PARTNERSHIP FOR HEALTHY LIFE (PHL): VIOLENCE AGAINST
WOMEN (VAW) INITIATIVE
DINAJPUR DISTRICT, BANGLADESH
31 March 2006
Methodology for the SII
Location and focus
The location for the SII was Ishania Union, the pilot union with the most extensive project
activities and where 20 Village Forums (VFs) have been set up. Given that reviews and
documentation to date have tended to describe and assess upazilla and union level
activities, including the specialist groups which were set up, it was decided that most
time and human resources would be deployed to examine the impact of the project at
village level. In particular, we were concerned to understand:
• the impact of the project’s awareness raising and advocacy activities on
attitudes and behavior of women and men in communities (of different wealth
levels, religion and age),
• the functioning of the village forums, set up as part of the project, in relation to
• how the functioning and outcomes of shalish, in relation to violence against
women, had been modified by project activities
• how individual cases of violence had been dealt with, with an emphasis on the
views of the women themselves who had been affected by violence.
We met with members of the Union Parishad and of the Umbrella Shalish at union level,
which included two imams, schoolteachers and women representatives, and involved
them in an impact assessment exercise. We also interviewed other NGOs working in the
union on issues related to this project. However, most time and effort was spent
assessing impact at community and household levels.
SII team and ways of working
The SII began with a meeting between SDU and VAW project staff, where the project
was discussed and a contextual analysis was planned. This context analysis was carried
out by the SDU, with VAW project staff, before the consultant’s arrival. This included
collecting data with UP members to map the basic characteristics and resources of
Ishania union as well as documenting its history. It was followed by an analysis of
political elites and power structure at union level, and collected information from key
informants on four high profile cases of VAW which had been dealt with by shalish at the
ward or union level.
This contextual analysis was presented to the entire SII team, which included VAW
project staff (3 men and 2 women); SDU staff (action researchers: 8 men and 7 women;
one (male) programme officer and the SDU coordinator); 3 women
researchers from the Rural Livelihoods Programme (RLP) and the external (female)
consultant. The full team numbered 26 people.
Following a discussion of the contextual analysis and a revisit of project objectives and
activities, the consultant suggested key elements of the methodology for the SII.
Detailed methods and tools were developed collectively, with action researchers working
in groups to develop detailed questions around the main issues and topics to be
explored with respondents (individually and in groups). The time allocated to prepare
staff (including mock interviews) was insufficient. However, since we had such a large
number of SDU field staff with research experience, and researchers worked in carefully
chosen pairs, we feel that the quality of the results is satisfactory.
More senior staff worked with the VFs and the Union level structures and jointly planned
the interviews and exercises. In addition, a member of SDU interviewed key NGOs
working in Ishania union on project-related issues.
SII team preparation, field work and discussion was carried out in a period of nine days
(25 January to 2 February) but excludes most of the context analysis work, carried out
prior to the consultant’s arrival. (It also excludes the consultant’s preparatory work and
debriefing with CARE in Dhaka). Two points are worth noting: firstly, translation,
recording and discussion of detailed findings are very time consuming and the balance
between the time required for collecting and for analyzing information has to be carefully
managed; secondly, an iterative process of field work and feedback sessions was
essential to discuss difficulties, promote learning and identify gaps in knowledge and
Methods and tools
Various methods and tools were employed, which served to triangulate and increase the
reliability of findings. (However, given the sensitive nature of the issue of violence, there
was considerable reliance on individual interviews). The methods are listed in a logical
order, but some activities took place simultaneously or in a different order due to
practical pressures of time and people’s availability. The focus in this section is on
methods and not findings, which will be presented later.
Given time constraints, we decided to limit our work to two villages. VAW project staff
was asked to select one of the best functioning Village Forums (VFs) and one of the
worst. Thus, Kanpur and Modhupur/Mahabatpur were selected as locations for most of
the field work. The staff was also asked to group the VFs into 3 categories of well,
medium and poorly functioning forums and to discuss the criteria used to categorize
them. Women and Men members of the umbrella shalishkar group were also asked to
select the best and poorest VFs.
(1) Project analysis
• Background reading of project and related documents
• Consultation with VAW project staff on the functioning of the project
The studies which CARE commissioned on violence against women, the project concept
note and implementation reports as well as consultant reviews of the project were
essential background reading. In addition, the Project had some material in Bangla,
which the team did not have before the field work, but which in future SIIs, should be
made available to field researchers who may not be able to read reports in English.
