ENGAGING COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS TO PREVENT VAWG
A critical component of approaches to preventing violence against women and girls (VAWG) is meaningful engagement with faith, traditional, and opinion leaders. As role models and authorities in many settings, these leaders have an outsized impact on defining the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Community members often seek advice, adjudication of disputes, and care and support from informal leaders long before seeking help through official channels. Religious doctrine and texts can be interpreted as a source of comfort and liberation or as a justification for the status quo. Thus, engaging this powerful force in people’s lives is important for gender equality and violence prevention.
This page gives key resources and selected examples of programmes that have successfully engaged faith,traditional, and opinion leaders.
These leaders can:
- Play a powerful role in mobilising communities, transforming beliefs and patterns underlying VAWG, and improving collective accountability for responding to VAWG
- Help facilitate an enabling environment to disseminate programme messages, encourage community access and buy-in, and support advocacy efforts
- Serve as role models
However, their impact can be negative if they demonstrate harmful behaviours or if they offer religious or cultural justifications for inequitable norms or beliefs.
“FAITH IS OFTEN A STRONG PART OF WHAT SHAPES THE MEANING AND UNDERSTANDING OF GENDER. THUS FAITH, AND ITS THEOLOGICAL UNDERPINNING, MUST BE PART OF THE DISCUSSION AND THE PRACTICE OF CHANGE.…THEOLOGY IS VITAL TO THE TASK OF CHALLENGING INJUSTICE AND SEEKING RENEWAL.”
Given the diverse range of beliefs and styles of leadership, it can be challenging to engage faith and traditional leaders, who remain predominantly male and often work within patriarchal systems. Attempts to reduce harmful cultural or religious practices can be seen as threatening leaders’ authority.
For these reasons, prevention programmes need explicit strategies to support leaders in their own change and to expand engagement to include women and youth leaders.
Taken out of context and filtered through a patriarchal culture, religious verses can be interpreted in ways that encourage harsh discipline and reinforce male authority and female submission. Faith leaders may reinforce these harmful beliefs and norms at the same time that they offer solace and support.
Since faith anchors many people’s beliefs about life and morality, it is important to work with faith leaders to elevate teachings that promote non-violence and gender equality.
NOTE: Transforming norms and attitudes is a key strategy under both the United Nations framework to reduce violence against women (RESPECT) and the United Nations strategy to reduce violence against children (INSPIRE).