The DRC programme, coordinated by the aid organisations Tearfund and Heal Africa and evaluated by independent academics, was one of only two What Works projects to take place in a conflict zone.
The conflict in Ituri is fueled by ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes over natural resources and has been ongoing for decades. In recent months the region has also been battling an Ebola epidemic.
According to Prof Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser at Dfid, the project’s success is significant as rates of violence against women tend to be higher in conflict zones.
“What this points to is that interventions which have been shown to be effective in more stable settings – changing gender norms, supporting women to assert their rights, giving religious leaders a voice in challenging the acceptability of violence – may also work in conflict affected settings as well,” she said.
Attitudes to violence were also transformed during the programme, which targeted both Muslim and Christian leaders.
Before the intervention, two thirds of men and women who held a religious belief said a wife should tolerate violence for the sake of her marriage. This figure dropped to just one third after the intervention, according to independent surveys of the local communities.
“We designed this model to talk about inequality in a way that makes sense to people, and I’ve witnessed considerable changes in thinking in a very short period [of time]” said Prabu Deepan, gender unit lead at Tearfund and project coordinator.