Discussions with project staff helped to understand the project; the constraints and the
choices which were made about allocating scarce resources in an ambitious project
dealing with a very sensitive issue. It also clearly demonstrated staff commitment to their
work. In this case, staff felt they should have been given more warning of the need to
make a clear presentation of the project objectives, activities and results, at the
beginning of the SII, so this is something which should be carefully programmed in the
(2) Context analysis: Ishania Union
a. Mapping of Ishania Union
b. Union history
c. Power Net Analysis of political elites
d. Critical VAW shalish cases
e. Interviews with NGOs working on women’s rights and violence against women
Five days were spent by the SDU team, working with VAW project staff, prior to the
consultant’s arrival, on planning and carrying out the context analysis. (This included 12
people working in the field for 3 days). Interviews with NGOs were suggested by the
consultant and carried out later.
The outputs, which were presented to and discussed with the full team, included:
a. A map of the Union, with basic information and key resources, which was prepared
with UP members. The key points which needs to be made here are that 1) land
ownership is concentrated with 73% of land under medium and large farmers and 2) of a
population of about 21,000 people, 13,000 are Hindu and 8,000 Muslim, so it is a case of
a national minority being in the majority.
b. Union history organized chronologically and including key political events and
processes; social and infrastructure development including the activities of the main
NGOs working at union level. Key informants were used to construct the history: 2
present UP members and one ex-member, one school teacher, one retired college
principal (70 years old, well educated and who used to be Upazilla chairman and a
magistrate but now not involved politically). All informants were men and in future,
women UP members should also be included. In addition, VAW field staff provided
c. A power net analysis which identified two different factions operating at union level.
This method has been developed by SDU and given the level of influence of elites in
rural societies, and their connections with state and political power, it provides important
contextual information which affects how projects function as well as their outcomes.
Using the power net analysis, the consultant suggested that project field staff should
identify actors from the three factions who were a) supportive of the project, b) less
supportive or sometimes supportive and c) not supportive of or undermining the project.
d. Four high profile cases of VAW which were dealt with by shalish.
These were particularly problematic cases and illustrated the highly political nature of
shalish when powerful interests are involved and influence the outcomes.
e. Two members of the SDU team interviewed NGO staff working on similar issues to
the project, namely CDA, RDRS, RDRS Federation, Dipshika and BRAC. The objectives
were to understand if and how these NGOs’ activities interacted with CARE’s activities
and to obtain a kind of peer review of CARE’s work in this field. In addition, an interview
was carried out with Hindu elites and after the consultant’s departure, the chairman
whom we were not able to meet during the SII was also interviewed by SDU.
(3) Village Forums
• Group discussion and
• Project assessment exercise
The group discussion focused on the following topics:
• Composition and profile of VF
• Training received
• Activities and levels of participation (as individual members and as a group)
• Changes in the functioning and outcomes of shalish
• What difference the project had made:
- Changes in own attitudes and behavior
- Changes in community attitudes and behavior
The final point led into a project assessment exercise, where the group was asked to
generate a list of issues/problems which they were trying to address, each of which was
noted on a card. They were then asked to discuss and score changes as a result of
project activities on each issue, on a scale of 0 to 5. (A negative scale of 0 to –5 was
also provided in case they felt there had been deterioration since the project began.) The
main aim was to generate a discussion of impacts.
At the end, there was a discussion of what could be done better to achieve project
In Kanpur, the well functioning VF, the exercise generated lively debate and it was also
possible to observe the interaction of the group – which functioned as a team with active
participation of members. Seven members were present of a total of 12 – two women
and five men. We spent 3.5 hours with this group.
In Madhobpur, the poorly functioning VF, the discussion was dominated by a few elite
men (key findings on forum capture by one faction will be presented later). This VF
represents two villages – it has 14 members, three of which are from the neighbouring
village of Mahabatpur. Eleven members were present (nine men and two women)
including one male member from Mahabatpur. The scoring was premised on a stated
view by the chair that their reputation was to be protected. Although the results of the
exercise are therefore of little interest, the interaction among forum members was
extremely useful to observe. It included a heated intervention, late in the discussion, by a
woman shalishkar, who clearly felt that certain men were blocking women’s participation
and progress on the objectives of the project. It was also clear that she disagreed with
the scores being given to impacts. The scores will not be presented given the lack of
consensus and the premise that the VF’s reputation was to be protected. We spent
about 2 hours with this group.
(4) Individual village-level interviews to assess impact of the project
The paras within each village were selected to reflect both religious groups: in Kanpur 2
paras were selected, one Hindu and one Muslim dominated; in Madhobpur and
Mahabatpur, we had fewer interviews in each village since two paras in each village
were selected using the same criterion (one Hindu and one Muslim para in each village).
