Investing in partnerships to prevent violence against women and girls

Ending violence against women and girls will take sustained effort and investment from all levels of society.

This year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls.”

Financial investment in local women’s rights organizations (who know their communities and local contexts best) is essential. But investments are not only of money — they can also be of time, effort, peer support, creative collaboration and solidarity.

It takes patience, flexibility and perseverance to build the cross-sectoral partnerships that are required to end gender-based violence and to create sustainable, long-lasting changes in attitudes and practices. We see this is in the communities where we work, where our partner radio stations work with local women’s organizations, health clinics, schools and more.

Here are some approaches to ending gender-based violence that we’ve learned from our projects and partners.

Partner with organizations in different sectors to create lasting impact

Participants of the annual planning and budget workshop for the iHeard project, where project partners come together to plan for the next fiscal year (in this case, 2024-2025).

Ending gender-based violence is not the responsibility of any single organization. It requires collaboration and action from a wide range of sectors including government, academia, non-profits, the health care system, the education system and beyond.

That’s why our five-year iHeard project in Malawi is based on local partnerships in the health, communication and education sectors. The project aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of adolescent girls and young women in Malawi. The health component strengthens and promotes local sexual and reproductive health services, the education component raises awareness in schools, and the communication component sparks discussion and changes behaviour using radio and mobile phones.

Our five-year Hérè project works to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and improve women’s well-being in Mali. This project functions through a consortium with two other organizations (MSI Reproductive Choices and Women in Law and Development in Africa, or WiLDAF). This structure allows each organization to focus on its own specialty and complement the other partners’ work.

In Mali, we’re also working with public structures in charge of gender and health, which are decentralized state structures that are located right in communities. Our work also contributes to the Malian government’s Plan d’Action National Budgétisé de Planification Familiale (National budgetized action plan for family planning).

Work with radio stations to amplify local services and resources

Radio stations are integrated into their communities. Given radio’s continued dominance as an information source on the African continent, radio programs are an ideal way to raise awareness about local services and resources related to gender-based violence and SRHR.

Broadcasters are trusted by their communities and know residents’ needs, barriers and day-to-day experiences. However, they may not be experts on gender equality or gender-based violence. In our projects, we connect radio stations with local services and resource people like government officials, community leaders and health centres so that broadcasters can convey up-to-date information to their communities in a sensitive manner.

For example, radio stations participating in the Hérè project work with the Malian public structures in charge of gender and health to source accurate information about gender-based violence, family planning and more for their episodes. The health partners for the iHeard project, meanwhile, both provide clinical services to survivors of gender-based violence and direct them to other service providers, like legal and counselling services.

Equip broadcasters with the tools they need to discuss gender-based violence accurately and confidently

Broadcasters at Radio Betafo, which broadcasts from San in the Ségou Region of Mali.

Understanding concepts related to gender equality and gender-based violence requires nuance and depth. It takes time to develop this understanding of the broader societal factors at play and even more time to feel confident in effectively communicating about these complex issues. In addition to seeking guidance from local experts, broadcasters need access to written resources that provide in-depth information and can be consulted repeatedly, allowing for adaptation to their specific local context. This comprehensive approach is essential in addressing the larger societal implications of gender-based violence within patriarchal systems.

That’s why Farm Radio International provides our network of radio stations with resources like suggested interview questions about gender-based violence and radio spots debunking myths and misconceptions about sexual consent and contraceptives.

We know these resources are useful for our partner broadcasters: In our 2022-23 annual survey of our broadcaster partners, 84 per cent of respondents said they felt much more confident producing and airing a program on gender issues after using our resources and learning opportunities related to gender equality and inclusion.

This year, we’re running a campaign to encourage our 133 partner radio stations in Mali to participate in the 16 Days of Activism. We’re sharing a campaign package with them containing these kinds of content resources and providing a financial prize to 10 of the stations that participate.

Broadcast a variety of types of radio programs to reach the widest possible audience with messages about gender-based violence

As the communication lead for the iHeard project, we are partnering with multiple organizations on running radio programs. Each organization is running its own style of radio programs. In this way, we can get more information out to different audiences, which means more influence in communities.

The Zathu talk radio show, directed at young people, broadcasts nationally using a magazine format, which includes real-life stories, a Q&A and radio dramas. The Participatory Learning and Action show walks groups of adolescent girls and young women through identifying problems and solutions and developing action plans.

Farm Radio Trust’s Flagship radio program, meanwhile, targets a variety of stakeholders including adolescents, community leaders, parent-teacher associations and healthcare workers with information to address barriers and enhance enablers to accessing SRHR information and services.

The radio programs discuss topics like building healthy relationships, decision making about sexual relations, preventing gender-based violence and how to get support. There are many intersections between sexual health and gender-based violence. For example, sexual assault could transmit a sexually transmitted infection or cause an unwanted pregnancy. On the flip side, if young women lack access to sexual health information to make informed decisions, they may be prone to gender-based violence.

In the Hérè project, radio stations are broadcasting both Participatory Radio Series (programs that explore a specific topic over several months) and Drama+ (radio dramas followed by conversation with experts). Episodes have covered topics like teen pregnancy, sexual assault and family planning. Given the security situation in Mali, radio stations are concerned about airing programs using potentially sensitive terms. Radio dramas are a safer way to address sensitive topics since they involve fictional characters and may be less explicit about the subject matter.

Investing to prevent violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls isn’t going to end overnight. By partnering with organizations across all sectors of society and providing radio broadcasters with the support they need to communicate effectively about gender-based violence, we can create lasting impacts in communities during these 16 Days of Activism and well into the future.

About the iHeard project
The “Innovations in Health, Rights and Development,” or iHeard, project aims to contribute to the reduction of barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for adolescent girls and young women in Malawi. The project is led by a consortium of: CODE, Farm Radio International and MSI Reproductive Choices and implemented in Malawi by Farm Radio Trust, Women and Children First UK and MaiKhanda Trust, Girl Effect/Zathu and Viamo under Farm Radio International; FAWEMA under CODE; and Banja La Mtsogolo under MSI Reproductive Choices. iHeard is funded by the Government of Canada.

About the Hérè project
The initiative “Hérè – Women’s Well-being in Mali” aims to improve the well-being of women and girls related to sexual and reproductive health and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in the regions of Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the consortium Hérè – MSI Reproductive Choices Mali, in partnership with Farm Radio International and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), thanks to funding from Global Affairs Canada.

The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of MSI Reproductive Choices or the funder.

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