Lessons from Oxfam’s Bano Nayi Soch: Buno Hinsa Mukt Rishtey Campaign to Prevent Violence in India
Against the backdrop of India’s high rates of violence against women (VAW) and insufficient efforts to prevent it, in November 2016, Oxfam India launched the Bano Nayi Soch: Buno Hinsa Mukt Rishtey (Be a new thought: Weave violence free relationships) (BNS) campaign to change social norms that perpetuate violence in the Indian states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. This prevention story highlights some insights from the campaign, contextualising them within the Ecological Framework which looks at the individual, interpersonal, community and societal factors that contribute to VAW.
About the Bano Nayi Soch: Buno Hinsa Mukt Rishtey Campaign
BNS is an intervention which aims to shift social norms by working with adolescents, young women and men between the ages of 13 and 29 years in rural areas of the five states. The intervention is based on formative research, including interviews with women from the community, which found that:
- Women from the communities were motivated to address the root causes of violence in order to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
- Adolescent girls and young women were identified as those most ready for change as long as they were provided with necessary support to challenge the existing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate violence.
- Boys and men were considered to be equally vital to the prevention of violence.
In these communities, the campaign therefore recruited, equipped and supported women and male role models to challenge existing, harmful social norms and create new, positive norms to prevent violence against women and girls. It also supported women’s rights organisations to respond to individual cases of domestic violence and to seek accountability from local duty bearers and traditional leaders.
What We have Learned
1. Safe spaces for young people: During the formative research for BNS, in other interactions and through social media, young people spoke about their need for safe spaces to share their worries and challenges, explore their own thinking on various norms, and practice positive actions amongst sympathetic peers before openly modeling them in the communities. BNS chose to work with the aspirations of young people and consciously created safe spaces for adolescent girls, boys, young women and men in communities and in educational institutions. The programme nurtured home grown role models who have made personal changes and have now come forward to mobilise others by publicly championing new practices to prevent violence.
2. Love is always violence free: Initially, the messaging for BNS was framed ‘negatively’ to challenge the reasons that men use to justify wife beating. This resonated with the findings from the Indian National Family Health Survey (2005–06) which showed that 51 percent of men accept wife beating for a variety of reasons such as not preparing a good meal or going out of the house without seeking the husband’s permission. However, after many discussions, the messaging was changed to a ‘positive’ framing—PyaarMeinVaarNahi (Love is always violence free)—emphasising that all relationships that a young person has must be free of all violence, including emotional and economic violence. This resonated well with young women and men and helped to provide an alternative vision for individuals and communities.
3. Working with reference groups: BNS worked with community members to identify the key reference groups for social norms in the communities: For example, the main reference group for young men was their peers, and for young women, it was community gatekeepers such as religious leaders, community elders, parents and their extended family. BNS chose to work with separate groups of adolescent girls and boys and young women and men as the target groups. Part of the strategy was to have in-depth conversations with each of these groups on issues such as domestic laws, child marriage, lack of education for girls, and economic empowerment for women on a monthly basis. The expectation was that these groups, in turn, would interact with the reference groups and community gatekeepers and demand changes in either policy matters or the practice of policy.
4. Changing norms in diverse spaces: BNS encouraged normative change through multiple actions at individual and community levels in different spaces. We found that campaigns within the community could be complemented with an awareness campaign in online spaces. However, there were difficulties in facilitating individual and collective actions online and we found that the notion of community in virtual spaces is very different from concrete communities on the ground. More experimentation and research is required to understand the kinds of interventions best suited to facilitate an online reference group to reconsider their actions and behaviours.
5. Collective change is important: For many years, Oxfam India celebrated individual stories of change and continues to do so. However, BNS showed us that individual changes do not always lead to normative changes. For social norms to be challenged and changed, individual change must be bolstered by simultaneous collective change. Hence, collective work with different groups of adolescent girls, boys, young women and men was important. This nurturing of group dynamics and collective ownership has generated many examples of collective action to stop sexual assault, women fighting alcoholism and so on.
6. Changing meta-norms and sub-norms: The almost universal under-valuing of women and girls around the world is the basis for the various kinds of discriminations and violence that women and girls face. In some sense, this can be seen as a meta-norm, which if changed, could lead to inter-generational shifts and greater gender equality. Yet, this could be difficult to achieve. It might be easier to change sub norms within this overarching norm. With BNS, we knew that shifting the thinking around many sub-norms would be key to creating a momentum of change. We chose to challenge and change the sub norms around decision making for women and girls, such as the decision to continue her education or the age of marriage or working outside the house. This has, in the past three years, built a momentum of change in these communities.
7. Institutional change is possible: When formal and informal institutions integrate a change into their practices, there is a greater possibility that existing social norms could give way to positive ones at a much faster pace. For example, as part of the BNS interventions, a Gram Panchayat (Village Council) in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh passed an order stopping physical violence against wives in the village. In addition, it also passed a resolution that liquor would not be made in that panchayat. While this resolution was passed as recently as the beginning of this year, it becomes important that BNS continues to track the acceptance by the community and the shifts it brings about in the practices and norms around gender equality.
About the Author
Julie Thekkudan is an independent practitioner of women’s rights and gender equality. She was associated with Oxfam India’s campaign Bano Nayi Soch between the years 2016 and 2019.
- Julie Thekkudan