Engaging with traditional and faith-based actors in preventing violence against women and girls: Interview with Elizabeth Dartnall
“Practice-based knowledge can complement and at times outpace research… It is an important guide to what can work and won’t work.”
On 2nd November, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) launched a series of prevention webinars based on 10 “Learning from practice” briefs focused on prevention of violence against women and girls and drawing on practice-based knowledge from 89 civil-society led projects funded by the UN Trust Fund across the globe. This first webinar focused on the first two themes of the series that were identified as key pathways towards prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG): community mobilization and engaging faith-based and traditional actors.
We talked with one of the webinar panelists, Elizabeth Dartnall, founder of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) and core advisor of the UN Trust Fund on this Prevention Series.
What role can civil society organizations (CSOs) play in engaging with traditional and faith-based actors when it comes to preventing VAWG?
Religious leaders are powerful and influential, often deeply trusted by communities. In some communities, they are the key entry point and have the capacity to influence entire communities. Civil society organizations know who to engage and why it is important to engage these actors in VAWG prevention; and can tell us how faith-based and traditional actors can and do influence community attitudes on VAWG. This knowledge and these connections should feed into intervention design to ensure that VAWG prevention work is both accepted and effective. Local CSOs experiences and learnings therefore must be central to selecting and adapting programme for their communities, how it is to be developed, with whom and how it can be delivered in sustainable ways.
Civil society and women’s rights organizations (WROs) are informing valuable lessons from their project implementation. Why is such practice-based knowledge essential in VAWG prevention programming, in this case, in engaging with traditional leaders to prevent VAWG?
Practice-based knowledge (PBK) can improve our understanding of the social norms that exist and sustain VAW and to help refine existing theories and programmes.
Faith, spirituality and culture form extremely complex belief systems that shape values underpinning VAW and can be transferred from generation to generation. Building programmes that are both firmly rooted in the learnings and knowledge from civil society organizations (who themselves may be faith based) working closely with this sector, and pairing this knowledge with the existing evidence base on what has been found to work in other settings is a gold standard practice for ending violence against women. CSOs know what works best in their own communities.
Besides, innovations and experiences from practitioners can provide relevant and timely practice-based insights. As we implement programmes, PBK is a critical tool to help us monitor in real time the implementation and impact of our interventions and in what ways our programmes are working and influencing change or not. Real time monitoring of impact of our programmes reduces the risk of researchers finding out if our programmes are harmful only at the end of a study.
Evidence on the multiple roles that faith and traditional actors can play in preventing and responding to violence against women, and the role of faith and traditional actors in perpetrating or being implicated in violence against women is lacking. As we build the evidence base and work towards a Global Shared Research Agenda, PBK is an important guide to what can work and won’t work. Insights from PBK can help guide priorities for academic research as well as better understand and interpret research findings.
What should we do as field to promote and ensure further application of practice-based knowledge?
PBK can challenge the way researchers think about the world, the way we create and share knowledge, and what is understood currently as “legitimate” knowledge. We, as a field, must come together to create systems and spaces for researchers and practitioners to continuously share on the ground experiences in ethical and helpful ways to inform policy and practice. Equitable partnerships between activists, practitioners and researchers in building evidence for VAWG response and prevention are essential if we are going to be successful as a field.