Taking Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls

by Oxfam Canada | April 1, 2021
Background media: A woman in a classroom writing #EndChildMarriage on the chalkboard

Creating Spaces

Taking Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Half-way through the five-year Creating Spaces project, Oxfam worked with partner staff and community members from six country teams to collectively design and implement a learning process that would measure the progress and effectiveness of the project.

Background media: A woman standing in front of a chalkboard that says End Child Marriage
Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam

The Project: Creating Spaces

Creating Spaces to Take Action on Violence Against Women and Girls (2016-2021) is a Global Affairs funded project that seeks to reduce violence against women and girls and the prevalence of child, early and forced marriage in six countries: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines.

While many countries have established policies and programs to end violence, deeply entrenched values, attitudes and practices slow our collective progress towards violence-free communities. Domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking for sexual exploitation and/or forced labour, and child, early and forced marriage threaten the health and freedom of women and girls, and are violations of their human rights.

Oxfam works with local organizations in all six project countries to reach people of all genders, political leaders, law enforcement personnel and institutions. We aim to prevent violence by changing local norms and laws, respond to violence by providing women and girl survivors with support, and improve understanding of violence by strengthening collective efforts and learning. With Creating Spaces, we are creating spaces for support, for justice and for change.

This project takes place in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines:

A map of the world with Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Philippines, and Indonesia highlighted in green

The Challenge

Creating Spaces completed a mid-term learning review across all six project countries in 2018 and 2019. Mid-term learning reviews offer insights into how a project is progressing and give the project team an opportunity to course correct if things are off-track, or question the initial assumptions in the project’s Meaning of the term "theory of change" A Theory of Change is a comprehensive description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It focuses on mapping the “missing middle” between what a program or project does (activities) and how these lead to desired long-term goals (results). For more information, refer to the content on the Center for Theory of ChangeOpens in a new window website. . The core purpose of this mid-term review was to guide us in project planning, build knowledge on key areas, like social norm change, and flag whether or not we would need to adapt the project’s theory of change. The evaluation was designed and implemented with and by partners and the people we work with, centering the perspectives of women and girls and their lived experiences.

Applying the foundations of feminist MEAL to a mid-term learning review is challenging in and of itself, but the Creating Spaces project team also faced the added complexity of how to apply feminist MEAL approaches across six different country contexts and come out of the process with a cohesive understanding of the project’s progress. While all country teams used the feminist MEAL foundations in the mid-term learning review, they ended up using the method that worked best for each specific country.

The Process

Oxfam worked with partner staff and community members from the six country teams to design the process for the Creating Spaces mid-term learning review.

The first two steps of the review happened simultaneously. First, Oxfam country teams facilitated a process to help partner staff identify key country-specific questions that would help them gather evidence on project results to date, learn about the process/methods being used by their peers and demonstrate what success would look like from their own perspective. Second, an external evaluator identified key questions that related to the project as a whole.

The third step, validation, happened in all six project countries after parts one and two were complete. Oxfam and its partner staff co-led workshops with community members, including women, female youth, and adolescent group members/leaders of all genders, to ensure the data that was collected made sense to the communities.

Four Creating Spaces countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia) chose to use Meaning of the term "peer-to-peer data collection " Peer-to-Peer (P2P) data collection can take place in research or evaluation. Relevant work may also use the terms “peer researchers”, “co-researchers”, “community researchers” or “peer interviewees”. Using P2P methodology is related to a shift to using more participatory approaches in MEAL work across the international development sector. This type of data collection benefits from shared lived experience but also requires that the project team balances the insider-outsider status of the participants. For more information, refer to this article from the journal Qualitative Social WorkOpens in a new window. for their part of the mid-term learning review. To prepare, partner staff were trained in how to conduct Meaning of the term "focus group discussions" Focus Group Discussions (FGD) gather people to discuss a specific topic of interest. An FGD facilitator will allow participants to agree or disagree with each other so that the discussion can provide insight on how the group thinks about an issue. FGDs can therefore be used to explore the deeper meaning behind survey findings, gain perspective from a range of views and better understand local context and terminology. For more information, refer to this discussion of FGD on the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) websiteOpens in a new window. and Meaning of the term "key informant interviews" Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) are qualitative, in-depth interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge about a topic of interest, including what is going on in the target communities of a particular project. KIIs are generally loosely structured, probe for information from guiding questions, and can resemble a conversation. For more information, refer to this discussion of key informant interviews on the Better Evaluation websiteOpens in a new window. . Partner staff then traveled from their own district to another within the project country to learn from their peers about how they implemented the project and to better understand project results to date.

