Ending gender-based violence: what role does research play?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research from the Centre for Gender and Violence is addressing inequalities and tackling gender-based violence.

Introduction

Gender-based violence describes any harmful act towards individuals or groups on the basis of their gender.

It includes domestic violence which UK law defines as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’

Domestic violence is a gendered crime that is unequally experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It is extremely common in the UK. For the year ending March 2019, the ONS estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse.

Gender-based violence is a well-documented problem and there are many organisations and activists working to stop it. How can research help to address it? Academic staff in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research conduct high quality research, in collaboration with practitioners and activists, to inform action on addressing the inequality that is gender-based violence.

In this blog, I start by explaining why the Centre’s intersectional, inclusive and collaborative approach to research is vital for addressing gender-based violence. I then explain how findings from research projects contribute to ending violence and supporting survivors/victims.

Doing research: why is an intersectional and collaborative approach important?

Intersectionality explains how different social justice issues (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age) cross over with one another.

Taking an intersectional approach is important for understanding how different forms of gendered abuse emerge and addressing the needs of marginalised groups who face violence. For example see: Rape, inequality and the criminal justice response in England: the importance of age and gender. This paper takes an intersectional approach and concludes that, ‘(r)esults suggest age and gender are significant factors in how sexual violence, and the criminal justice system (CJS), is experienced. Victims-survivors from BME or LGBTQ+ groups are underrepresented within the CJS, implying these groups are not seeking a criminal justice response in the same way as ‘white’ heterosexual victims-survivors.’

Collaboration with practitioners is also important. As Marianne Hester explains:

“The partnership between practitioners, researchers and activists is absolutely key. We don’t create change if we sit in our little bubbles. We need to work together.”

Using findings: understanding how violence works

The way domestic abuse manifests is constantly changing so it is important to know how violence works and changes in order to act against it, including emerging forms of coercive control. The Understanding and Responding to Coercive Control project addresses a series of important issues in tackling domestic violence and abuse that have not previously been dealt with to any extent, relating specifically to emerging forms of Coercive Control.

Coercive control is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, for example the use of chemical restraints (abuse via medication). The project will also look into the use of faith and faith practice as part of coercive control; assess domestic violence incidents recorded by the police for evidence of coercive controlling behaviour; improve measurement of coercive control; explore survivors’ mental health for implications on employment and ability to seek safe accommodation; develop briefings on the relationship between coercive control, financial /economic abuse and housing crises faced by DVA victims-survivors; and briefing on the abuse of pets in the context of coercive control.

Another project will be looking at the questions we ask to collect data about domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Conclusion

Research has a role to play in ending gender-based violence, but it does not operate in a silo. The Centre for Gender and violence’s work shows why an intersectional and collaborative approach to research is so important for making change happen.

Read more about some of the issues raised here

Articles and links based on research from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research:

Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds – The Independent, 24 November 2021

‘My ex-partner would take his anger out on my dog – I’d rather he hurt me’ – The Telegraph, 23 November 2021

Student spikings: universities told to step up prevention efforts – Times Higher Education, 4 November, 2021

‘You couldn’t leave your husband. It just wasn’t done’, The Independent, 02 October 2021

Improving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence 

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Developing smart cities: where are citizens’ voices? Learning from Mexico City and Bristol

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is making smart city innovation more inclusive.

Smart city innovation raises questions about citizens’ inclusion and participation in city governance.  The term ‘smart city’ is usually used to describe an urban area that uses digital technology to collect data (e.g. from citizens and the environment) to monitor and manage spaces. Such management may lead to environmental and social benefits in urban areas. For instance, smart city technology can be seen as a way to improve environmental sustainability and citizen’s welfare by optimising cities’ limited resources or monitoring and deterring crime. Whilst these potential benefits appear promising, smart city technology necessitates consideration of equality and inclusion issues related to urban governance, including:

  1. What role could and should citizens play in developing smart cities?
  2. What are the opportunities, risks and vulnerabilities for citizens created by increasing reliance on digital technology?
  3. What does an inclusive approach to smart city development look like?

In this blog, I set out the problem with developing smart cities without citizens’ input and explain how research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to make smart city innovation more inclusive and equitable.

What’s the problem?

Across the globe, cities are investing in smart infrastructure. The Covid 19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the growth and use of smart city innovations in some places. As the OECD highlighted in July 2020, “the pivotal role of digitalisation in emergency responses to the pandemic has pushed many cities to systematise the use of smart city tools more permanently, while staying alert and monitoring the risk of contagion.”  Whilst the rapid growth of digitalisation in some urban areas may provide solutions to some issues, not including citizens in decisions about smart city infrastructure could create long-term problems, including:

  1. Urban areas and citizens being ‘locked in’ to using certain types of smart city innovation

Decisions to buy digital infrastructure are likely to have long-lasting consequences. If one type of technology (e.g. from a particular company) is installed in an urban area, this may have impacts on what other forms of smart city technology can be used in the city. It may be expensive or difficult to install another type of technology in the future. Thus, not including citizens in decisions about smart city innovations could mean that citizens are forced to use and fund a type of technology that they do not want, for a long time.

