South African program used social mobilization and community outreach to spread awareness and prevent violence against women

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA  (January 2013)—The Prevention in Action Program (PIA) has finished a four-year, community-led social mobilization effort to prevent violence against women and other forms of gender-based violence. In operation since 2009, PIA has been implemented by the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape Networks on Violence Against Women (VAW), together with PCI (Project Concern International), and public sector partners.  A main goal of this four-year program was to reduce HIV transmission by changing social norms related to gender-based violence. Funding has generously been provided by the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and FHI360.

Initially designed as a large-scale social mobilization program to address gender based violence in the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces, the program began in September 2009 with the first communications outreach of its kind in South Africa, reaching 3.6 million people in its first year with messages disseminated via massive billboards depicting physical abuse, media coverage and advocacy efforts. Later, the approach of the program shifted towards a deeper focus on addressing the societal inaction in the face of violence as a product of research findings. The final model includes four areas of focus, including 1) Sector partnerships; 2) Training and capacity development; 3) Amplification communication activities and resources; and 4) Research, monitoring and evaluation.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, including high rates of coercive sex and partner violence. Levels of reporting of rape and conviction of perpetrators are acknowledged to be low, with only one in nine rape events being reported, and that fewer than 10% of these result in convictions.  A number of studies have confirmed the relationship between violence against women and a higher likelihood of HIV infection, through rape and sexual violence.  In South Africa, it has been found that women who report experiences of violence are more likely to have higher HIV risk behaviors and also have higher HIV prevalence.

Over a period of 18-months, PIA staff and volunteers recorded 2,429 narratives of action taken to prevent violence against women.  While narratives predominantly described taking action in response to violence against female partners by men in relationships, participants also addressed female to male partner violence, inter-generational violence (in both directions of perpetration), and other physical violence in their communities.  Most reports resulted in a resolution of conflict. Nearly half of the responses (48%) led to resolution of immediate conflicts, and a quarter (24%) included a legal outcome such as arrest, an interdict or a protection order. One in seven (14%) included resolution through counseling, and 6% improved community safety. Less than 10% were unresolved or had outcomes that were unclear. Another notable result was that roughly 20% of responses involved taking action as a group – often to address severe violence and to avoid retaliation by perpetrators – but also allowing male and female participants to respond to situations jointly.

In addition to direct resolution of various acts of violence, the program yielded several positive behavioral results.  Participants referred to the PIA concept as being an ‘eye opener’ and the program promoted healthy relationships and family values. They applied their understanding of the program to their own situation, including previous direct or indirect experiences of violence, and an interest in helping others. Participants committed to pledges and actions to stand up against violence, adopting new practices to impact their communities, including the establishments of Violence Free Zones throughout both provinces.  PCI is actively seeking opportunities to continue and expand efforts to take the PIA model to a larger scale.

This program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of PCI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.