The two remaining Creating Spaces countries took different approaches because it made the most sense in their specific contexts. The Philippines team used the MEAL approach of Meaning of the term "outcome harvesting" Outcome Harvesting is an approach that involves collecting (“harvesting”) evidence of what has changed (“outcomes”) and, then, working backwards to determine whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes. Outcome Harvesting has proven to be especially useful in complex situations when it is not possible to define concretely what an intervention aims to achieve, or even, what specific actions will be taken over a multi-year period. For more information, refer to this discussion of outcome harvesting on the Better Evaluation websiteOpens in a new window. . Because there was only one partner in Pakistan, peer-to-peer data collection wasn’t possible there, so they instead hired an external consultant to conduct a Meaning of the term "qualitative study" Qualitative research and evaluation can include many different methods, which draw on data collection techniques such as interviews and observations. Qualitative inquiry seeks to build an understanding of attitudes, norms and behaviors, is often focused on creating meaning and is descriptive. The resulting data is generally non-numerical. For more information, refer to McGill University’s description of qualitative versus quantitative researchOpens in a new window. , primarily using focus group discussions and key informant interviews.

Sipra Devi's Story

Sipra Devi leads the Nivedita Foundation Trust, one of our Creating Spaces partner organizations in Chhattisgarh, India. Before founding this organization in 2006, Sipra worked with a number of other non-profits on advancing women’s rights locally and regionally in India. Read more about her story below.

Sipra Devi says she’s deeply bothered by the tendency in Chhattisgarh not to question patriarchal norms. Helping women to challenge their oppressive circumstances is her passion and her life’s work, and she’s been part of Creating Spaces since the project was first being designed back in 2015.

In India, Creating Spaces is being rolled out in marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities where women do not have control over money, property, food, their labour, mobility or education. Extramarital relationships are normalized for men, and women often face domestic or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands or other men in the community.

“I talk to women in my area regularly,” says Sipra. “They share with me about the physical and sexual violence they have been facing. It gives me pain.”

Historically, Dalit and Adivasi women have not questioned these realities. But taking part in Creating Spaces gave them an opportunity to reflect on their power and their right to challenge the oppression they had been living with all their lives.

Oppression is something that Sipra is all too familiar with herself. Being a woman from a lower caste has made it difficult for Sipra to access opportunities – and when she started her work on women’s rights, she faced further backlash from friends and her husband’s family.

The Creating Spaces project in particular is very close to Sipra’s heart because it has such a comprehensive approach to gender equality – the project includes all genders, ages and levels of community leadership because everyone in the community has a role in ending violence against women and girls.

“The approach of engaging with caste society leaders, village leaders, youth and adolescents has been very key in bringing some change as a result of intervention in the project,” says Sipra.

At the outset of the project, youth faced criticism and ostracization from the community when they tried to share Creating Spaces messages that women and girls should be respected and equal, and that men should play a part in taking care of the home and the children. But, as the men who were involved in Creating Spaces started to take on this care work, their families gradually began to support them.

For Sipra, the most rewarding parts of the project so far have been working with adolescent boys and youth to address caste issues in their villages, working with adolescent girls to teach them about claiming their rights within the family, and working with caste leaders to support them in including women in their structures. Women in Chhattisgarh now have a stronger sense of their power and the community has begun to speak up against violence and oppression. Seeing this kind of change happen gives Sipra hope and courage to go even further in her work.

When it came to the monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) process for Creating Spaces, Sipra participated in both the baseline study and the mid-term evaluation. She facilitated two separate focus group discussions, one with adolescent boys and one with adolescent girls during the baseline study, and she was part of the peer-to-peer learning team during the mid-term learning review.

“It gave me the opportunity to learn different strategies/tools adopted by different partners,” says Sipra, reflecting on her learning during the mid-term learning review.

Sipra also appreciated being able to visit and learn from Creating Spaces programming in other communities. Doing so helped her to advance related programming in Chhattisgarh.

For example, in Kalahandi (Odisha District), the Gond tribe had very rigid gender norms and leadership roles, which were previously open to men only, and seeing change take root there was quite moving for Sipra. Similarly, she enjoyed learning about how open women leaders had become in discussing their sexual relationships, which was thanks to Creating Spaces. This type of discussion was previously taboo.

“It was also important for me to see the adolescent girls in Kalahandi resist public violence very confidently,” says Sipra.

In Jharkhand District, the Creating Spaces team had prepared a song in a local language to generate community awareness about different sections of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which Sipra was inspired to hear.

Sipra would like to participate in similar peer-to-peer processes in the future in order to help her better understand the Creating Spaces activities and outcomes in different districts.

While some important shifts have already taken place through her work with Creating Spaces, Sipra still has many dreams for the women and girls in her community of Chhattisgarh.

“I envision a day when there are no restrictions on women’s mobility, on food or dress,” says Sipra. “Girls would express their choice for marriage, and their choice would be respected. Parents and families would not give dowries to their daughters in marriage. Rather, they would give an equal share of property to the daughter.”

She has high hopes that the Creating Spaces project and others will help her to get there.

Explore Further

Learn more about how we did it, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.

Learn How We Did This
Decorative image of a green magnifying glass over the globe

Share this page: