Violence against children and violence against women often occur under the same roof and share many risk factors. The economic insecurities and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 raise the risk of violence within the family – already extraordinarily high even before the pandemic. Women and children were likely to experience increased levels of violence during national lockdowns with limited access to support services. Effective violence prevention and support are needed as part of COVID recovery plans. Encouragingly, evidence is emerging to suggest there are ample ways to prevent violence, such as cash transfers, programmes with boys and men, empowering girls and women, and parenting interventions. The best-performing strategies address the root causes of inequalities and work to transform harmful gender norms.
The dual potential of parenting programmes
When parenting programmes recognize that different forms of violence are interconnected, they can prevent both the violent discipline of children and intimate partner violence (IPV). By promoting better parenting skills, positive forms of discipline, and gender equality, these programmes may benefit caretakers beyond parenting, including reducing violence in their adult-relationships and changes in social norms. While few programmes deliberately address the intersections of violence against children and women, emerging results show that simultaneously counteracting multiple forms of violence is possible.
4 ways to design better violence prevention programmes
When designing parenting programmes to tackle intersecting forms of violence, UNICEF’s new guidance note on Designing Parenting Programmes for Violence Prevention recommends:
- Incorporating content and delivery methods that have proven effective in preventing violence.
- Promoting gender equality and positive gender norms, by engaging men and boys as well as women and girls. In Rwanda, Bandebereho (’role model’) encourages expectant and new fathers to reflect on their concerns about becoming a father, learn about the effects of harsh parenting, discuss violence in the family, and learn about conflict resolution. A study found that men who had participated in the programme were almost half as likely to use violence against their partner and spent just under one hour more per day doing housework chores than those who had not participated in the programme.
- Addressing the context-specific gender barriers faced by women and girls at each stage of programme design and development. UNICEF research into parenting adolescents in Eastern Europe showed that patriarchal gender norms heavily influenced parenting and the roles that adolescent boys and girls took in the home, and contributed towards violence against women and girls.
- Linking programmes to other services—such as health, nutrition, and education—to strengthen violence prevention. For example, schools are an entry point for reaching parents and provide a good setting to discuss violence prevention and gender equality. Health workers can play a vital role in identifying and reporting violence in their work with families. At the very least, establishing strong linkages to specialized response services for survivors is crucial.
Violence in the home can leave long-lasting scars. Parenting programmes have enormous potential to prevent violence within families and tackle harmful gender norms. Increasing the number of families benefitting from these programmes requires resources. Now is an ideal time to invest in these programmes, integrate them into longer term recovery, and break the intergenerational cycles of violence for children now and in generations to come.
Janina Jochim is DPhil Candidate at the University of Oxford and works in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at UNICEF.
Lauren Rumble is Principal Advisor for UNICEF’s Gender Section.
Stephen Blight is Senior Advisor for Child Protection at UNICEF.