Addressing gender-based violence norms and behaviors

Using social signalling and behavioral science

Busara Center
· 5 min read

Authors: Alice Escande, Zoya Azhar

Illustrations Lea Oneko

Changing widespread harmful practices such as gender-based violence (GBV) requires a prevention and support strategy, targeting both social and behavioral change as well as institutional and policy change. The STOP GBV program in Zambia, funded by DFID and USAID, used this multi-level approach from 2015–2018 to act in three main areas:

  1. GBV survivor services;
  2. Access to justice;
  3. Prevention and advocacy.

The Zambia Center for Communication Programmes (ZCCP) led the prevention and advocacy work and used a mix of different media and community engagement efforts to saturate communities with anti-GBV messaging. A GBV hotline, WhatsApp and SMS groups, participatory theatre, group discussions, community radio and mobile video shows were among the mediums used. Mobile video shows are short edutainment-education (“edutainment”) videos, intended to be both enjoyable and to educate the audience about GBV issues.

Given the increasing use of edutainment shows in the development sector to change and sustain healthier behaviors, Busara, in collaboration with Oxford Policy Management, set up an experiment to measure the effectiveness of these edutainment videos and identify the mechanisms behind their effectiveness. The mobile video shows were showcased during traditional ceremonies and community meetings, where many people would watch the shows together. With this in mind, Busara was keen to investigate whether that social setting influenced the effectiveness of these shows.

The three main research questions for our study were the following:

  1. What is the impact of watching an edutainment video show as opposed to a popular Zambian TV show, in changing norms, attitudes and behaviors related to GBV?
  2. What is the impact of showing this video in an individual frame of mind (i.e. watching the video alone) vs. in a social frame of mind (i.e. aware that other people watched the video as well)?
  3. What are the implications for future GBV advocacy efforts?

What we did

To estimate the impact of the ZCCP’s mobile video shows on women and men’s norms, attitudes and behavior towards GBV, we recruited a sample of 640 men and women, between the ages of 18–50, chosen at random from four Nyanja-speaking regions targeted by the ZCCP’s advocacy program.

Participants were randomly allocated to two groups:

  1. Participants in the control group watched a popular show that is widely broadcasted in Zambia
  2. Participants in the treatment group watched a ZCCP edutainment video.

To estimate the additional impact of watching the video in a social mindset, we introduced a “social nudge” by varying what we told participants right before they watched the video.

  1. We told half of participants — “Many people in your community have also watched this video” — to elicit a “social mindset”.
  2. The other half watched the video on their own, without being told anything before playing the video.

Our study is slightly different than the classic “social norm” intervention, whereby we would tell participants how many community members also performed a certain behavior. In our study, we only informed them that other people had received information about that behavior.

After watching a video, a questionnaire sought to measure answers for the following outcomes:

  • Individual attitudes towards GBV acceptability and gender roles.
  • Perception of social norms around GBV — what respondents think other community members believe.
  • Willingness to report GBV incidents.
  • Willingness to register to a GBV newsletter and to donate to an anti-GBV cause — behavioral measures to assess revealed attitudes towards GBV).

What we found

The impact of the edutainment video alone on shifting individual attitudes and community norms were inconclusive.

Watching the ZCCP video alone (without the social nudge) shifted reported attitudes regarding physical violence. Respondents who watched the video were less likely to agree that it is acceptable for a man to hit his wife. However it did not impact any other measures of attitudes towards spousal violence, GBV reporting and traditional gender roles, nor did it impact any of the perceived social norms measures (i.e. what respondents think other people in their community believe).

However, when the ZCCP video was combined with the social nudge : “Many people in your community have also watched this video,’’ the video shifted the perception of social norms towards less acceptance of GBV i.e. people were more likely to believe that their community found GBV unacceptable and more likely to think that their community thought GBV was a serious issue.

Our study also yielded another interesting but, perhaps, counterintuitive result:

While the ZCCP video in combination with the social nudge was effective in shifting the social norms towards less acceptance of GBV, watching our control video, the traditional Zambian show, had the opposite effect.

In the control group, watching the neutral video — a Zambian TV show which portrayed traditional gender roles through the character of the wife and the daughter — in combination with the social nudge shifted the perception towards more community acceptance of GBV and people being less likely to agree that their community viewed GBV as a serious issue.

Just as the advocacy videos paired with a social nudge highlighted to respondents what was unacceptable behavior, the traditional show paired with the social nudge demonstrated that traditional gender roles were acceptable norms in their community. This points to the difficulty of generating behavioral change “edutainment” content in an environment saturated with already existing media portraying norms counteracting the desired behavior change.

See an overview of our interventions, their results and our recommendations below:


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The Busara Blog

The home of behavioral science in the Global South.

Thanks to Alice Escande

Busara Center

Written by

Busara is a research and advisory firm dedicated to advancing Behavioral Science in the Global South

The Busara Blog

The home of behavioral science in the Global South.

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