From Experience to Evidence: How Research Can be Transformative in Combatting Patriarchal Violence in Africa

September 6, 2016

In late August, APHRC had the privilege of participating in a two-day symposium bringing together some of the audacious, inspiring and visionary women driving change and encouraging leadership on the African continent.

Co-convened by Oxfam International, the Kenyan government and the African Development Bank, the African Women’s Leadership Symposium was a two-day feast of discussions on peace, prosperity, innovation and leadership and the way that women should be guiding the African agenda to achieve progress in these areas.

One breakout session I attended evoked sober reflections and candid moving stories about individual experiences in overcoming the patriarchial violence that continues to systematically undermine community growth and development. Moderated by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU ambassador for ending child marriage, the session brought together four dynamic women whose efforts on behalf of women in their countries have led to successful prosecutions and even the inclusion of gender-based violence as a war crime within international criminal justice meted out by the precursors in Rwanda and Sierra Leone to the International Criminal Court.

In their recounting of the harrowing tales and experiences of their clients and compatriots, they spoke powerfully of the need for justice, from Egypt to Chad, from Kenya to Rwanda. But as I listened to the telling of the individual experiences they shared both from their own personal stories and those of others, I was struck by the critical missed opportunity that these stories represented.

Because while experience is powerful, evidence – as a multiplier of individual experience – is even more so. Evidence collates individual experiences and magnifies them. When there is visionary leadership, evidence can help shape, reform and influence policy.

In this particular context, I can think of at least two projects undertaken by APHRC that could contribute meaningful evidence to inform policy to ‘fight the patriarchy’.

In support of our work in population dynamics and reproductive health, our Statistics and Surveys Unit collected health and demographic data in urban settings. Survey results demonstrated that as the age at first marriage increased, the number of children born to each woman in her lifetime declined, leading to a slowing in population growth rates over time. Delaying the age of marriage also has attendant benefits for girls’ education and opportunities for employment.

The evidence was so compelling that it drove a legislative change in Malawi to increase the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18.

A second piece of work that is currently under way is an evaluation in the Dadaab refugee camp of an individualized model of care being deployed to support survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). The evaluation seeks to help refine and develop best practice and support services for GBV response and delivery of care, through task-sharing with trained refugee community workers and professional GBV service providers. The goal is a model of care that will improve access, quality, health and safety outcomes for survivors of violence within the camp setting, and potential learnings that may be scaled for other refugee populations.

The point of these two examples is to emphasize the importance of evidence as a lever for change alongside passionate commitment, durable advocacy and demand for women-centered, women-led approaches to responding to violence.

As was acknowledged at the end of the session, fighting the patriarchy is a process. But inculcating gender-based equity into our societies, too, is a process. Those of us who are committed to these processes must arm ourselves with more than the moral imperative of ending gender-based violence. And to do so, we must anchor our demands for justice in evidence.