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A Deep Dive Into Interventions Around Preventing Gender-Based Violence

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Trigger warning: mentions of violence against women

Within the umbrella term of gender equality, gender-based violence has been a prevalent issue with far-reaching consequences, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the first four phases of the Covid-19-related lockdowns, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years.

But, even this unusual spurt is only the tip of the iceberg, as 86% of women who experience domestic violence do not seek help in India.


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Given the context of rising reported cases of violence and the gendered impact of Covid-19, the Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC), of the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, hosted a #GenderGaps talk on the topic “gender-based violence interventions: impact and way forward”, on March 24, 2021.

The moderator, Anshula Mehta, assistant director of IMPRI, welcomed the speaker for the session, Dr Nayreen Daruwalla. Dr Daruwalla is the program director of “prevention of violence against women and children” and project TARA, at SNEHA (Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action).
Mehta also welcomed the chair, professor Vibhuti Patel, former professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; and Poonam Kathuria, director of SWATI (Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative).

The Gendered Impact Of The Pandemic

Prof Patel set the tone for the session by acknowledging that according to UN Women, gender-based violence has emerged as a shadow pandemic.

The degree of the same has deteriorated during the pandemic, as evidenced by the latest National Crime Records Bureau data—which states an increase in gender-based violence by 7.3%, over a period of just one year.

There are two concerns in case of violation of women’s rights: prevention and rehabilitation. Mitigation of the same is achieved through helpline numbers, a one-stop crisis center, online gender sensitisation programs, and counseling.

She reiterated the importance of documentation, research and evidence-based policy interventions for model replication.

The following is a list of definitions shared by Dr Daruwalla to buttress the discussion:

  1. Gender-based violence: It is a broad term for violence on account of gender. It has great practical relevance as it lies at the intersection of caste, creed, and socio-economic status.
  2. Violence against women and girls: It is physical, mental, or sexual violence or any sort of threat specific to women and girls. Under this, there are three categories:

a. Intimate partner violence: As the name suggests, it refers to violence or the threat of it, by a partner or ex-partner, including physical, psychological, sexual coercion and more recently, controlling behaviour.

b. Domestic violence:  It includes violence by any family member, including an intimate partner. It could be emotional, physical, financial, psychological and sexual violence or threats of the same.

c. Sexual violence: It includes violence by any person, regardless of their relationship with the victim. It includes any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other acts directed towards a person’s sexuality using coercion.

The Grimness Of The Situation

Right from the constitution of India to the more recent United Nations’ “sustainable development goals” (SDGs), such documents have set out objectives regarding equal status and opportunities for women, but the reality on the ground remains far from it.

One of the biggest deterrents to equality is gender-based violence, with Dr Daruwalla calling the latter a “public health disaster” globally. To support this statement, Dr Daruwalla referred to the global map of regional prevalence rates of intimate partner violence, created by the World Health Organization (2013).

The African, Mediterranean and south-east Asian regions stood at 37%, on average. She highlighted the fact that these are essentially middle- and low-income countries.

This, however, does not imply that the high-income countries are well-positioned. They stood in the range of 23.2-29.8%. This rate is lower than that of the former regions, but still substantial.

Worldwide, 30% of women have faced physical and sexual intimate partner violence during their lives. In south Asia, the rate for the same is 42%.

In the case of domestic violence in India, the physical, emotional and sexual facets accounted for 29%, 22% and 7%, respectively, for the year 2020. The nationwide lockdown only worsened the extent and depth of domestic violence, with the victims being enclosed with their perpetrators; and many being emotionally violated and deprived.

Disclosure to support services was a negligible 2% owing to concerns around family honour, children, and lack of resources in the hands of women, among other factors.

Global Interventions Against Gender-Based Violence

Interventions have been divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary categories. The Lancet Commission (2014) aimed at categorising global interventions into the following categories:

Promising: Community-based intervention primarily looks at educating and enabling communities to respond in case of violence. It has been the most effective program globally.

Parenting programs to educate parents about attitudes and discipline, protection orders, and shelters, while promising, lack sufficient evidence. Shelters and counseling centers require adequate human resources and funding, both of which are difficult to upscale.

Conflicting: Bystander intervention and perpetrator programs look fascinating, but demand a huge part of the counselor’s time, to bring about a significant change in one perpetrator. This can be a complicated practice if applied nationally or globally.

Ineffective: Routine screening and mandatory reporting have been termed ineffective because it is difficult to identify a victim in hospitals and public health care settings and only adds to the paperwork.

