Daphne Toolkit

Breaking the cycle of violence in poor socio-economic conditions - The role of women

Project Reference Number: 
1999-051-WC

Breaking the cycle of violence in poor socio-economic conditions - The role of women

Investigation of the role played by women in breaking the cycle of violence against children in poor socio-economic conditions. Production of information and training materials.

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Domestic violence in Portugal has come to be the focus of growing discussion and reflection, sounding the alarm on a problem which is known to exist but is often resolutely ignored. And although the issue has gained visibility in recent years, many gaps remain in what is known about this problem and the processes that generate and perpetuate it. In socially and economically disadvantaged areas, where it has particular features and takes on added relevance, domestic violence points up even more sharply the dearth of studies that could produce knowledge and guide intervention.
Under the DAPHNE Initiative, CESIS (the Social Intervention Study Centre) focused on domestic violence in socio-economically disadvantaged areas in the municipality of Amadora. The project’s guiding methodology was one of research/action, to try and increase knowledge in order to improve intervention, while an effort was made to learn lessons from the activities carried out.
Amadora has one of the highest percentages of people living in huts or shanties grouped in neighbourhoods, big and small, all of which have poor living conditions, are insufficiently integrated into the surrounding urban environment (even from the point of view of physical appearance) and have a low social image. This affects the social integration of the people who live there. The population of Amadora is young, and forms a veritable mosaic of cultures and ethnic groups. Local schools have a high failure rate and are characterised by early drop-out from the school system. Violent incidents in the neighbourhood are on the increase (in both number and social visibility), and most of the victims are young people – who are also the main perpetrators. A climate of urban insecurity is being spread increasingly by the press, which lays the blame on the young people living in these areas.
Experience of work in the field has shown that some of these incidents take place in a setting where the violence experienced by these young people every day, from the social conditions they live in, is exacerbated by a background of domestic violence in which both the young people and their mothers are the victims.
Aware of the key role played by women within the family, and more concretely in bringing up their children, the project attempted to understand women’s role in perpetuating/breaking the cycle of violence. In addition, it attempted to find out what perception young people from this social background have of violence, since their level of awareness of what violence is, and whether they see it as having positive or negative aspects, can determine their attitude to it.
In designing the project, the different players on the ground who may find themselves coping with this problem were taken into account. Both the activities carried out and the research thus aimed to involve staff from various local bodies who, in the course of their work, normally deal with violent situations or may find themselves confronted with them. The project resulted in:
· an investigation of the role played by women in breaking the cycle of violence against children (questionnaires handed out to 106 children and young people in three schools);
· several workshops and training sessions (to prevent crime and reduce school-drop-out-rates) for staff members of organisations active in the municipality of Amadora, Portugal;
· prevention activities for children and young people to provide information and raise awareness of the subject of violence, sexual abuse etc..

Lessons and ideas

1. The study undertaken highlighted the fact that, although violence cuts right across the different social groups, in socially and economically disadvantaged areas it takes different forms, especially when it comes to how it is perceived.  First and foremost, domestic violence is regarded as natural, a feature of ordinary, everyday life. The origin of this acceptance is to be found in the experience of other situations which are sometimes found in people’s family history and which leads them to think: “This is the way it’s always been”. It is also rooted in the supremacy of the power and will of the male figure. In addition, for the people living in these areas, domestic violence is just one more form of violence to which they are all subjected (victims and attackers). This view that violence is natural is to be found among both the adult women interviewed and the young people, and often means that domestic violence is not even identified as violence, still less as a crime, as a punishable act.
2. In situations where violence is an integral part of everyday, it is difficult to change behaviour. In some cases, encouraging people to recognise that violence is a crime initially helps to create an additional problem, for which (new) energies need to be harnessed. An important aspect highlighted by the brief research carried out in this sphere is the tendency that appears to exist whereby women – at least those who show a greater awareness of the problem – break the cycle of violence and protect their children.
3. The exchange between young people from different areas and of different nationalities sparked a need to develop more tolerant behaviour towards one another – a kind of behaviour that was very often incompatible with what they had learned in their previous history of family (and social) violence. What was found, both in the activities carried out at neighbourhood level and in the international meetings, was that the young people somehow broke with their daily lives, that these activities / meetings created an atmosphere conducive to the development of rules of socialisation such as, for example, listening to others, taking on more responsibility for performing tasks and respecting timetables, and working in a group.
4. The fact that young people from different countries took part in the exchanges made it difficult for everyone to communicate but, despite this difficulty, a spirit of solidarity and mutual help was forged in dealing with inappropriate and unwelcome signs of violent attitudes and behaviour.
5. An external evaluator of this project concluded that: The action-research methodology applied in this kind of project can be considered innovatory in the practical European context. Most social changes initiated through social intervention projects are not predictable with regard to the speed and the dimension of the changes occurring. A combination and constant mutual feedback of target-oriented scientific investigation and participatory social action have in other circumstances proven to be very effective.
6. And wrote that: A lot of projects consider themselves to be participatory. Often this turns out to be mere lip service. True participation in design, implementation, and monitoring of social intervention is a challenging task, usually a lot more challenging than non-participatory work. CESIS seems to have adopted a truly participatory approach that can serve as model and reference for other institutions offering services and counselling to marginalised population groups that experience living conditions generally associated with a high occurrence of violence.

Material available

· Research study
· Brochure
· Poster
· Training material for youth training courses
· An ‘emotional game’ that was bought from the Belgium partner (Gents Welzijnscentrum) and adapted to the Portuguese context
· Guidebook on communication and dialogue techniques