  1. Smart city innovation not responding to citizens priorities and interests

If decisions are made about smart urbanism without citizens’ input, innovations may not respond to citizens’ priorities and interests. This could result in some citizens not engaging with smart city innovations and smart city innovations failing to address citizens’ needs.

  1. Individuals or groups being disadvantaged or excluded by smart urbanism

There is a risk that some citizens could be disadvantaged or excluded by smart city innovations. For example, if citizens need a certain level of digital literacy to engage with smart city technology, or if they need certain tools like smart phones, this could exclude some individuals or groups from elements of urban life.

Professor Alex Marsh from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is working with Dr Arturo Flores from Anáhuac University, Mexico to lead research that aims to address these issues. In collaboration with Knowle West Media Centre, Professor Marsh and Dr Flores are leading the Empowering Citizen-Orientated Smart City Innovation in Mexico (ECOSCIM) project which aims to develop a new framework to guide smart city innovation to be more inclusive, responsive and reflexive.

The ECOSCIM Project

The ECOSCIM project aims to develop a framework to guide smart city innovation in a way that pays attention to citizens’ needs and priorities. The project involves examining smart city innovations in Mexico City to see how they measure up to the new framework, as well as investigating the social and political contexts in which Smart City innovation takes place.

To achieve its aims, the ECOSCIM project involves working with citizens, community groups and policy makers in Mexico City to understand different perspectives and to build a new method to help the smart city innovation project. ECOSCIM has a particular focus on Mexico City as the city is large and its smart city innovation has not been researched in great depth. Conducting the research in Mexico City, rather than cities like Singapore or London which have more digital infrastructure, therefore means that the project can shed light on new perspectives about how smart city development can work in different contexts. Whilst the project will help citizens in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, research findings will also support citizens all over the world who are interested in being involved in smart city innovations.

To carry out the project, the research team is collaborating with Knowle West Media Centre and using the Bristol Approach to understand more about Mexico City citizens’ priorities and to involve them in developing smart city innovation. Developed by Knowle West Media Centre, Ideas for Change and Bristol City Council, the Bristol Approach is a way of working that aims to ‘understand the issues people care about’ and how digital technology might help to address problems that citizens experience in everyday life. It involves local groups working together to identify issues that are affecting their cities and gathering information that will help to tackle those issues. The ECOSCIM project is exploring how the Bristol Approach can be used in Mexico City, as well as how Mexico City is involving citizens in smart city development. These inquiries will feed into the creation of a smart city toolkit aimed at communities.

Toolkit for taking action

The key output from the ECOSCIM project will be a toolkit that will help to make smart urbanism more inclusive and equitable. The toolkit will support citizens to get involved in smart city innovation and help them to address issues or problems that people are facing in their cities. Whilst the toolkit will be based on the research project in Mexico City, the research team intends for it to be helpful to communities across the globe.

Citizens’ voices are important

Research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to highlight the importance of citizen voice and the necessity for an inclusive approach to smart city innovation. In a world where digital and technological infrastructure is quickly becoming more ubiquitous in urban settings, it is vital to remember: citizens can and should be included in decisions about their cities.


 

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Can research help to address inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explains how research in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies is helping to tackle inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.

Research can and should contribute to improved outcomes for people with learning disabilities. Academics in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies have revealed the stark inequalities that people with learning disabilities face. Research from the Centre found that the difference in median age of death between people with a learning disability (aged 4 and over) and the general population is 23 years for men and 27 years for women. Projects led by academics in the Centre have also drawn attention to inequalities parents with learning disabilities face, including being more likely to have their children removed from their care compared to other parents whilst not receiving adequate support with parenting. In collaboration with disabled people, research from the Centre is also highlighting how services for people with learning disabilities can improve.

In this blog, I describe three projects carried out by academics in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, explain how this research is contributing to improved outcomes for people with learning disabilities and summarise what we can learn from Norah Fry researchers about tackling inequalities through research.

Addressing premature mortality

Research from academics at Norah Fry is helping to reduce premature mortality and health inequalities for people with learning disabilities. Led by the University of Bristol and Professor Pauline Heslop between 2015-2021, the national Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) supported local areas to review the deaths of people with learning disabilities and to take learning from those deaths to improve services. This programme is the first of its kind. It was established after the Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD), led by Professor Heslop, provided evidence that people with learning difficulties are significantly more likely to die at a younger age compared to the general population and do not receive the same quality of care as people without a learning disability.