However, non-routine screening may help in identifying and bringing forward consequences and solutions. There is no data to prove it yet.

Not measured: Police and security personnel intervention has not been in focus globally, but SNEHA believes in its effect on behavior and discipline changes.

Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when processes had to be shifted online, police acted as the sole ground support.

For an intervention to have its desired consequences, organisations must work at the individual, interpersonal, organisational, community, and public policy levels. This is also known as the socio-ecological model.

Interventions At SNEHA

The organisation follows the above-mentioned model by working at many levels. They work at the primary prevention level or with community-based interventions, involving campaigns and workshops, counseling centers for identification, first response, mental health assessment, intervention with family, referral to shelters, child welfare committees.

They also work at the institutional level including working with the police, public health hospitals, and district legal aid services. Secondary prevention is equally important as primary prevention.

In case of violence, the first point of contact for women is a public hospital, whether due to injuries or on the pretext of treatment. In such a scenario, the healthcare workers’ response is guided by a set of protocols which are to: listen, enquire, validate and enhance safety and support for the referral.


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SNEHA trains the workers and police personnel to enhance their capacity. They also run a one-stop center at KEM Hospital (Mumbai), which provides counseling, shelter and legal services, and police and medical intervention.

In the future, the organisation would like to see communities’ no-tolerance attitude and vigilant response to gender-based violence. They believe that solutions from communities that understand the context are more reasonable and sustainable.

Tools For Preventing Gender-Based Violence

Choosing indicators for evaluation and their measurements is a complex task. Even after that, tangible outcomes are not guaranteed, violence can recur.

Under the 85, PVWC (prevention of violence against women and children), randomised, controlled trials that took place globally, 66 were in the north and only 19 in the south—even when the latter requires more attention.

Most of them have been in Africa; the time frame of the studies has been less than sufficient; and the strategies to identify multiple forms of violence were weak as well as self-reporting was unreliable.

SNEHA is currently undertaking clustered, randomised, controlled trials on the reduction of domestic and intimate partner violence. The program is of 3 years, excluding the 1.5 years is the baseline and whereas 1.5 years is the end line.

They have created 48 clusters in Mumbai and each cluster has 500 households. Among them, 24 are controlled and the other 24 are intervention groups. In the intervention group, community mobilisation activities are carried out, but not in the controlled group (where, for ethical reasons, only counseling intervention is introduced).

One tool in preventing gender-based violence is the social norms. Under this, men and women are educated about norms, changes in behavior and attitude are noted and then implemented in the community.

The social norms are essential of two types: injunctive, where everyone in the community believes that the action is wrong; and descriptive, where everyone believes that it is wrong, but in case of non-compliance, there is no objection.

The mismatch between beliefs on topics ranging from education, mobility to premarital relations and sex, can be used advantageously in the intervention.

Additionally, the youth of the community—who have been exposed to the norms, but have the potential to mold their perceptions—can be tapped, to bring noticeable and sustainable changes in society.

What Are Some Of The Limitations?

Poonam Kathuria said that in her experience, most one-stop crisis centers are located within a hospital, but there is a lack of co-ordination with the departments of the same, which makes the process of referral weak.

Community interventions have their limitations. The focus then ultimately turns to the state for large-scale and is backed by policy intervention. Structures need to be in place for effective policymaking and response delivery, the foundation of which has to be evidenced by data.

She noted that the National Family Health Survey does not collect data on violence by natal families. Otherwise, there is an expected continuum of violence. To this, professor Patel said that they mainly go under-reported.

She furthered highlighted the limited capacity of helpline centers, sex-selective abortions, absence of contraception, non-registration of FIRs (first information reports), for all of which the data is not available.


Gender-responsive budgeting can seriously improve the conditions of a one-stop center. Presently, the allocated sum is not being adequately utilised by state governments.

Questions raised by the audience brought to light the fact that emotional violence is seen as a cultural idiosyncrasy. It is not seen as a violation, hence, making it difficult to understand and identify.

An audience member stated that there are additional safety considerations involved in conducting trials, to not put the woman at risk by asking questions that could worsen her situation.

The system has been involved in fighting the pandemic in such a way that concerns of gender-based violence have been put on the back burner.

There is a need for civil society organisations to collectively generate data, and push for interventions as well as strict protocols regarding the reporting system.


This piece was originally published here.

Acknowledgement: Mahima Kapoor is a Research Intern at IMPRI

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