Case in Point: The Boy Effect

the boy effect







How boy’s and men’s education is proving an effective intervention in preventing violence against women.

How do you change millennia old norms that encourage gross violations of women’s human rights? That is the ever elusive billion-dollar question. While the research on effective interventions is scant at best, a recent research review published in The Lancet points to some promising answers, some surprising. For instance, experts attribute a 53% decrease in intimate partner violence in the United States between 1993 and 2008 to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which allocated billions to prevention and community based programs.

Of the few interventions worldwide studied with scientific rigor, some of the most promising targeted boys and men either with women’s rights education, or as integrated into other programming, such as micro-lending or HIV education.

1. School-based programs focused on dating violence showed significant results compared to control groups in “reductions in both perpetration and victimization of dating violence in both boys and girls in the intervention groups.” While programs aimed at reforming perpetrators still show very few successes.

2. When a boys education program developed in Brazil was implemented in India, participants were two to five times less likely to report sexual or physical intimate partner violence than the control group. While similar programs in Ethiopia and the Balkans did not show statistically significant results, the study suggests this may be due to differences in the “intensity and duration of the intervention.” More research may reveal what elements of these programs are most promising.

3. In Cote d’Ivoire when men and women together regularly attended economic empowerment groups that included education on violence against women, physical intimate partner violence was significantly reduced.

4. Randomized trials of multi-faceted SASA! program in Kampala, Uganda showed a 54% reduction in intimate partner violence.

While these studies are extremely limited, and raise vital questions about attitude versus behavior change, they nonetheless hold promise: That elusive norm change is possible, when men and women alike are educated and fully engaged in solutions.

What could this mean for Everywoman Everywhere? In our initial surveys with experts on potential treaty content, prevention and education tops the list. What if governments entered legally binding obligations to fund mass-scale women’s rights education, informed by the best research, catered to local contexts, and delivered through local partners, targeting men and women alike? If these initial studies are any indication, it seems it just might take us a fair bit down the road to curbing atrocities against women and girls, everywhere.

For more on this topic, read Prevention of violence against women and girls: What does the evidence say? The Lancet, Nov. 2014.

Image credit Jennifer Newsom, in her film The Mask You Live In.

Leave a Reply