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According to the World Health Organization, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, and 38 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Violence against women increases during times of stress or conflict, which can occur in many developing countries, but domestic violence is also prevalent in the developed world.

Gender-based violence can inflict serious physical and mental harm. Examples include injury, sexually-transmitted diseases and depression. Furthermore, there is an economic cost to intimate partner violence. A United Nations report indicates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the U.S. in 2003 added to $5.8 billion. Costs can include medical expenses, lost time at work and deaths. In the developing world, costs will come in the form of slower GDP growth in addition to deaths and unemployment. These types of harm prevent families and communities from developing and contributing to the social and economic health of their communities.

Programs like the REAL (Responsible, Engaged and Loving) Fathers Initiative work toward minimizing these costs by creating more gender-equitable communities. Research has determined that one of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by positively engaging men to work with their partners and children to end patterns of violence.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites different strategies to address violence in high and low-income settings. In higher-income settings, school programs that address dating violence have proven to be effective. In lower-income settings, programs that require the entire community to address gender equality are likely to be effective.

The REAL Fathers Initiative implemented by the Institute for Reproductive Health is a current program in post-conflict Northern Uganda. The project works to engage young fathers in efforts to reduce intimate partner violence and harsh punishment of children. Having programs that involve men can be beneficial in reducing domestic violence.

Mentors, who are fathers in the community, are trained in relationship skills and positive parenting practices. They are selected from the community and trained by the research team in order to work with other young fathers.

Initial testing of the program indicates that young fathers are making positive changes. For example, fathers are more involved in childcare and more dedicated to helping their wives with chores.

The Fatherhood Institute, a nonprofit in the U.K., recognizes the value in engaging fathers to break the cycle of violence. When fathers are more involved in the lives of children and supportive of their partners, communities can thrive with healthy family dynamics.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: CDC, Fatherhood Institute, Institute for Reproductive Health, UN Women, WHO
Photo: Dr. Phil