Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a sensitive topic seen as a private, family matter, which makes collecting accurate and comprehensive data a challenge for national statistical offices. In Morocco, as in many societies, survivors are often reluctant or afraid to discuss violence out of fear of retaliation, or widespread social attitudes that wrongly blame victims. As such, interviewing women about their experiences with violence takes tact and training.
Understanding the nature and scope of VAWG is key for creating more effective policies and programmes. Dedicated surveys have emerged as an effective way to capture women’s experiences with violence, but they challenge researchers to develop clear definitions of different types of violence as well as targeted tools for measuring what people may not recognize as violence.
Following the adoption of a national law to prevent VAWG in February 2018, the Moroccan Government expressed the need to update VAWG prevalence figures captured in the first VAWG survey in 2009, in order to establish priorities, inform the enforcement of the new law and to monitor its progress.
UN Women worked closely with Morocco’s national statistical office – the High Commission for Planning (HCP) – to design the country’s second VAWG prevalence survey. UN Women’s Women Count programme in Morocco1 began in 2019 with a national assessment and workshops to engage statistical users and producers at the earliest stages.
This early engagement cultivated relationships and allowed civil society organizations (CSOs) to “have their voices heard on the challenges they face”, which “built momentum that involved them in the whole process of data production,” according to Leila Rhiwi, UN Women Country Representative in Morocco.
Consultations sought to expand the survey’s scope beyond areas covered in the first survey in 2009. As a result, new areas – such as estimating the social and economic costs of violence against women, for both victims and their relatives – were added.
UN Women also organized a training for HCP regional supervisors, to deepen their understanding of VAWG issues and train enumerators on sensitive data collection – including how to help interviewees recall violent events, ethical procedures and referrals to services and support for survivors. Only three of the 21 HCP supervisors had ever been trained on VAWG. The training was imparted by an expert from a CSO specialized in gender-based violence – the Association Marocaine des Droits des Femmes (AMDF [Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights]).
When HCP conducted the country’s first VAWG survey in 2009 – with support from UN Women’s predecessor, UNIFEM – women’s networks and CSOs were involved. Recognizing that collecting data on this sensitive subject would be particularly difficult in traditional villages, HCP incorporated women “listeners” from CSOs that provide services to victims of violence in those regions. The listeners worked alongside HCP teams collecting the data.
“When users know the data, as they participated in data collection, they are more willing to trust these data,” says AMDF President Najat Razi.
The approach was replicated in the 2019 survey, with 35 civil society VAWG service-providers hired as listeners. Data were thus collected by a pair of enumerators – one CSO and one from HCP – who were trained to work together. This innovative approach allowed both groups to learn from each other’s expertise, and resulted in more sensitive survey tools, while increasing trust in the resulting data. This second survey deepened engagement between CSOs and HCP, bringing them in earlier, to discuss tools, concepts and approaches for interviewing victims and to develop the questions.
“Working with civil society improved data quality through the ways they conducted interviews, the tools, and the words chosen – all of this enabled improvements in data quality by reflecting more precisely and accurately the reality of Moroccan women’s’ experiences,” said Oussama Marseli, HCP’s Director of Statistics. He says the listeners also helped enumerators introduce violence in an indirect manner to get information, more subtly.
Conducted from February–July 2019, Morocco’s Second National Prevalence Survey on VAWG sampled 12,000 women and girls, and 3,000 men and boys. Preliminary results include that 57% of women and girls had experienced at least one act of violence in the previous 12 months (down from 63% in 2009). Only 10.5% of survivors had reported the violence (up from 3% in 2009). Only 58% of women and 57% of men had heard of law 103-13 – which criminalizes gender discrimination – and only 41% of women were aware of relevant public services.
Using the data
The preliminary results were widely disseminated, even before publication, at a well-publicized, high-level event in December 2019. CSOs, in turn, have cited data from the survey in their advocacy efforts. Some groups have used the preliminary survey results, in conjunction with administrative data, to call for changes to Law 103-13 to specifically combat VAWG, and they are working with State bodies to do so.
CSOs involved in designing and implementing the survey have also served as agents of change in using the data for awareness-raising and for guiding local service-delivery for survivors – for example, targeting areas where prevalence levels are high, but few women report cases.
Most recently, the survey data was used by Moroccan CSOs to argue for measures to protect women against violence, particularly in the context of the COVID-19. One CSO also cited it in a specific survey it undertook with CSO VAWG service-providers, in which 66.67% of respondents observed increased numbers of abused women seeking assistance and 91.67% reported facing new challenges to serving women survivors during the state of emergency.
1 Women Count also worked with the Joint Programme on Strengthening Methodologies and Measurement and Building National Capacities for Violence against Women Data (VAW Data JP), implemented in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Morocco.
This article is based on a case study on bridging the gap between data production and use, highlighting the role of data users to influence how data is collected. The case study series documents promising results from the Women Count programme, to distill critical lessons learned that can be applied, disseminated, and replicated.
Jen Ross is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of UN experience, including with UN-ECLAC, OHCHR and UN Women.