in changing the attitudes and behaviours that lead to gender-based violence. It is critical that the programmes work with girls and boys equally – not only do we need to teach girls about their rights and what healthy relationships look like, but we also need to teach boys about gender equality and what is and isn’t acceptable in relationships. Additionally, it is the responsibility of entire communities to protect women and girls from violence – all community members need to know what is and isn’t acceptable and need to have the knowledge and information to take action if necessary. No one can turn a blind eye to this global epidemic, and everyone must be a part of the solution. Introducing these concepts and the importance of gender equality in school-based programmes works to ensure that all individuals have the awareness and the tools to eliminate violence against women and girls. Multi-component programmes are successful as well, where the programme extends into teacher training, parental education, peer mediation, and after school activities.

Programmes which are introduced in tertiary educational settings are not as effective and have shown mixed results, some even having unintended harmful consequences. For example, teaching women how to avoid high-risk situations in some contexts can lead to victim-blaming, as it indicates that it was their fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any kind of programme must be very carefully thought out and planned so as to avoid doing more harm than good.

“by educating we can make decisions to change our lives”

Community-wide education, though perhaps not as effective as targeting a younger generation, can also help to prevent violence against women. It is not easy to change the deeply rooted attitudes and behaviours that lead to violent acts, but that does not mean we should not try. Educating religious leaders has been shown to be an effective intervention model for combatting harmful traditional practices.

1. WHO ‘Preventing Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence against Women’, 2010, p.21 (as cited in Ackerson LK et al. (2008). Effects of individual and proximate educational context on intimate partner violence: A population-based study of women in India).

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