Working on the basis of time and researchers available, we were able to carry out
18 interviews in each of the two locations (36 interviews in total). In each, we interviewed
nine men and nine women, drawn from three wealth categories, better off, middle and
poor households. Although there was no time to do a full wealth/ well-being ranking;
interviewers carries out a transect walk and talked to villagers, selecting households in
the three categories on the basis of land size and occupation as well as housing.
Experienced action researchers from the SDU were able to explain the basis of their
selection very clearly. If the team is less experienced, it may be necessary to spend
more time on wealth ranking or on the relevant sampling criteria to be used in the
Although the sample was small, we tried to get a spread in term of wealth, religion and
gender. With only 18 interviews in each location, it was simply too complicated to include
an age variable, and although we did get older and younger respondents, the majority
were older. If there is more time in future SIIs, it would be advisable to include age as a
sampling criterion, since we know how important age and generation is in Bangladesh -
to status, educational level and mindset.
Themes for semi-structured interviews
• Knowledge of project (of VF or project activities)
• Awareness of messages
• Participation in activities
• Major changes in his/her life in the past few years
• Impact of project activities on attitudes (own and wider)
• Impact on behavior (own and wider)
• Any major changes as a result of project (in mobility, confidence, dowry, violence
and any other issue that the respondent raises)
• What could be done better
If the respondent did not know about project activities, interviewers were asked to find
out if s/he perceives any changes in women’s situation and confidence, dowry, early
marriage, and incidents of violence over the last 3 years.
Interviewers worked in carefully chosen pairs. More and less experienced interviewers
were paired; women were paired with men; and care was taken to ensure at least one
Hindu interviewer in the pairs working in the Hindu paras.
(5) Follow-up interviews with women affected by violence
Two pairs of experienced women researchers devoted themselves to this difficult and
sensitive task. Ten interviews were carried out in total: five in Kanpur, and five in the
The Village Forum selected cases from their records. We were concerned that they
selected cases where our visits would not result in negative repercussions for the
women who had been affected by violence. This has been the case in previous CARE
research on this subject, and it was something we hoped to avoid. In practice, our
interviewers were still put in a difficult situation once, where they had to withdraw after
trying to calm the husband.
In Kanpur, the VF was asked to select a mix of cases, which they perceived to have
been successfully resolved, and those which had not. In Madhobpur, there were only a
few cases recorded and a small group of male VF members actually selected (four)
cases which they felt we could safely follow up.
The aim was to interview the women whose cases had been taken up in shalish. In
practice, it was only possible to speak to women on their own (for at least part of the
interview) in six cases. In three cases, women had separated from their husbands and
were living in their natal homes, which made it easier to speak to them alone.
Semi-structured interview structure
Begin with key events leading to marriage.
Focus on conflict in individual story:
• What happened
• Who helped and what was done
• Role of VF, if any
Current situation (psychological, social, health, legal).
Research and project reports indicate that what is considered important is resolving
things locally, keeping couples together (reintegration), to maintain social harmony.
Interviewers were asked to probe/assess if the woman is satisfied with or has accepted
(6) Focus group discussion: awareness and impact of the project
An existing women’s savings group who were members of RDRS were engaged on a
group discussion on the topics covered in the individual interviews. The group consisted
of 15 women, all from poor households (ascertained by their own and their husbands’
occupations). Nine women were Muslim and six were Hindu.
The group discussion was useful to triangulate results from the individual interviews and
also sought to understand if and how women discussed issues of violence in such
groups. The discussion also served to confirm that Hindu women enjoy greater mobility
than Muslim women.
(7) Union-level umbrella shalish group (including UP members)
• discussion with shalish group
• project assessment exercise with women shalishkars
We intended to speak to Union Parishad members separately from the umbrella shalish
group. However, due to other engagements, only the umbrella shalishkar group arrived
for the meeting at the Union building, although this did include some members. They
arrived very late which meant that the discussion was somewhat short and
unsystematic. It was also pointed that the group had shared their experience many times
with CARE visitors. Nevertheless, it was possible to have a brief discussion with the two
imams present about the messages they used to promote project objectives and to
discuss changes in shalish, where we gave women shalishkars priority to voice their
views. Positive comments were also made about the benefits of the training received
through the project.
The project impact exercise was similar to the exercise carried out with the village
forums, although participants highlighted a slightly different set of issues.
Women shalishkars were also asked to identify the best and worst functioning VFs.