The SASA! “activist toolkit” trains community activists to prevent HIV and violence against women. An open-source resource, it comprises a four stage-program that outlines how local people can fight back against the related epidemics of violence and HIV through structured programs on media and advocacy, local activism, producing communication materials, and training others. Women in SASA! communities were 52% less likely to experience physical partner violence than in control communities, and high-risk sexual behaviour among men plummeted.
Results & Impact
The incidence of physical partner violence against women was 52% lower in SASA! communities than in control settings. The change was born of comprehensive attitude change: while only 26% of control community participants believe that physical violence against an intimate partner is never acceptable, that rate soared to 76% among those exposed to SASA! HIV-risk behaviours also declined significantly and children benefitted in addition to adult women: 64% fewer children witnessed partner violence in the home in SASA! communities.
Raising Voices, Kampala’s Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP), local government
The SASA! "activist toolkit" is a learning resource used to train people as activists to prevent HIV and violence against women. Groups of men and women are selected to undergo a four-stage program on kinds of power: first, training focuses on the power "within" to address HIV and violence against women. Second, activists are trained to raise awareness in their communities around how certain groups wield power "over" others. Then, the program turns to power "with" others and forms of support they can offer. Finally, activists discuss power "to" change their communities. SASA! is freely available to any NGO that wishes to use or adapt it.
Women and girls, men and boys
Cost & Value
The total cost of developing the SASA! resource over a three-year period was just under $140,000, while the total cost of implementation over a four-year period was a touch over $550,000. This translates to an approximate cost of $5 per community member reached per year.
Running since 2008
Discussing provocative topics and issues can lead to resistance from communities, but local activists are trained to deal with pushback and the language of the intervention is adapted according to context. Secondly, many NGOs are ill-equipped to deal with thoroughly participatory processes. According to SASA!’s co-founder and co-director, NGO implementation partners are more used to top-down approaches: the interactive process—by nature, messy and unpredictable—is often a new learning experience for more conventional implementation partners.
SASA! has been replicated in around 25 nations worldwide. Because SASA! is open-source, exactly how and where it is being used is unknown. Replications have occurred at all scales, from small community projects in the South Pacific to government-led nationwide programs in Honduras.
An open-source “activist toolkit” has slashed rates of physical partner violence by 52% in Uganda, a country where over half of women experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.
SASA!—Kiswahili for “now!”—is a learning resource that trains community activists to prevent violence against women and HIV transmission. The project comprises four stages: Start, Awareness, Support and Action. Discussions begin with the power “within,” empowering participants to recognise their potential to tackle HIV and violence against women. Then, activists discuss power “over” others—isolating forms of violence and gender inequality in the process. Modes of support are then explored in the power “with” stage, before concluding with the change-oriented work undertaken in the power “to” stage.
Each stage offers a range of activities revolving around grassroots activism, media and advocacy, designing communication materials, and specific training sessions, including modules on sexual violence and inspiring behavioural change.
Attitude change is at the core of the intervention and integral to its success: in SASA! communities, 28% more women and men believe it is acceptable for a woman to refuse sex than in control communities. The intervention also caused a 50% jump in the number of participants who believe that physical violence against a partner is never acceptable.
By giving participants the training to change local norms, the process of change continues after the three-year training period concludes. The process continues as community activists engage local government officials and civil servants: local councillors and police chiefs are routinely engaged in the project by SASA! activists, as are more culturally specific figures. Ssengas—Ugandan marriage councillors—are crucial partners. By reaching them, SASA! disseminates its analysis of power to every engaged or married couple in the region.
“The big innovation for SASA! was around the language of power,” explains Lori Michau, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Raising Voices who developed the toolkit. “A lot of work on violence stays fairly shallow: it’s hard to get people to move beyond questions of what domestic violence is and what its consequences are.”
By reframing discussions of violence, “It didn’t become this ‘women’s issue’ or make everything about ‘men versus women’—it became so much a discourse on power in general which is much more provocative.”
The project’s success was not limited to rates of intimate partner violence, however. Partner violence and HIV are bidirectional phenomena—each reinforces the other. By combining HIV prevention with work on ending violence against women, the number of men with multiple sexual partners—a key risk factor in HIV transmission—fell from 45% in control communities to 27% among men exposed to SASA! Children also reaped the benefits: 64% fewer children witnessed intimate partner violence in the home, a key risk factor for later violence perpetration.
Including men in the process was vital to its success, Michau notes. “Every man in our context has intense experiences of powerlessness—so the language of power allowed men to come on board and be involved in a very different way.” The project’s success piqued the attention of the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, which has since rolled the project out across the Busoga district to the east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Endline results are still pending, but SASA! has now gone far beyond national boundaries.
As an open-source resource, the exact number of replications are unknown. At least 25 nations have forms of the SASA! intervention either underway or completed.
Initial assessment also suggests that SASA! is cost-effective. Violence against women cost Uganda around $9 million in 2011. While Raising Voices’ data remains preliminary, initial implementation with the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention in Kampala cost around $550,000 over three years, equating to $5 per person reached per year.
Changing deep-seated community beliefs is not without its challenges, however. Michau admits that the early stages of a SASA! intervention are often met with resistance by local people who fear change, particularly among those in power. Community activists are trained to deal with and respond to backlash, Michau says, and through culturally sensitive adaptations of the intervention, many initial hiccups can be overcome.
Another major challenge is the nature of SASA!’s participatory method. “Organisations aren’t used to truly participatory processes—there’s often a hierarchy between NGO staff and community members,” says Michau. Breaking down those hierarchies and allowing for the unpredictability of community participation is crucial to its success. The experience of SASA! is as much a learning process for NGOs as it is for local communities.
Michau’s priority now is scaling—specifically, how to balance mass roll-outs while retaining the quality of the method. With implementations currently underway from Pakistan to Honduras, SASA! looks set to take its language of power worldwide.
(Picture credit: Raising Voices/Heidi Brady)