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Religious leaders can reduce intimate partner violence in Uganda: study


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Intimate partner violence – or abuse and aggression in a romantic relationship – is a pervasive global problem. In Uganda, a predominantly Christian country in East Africa, 56% of married women report having been sexually assaulted by a current partner. Strong patriarchal beliefs often influence this behavior, but positions of power, such as religious leaders, can shift traditional gender roles.

A team of psychologists, public health and political scientists, people-centered design experts and NGO researchers, including Betsy Levy Paluck of Princeton University, wanted to determine whether religious leaders can reduce intimate partner violence through more progressive interpretations of biblical teachings about romantic partnerships in their couples counseling.

They conducted a randomized, controlled trial of 1,680 heterosexual couples in Uganda who were either enrolled in a 12-session group counseling course or on the waiting list. Those in the course experienced a curriculum in which men and women were considered equal. The approach deliberately ignored the topic of violence and instead emphasized the benefits and religious importance of a more egalitarian relationship.


When Christian leaders in Uganda offered these types of courses, intimate partner violence dropped by 5 percentage points a year later.

  • Couples who participated in the 12-week course experienced less violence, more power-sharing in the relationship, and grew closer to each other compared to the couples on the waiting list.
  • Couples enjoyed their time together and reported less depression.
  • Couples were more likely to see eye to eye when it came to financial decision making.
  • Men have voluntarily renounced their power – rather than being forced or pressured to share. Losing power can lead to resistance to the partner, but it didn’t, perhaps because of the new benefits that come from a more equal partnership.

Policy point

Religious leaders can be effective change agents to reduce violence. This type of intervention, including a shift in religious teaching, also has the potential to reach a huge audience.

“This approach is unique in that it is driven by leaders within a longstanding cultural and religious tradition who shape how couples interact with each other. It is a benefits-oriented approach, meaning couples are motivated by religious and interpersonal reasons to respect each other and enjoying each other in a more balanced balance of power. This inside-out strategy can be helpful when there are constraints on state capacity,” said Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University.


This study measures the impact of the Becoming One program, designed by the International Rescue Committee’s Airbel Impact Lab team. Religious leaders are trained for two days and receive teaching materials for themselves and the couples.

The study involved a randomized control couples trial with 3,360 men and women in monogamous heterosexual relationships and with 140 religious leaders (mainly catechists, pastors and priests) identified by World Vision, the implementing NGO partner, in three districts in Western Uganda.

Men and women were invited to participate via informed consent. Within each pair, they randomly randomized a pair to begin the 12-session program immediately (October 2018) and the other to begin in December 2019.

Male couples report as much domestic violence as heterosexual couples

More information:
Religious leaders can motivate men to relinquish power and reduce intimate partner violence: experimental evidence from Uganda, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2200262119

Provided by Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Quote: Religious leaders can reduce partner violence in Uganda: Study (July 2022, July 25) retrieved July 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-religious-leaders-intimate-partner-violence.html

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