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What works in prevention programmes

What works in prevention programmes:

Measuring learning outcomes on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is notoriously difficult as there are so many different factors that come into play. Attitudes are deeply engrained and hard to shift, even at a young age and an increased awareness may not necessarily lead to behaviour change. Ultimately, it is important to be clear that the work needs to be done in education institutions and a comprehensive programme of prevention will start to make a real difference to the lives of girls and boys, men and women.

From 2010 to 2013 AVA worked with six prevention projects across the UK to learn about what works. The evaluation reports from each organisation, together with the focus group data and staff interviews collected, demonstrated that in all schools same changes did begin – from raising awareness of the issue, to instigating a sense of outrage and unfairness at the reality of violence against women and girls, to intermittent peer- and staff challenges of attitudes and behaviours related to VAWG and an interest in creating environments where more respectful, equal relationships were commonplace, as well as building a legacy within the school of on-going, embedded, cumulative programme of work to challenge this issue.

Although more resources are needed to fund a longer-term programme seeking to embed a whole-school approach to Violence Against Women and Girls work, with accompanying research to follow what long-term outcomes can be achieved through such a focus – the emerging findings from this important and innovative prevention programme indicates the value and impact this work has on young people and school staff.

‘…the project has sort of saturated every element of the school, it’s not been one awareness raising activity then there’s been a spike in disclosures. But with it being steadily adopted into different subjects and at different times… it’s pervaded the atmosphere of what’s happening here. so we have had at risk students, who have disclosed things that have happened to their friends, to their cousins in the past, picking up on historical issues, often anecdotally and they wouldn’t have done that, had that ability to open up about those situations had it not been for the project.

Senior Manager at a Secondary school)

The evaluations demonstrated some indications of change in young people’s knowledge, attitudes and own behaviours.  The strongest shift was in levels of knowledge and attitudes as behaviours driving Violence Against Women and Girls are more culturally ingrained and therefore take longer to change. One organisation noted a 19% increase in knowledge of how to recognise signs of an unhealthy relationship after intervention.

Before, I thought that domestic violence was ‘out there’ – something unfortunate that happens to a few couples. But I realise now how common it is. It is imprinted on my mind now. The early warning signs were a new thought to me. 

(Young Person in a Secondary school)

Another sign of impact was a shift in young people responding from ‘unsure’ to particular attitudinal and knowledge statements to a firmer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to the same questions one year on.  For instance, one project found an average of a 15-20% change to challenging particular attitudes.

The students have definitely sat up and thought more… You can see them really engaged in what is appropriate behaviours in relationships, really thinking about what they’re doing and then the penny drops and their peers start to challenge views – it’s amazing.

(PSHE Manager at a Secondary school)

The majority of young people, however, remained concerned about what might happen once they disclosed or mentioned any concerns they might have. Linked to concerns about disclosure, was a lack of awareness that many of their experiences were in fact abusive and a lack of vocabulary to talk about them. Thus raising awareness and developing student’s confidence and eloquence in discussing such experiences will increase schools’ ability to stop significant harm when it occurs and start to be contribute to its prevention.

Evidence the impact of prevention programmes

In 2010 the Department for Children Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) Advisory Group on Violence Against Women and Girls commissioned the then-DCSF Research Division to undertake a rapid review of what has worked in school-based interventions to prevent Violence Against Women and Girls [5]. This is a useful document that you can access here: AVA DfE Literature Review

The quotes in this section are all from AVA research (2012)

This is a useful document to supplement this section:

DCSF (2010) Literature Review of the role of education to stop Violence Against Women and girls quoted in Maxwell C, with Wharf H, (2010) Freedom to Achieve: Preventing Violence, promoting equality. A whole-school approach. Womankind Worldwide.  Avaiable here.