The University of Bristol’s involvement in the LeDeR programme came to a planned end in May 2021, but the work undertaken by Professor Heslop and other researchers from the University will have a lasting impact. For instance, with support from the University of Bristol, the LeDeR programme established a central point where all deaths of people with learning disabilities are notified. This central point will continue to be used. During the contracted period with the University of Bristol, the project also analysed core data from local reviewers and produced national annual reports which highlighted key trends. Alongside other achievements of the LeDeR programme, key learning from this research supports improvements in the quality of health and social care services for people with learning disabilities.

NHS England will continue with LeDeR. After reflecting on the programme when their contract with the University of Bristol came to a planned end, they published a revised LeDeR policy which incorporates a review process that will include reviewing the deaths of people with autism.

Supporting parents with learning difficulties

Research in the Centre is also helping to support parents with learning difficulties/disabilities. Parents with learning disabilities are overrepresented in the child protection system largely because of concerns regarding neglect. Reports suggest that professionals do not have adequate time, skills and support to work with parents with learning disabilities and provide them with the help that they need.

In collaboration with groups of parents, Beth Tarleton led research to investigate what good support for parents with learning difficulties looked like in three local authorities. The project used the term ‘learning difficulties’ rather than ‘disabilities’ to refer to parents with learning disabilities and those who do not meet the threshold to receive support, but struggle with everyday life and protecting the welfare of their children. The project explored local authority sites that had been identified as ‘successful practice’ by Working Together with Parents Network which supports professionals who work with parents with learning disabilities.

Based on their research, the project team made key recommendations regarding support for parents with learning disabilities, including:

  • The need for professional support to be both consistent and flexible

Parents learning difficulties are life-long. Therefore, their support needs and circumstances may change over time.

  • Practitioners should build and maintain mutually trusting relationships with parents

This would help to avoid repeated crisis-driven interventions and make sure that ongoing light-touch support can be provided.

This project took a collaborative approach. Input from two advisory groups (one professional advisory group and one parent advisory group) was invaluable for making the research relevant and accessible to parents with learning disabilities. Both groups guided the approach to working with parents. The parent advisory group collaborated with researchers to produce a video to make findings accessible to others with learning difficulties.

Access to housing

Work from researchers in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies is helping to improve people with learning disabilities’ access to housing. In collaboration with Deborah Quilgars from the University of York and The NIHR School for Social Care Research, academics from Norah Fry are working to understand the ways that people with learning disabilities can be better supported to access their own tenancies, when this is their choice.

The project involves a review of housing for people with mild to moderate learning disabilities, including what tenancy options are available to people with learning disabilities who are on the edge of social care. Detailed interviews will also take place with people with learning disabilities who are living in social housing and private rented tenancies, as well as their families and other people who support them.

This project is being co-produced with a steering group made up of people with learning disabilities. As with other projects in the Centre, guidance from people with lived experience has been invaluable to developing an inclusive approach to research. For instance, the steering group highlighted that advertising for research participants should explicitly request participants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to avoid studies only listening to the voices of white people with learning disabilities. Prompts like this from people with lived experience are important for maximising inclusivity and taking an intersectional approach that acknowledges how different social justice issues (e.g. disability discrimination and racism) cross over with one another.

Research tackling inequalities

Projects in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies highlights how research can contribute to addressing inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities and also draws attention to the need for:

  1. Co-production

Working with people with learning disabilities to research the inequalities they face helps to make research inclusive and relevant.

  1. An intersectional approach

Acknowledging how different aspects of a person’s identity (e.g. disability, gender, ethnicity) combine to create different forms of discrimination or privilege is important for addressing the inequalities different people with learning disabilities experience.

As demonstrated by projects in Norah Fry, research using these approaches can play an integral role in highlighting, and developing ways to tackle, the stark inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.

 

 

 

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Why Does Inclusion Matter? Physical Activity and Disability

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health is helping to make physical activity guidelines more inclusive.

The way we talk about physical activity matters. Instructions that try to encourage people to be more active like “stand up more often” or “chairs are killers” may be well-intentioned, but they are ableist and can harm disabled adults and children.

In the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, researchers have been working to improve physical activity guidelines, including collaborating with disabled adults, young people and children to develop sets of activity guidelines that are applicable to disabled people.

In this blog, I set out the problem with physical activity guidelines that do not consider disabled people and explain how co-produced research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences is helping to ensure that guidelines for physical activity are not ableist, but more inclusive.

What’s the problem?

Research indicates that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive compared to non-disabled people. In 2017 Sport England reported that 43% of disabled people were inactive (doing less than 30 minutes physical activity a day) compared to 21% of non-disabled adults in England. Inactivity is a problem for disabled people’s health as evidence suggests that engaging in physical activity is related to positive health outcomes. It is therefore vital that activity guidelines are inclusive of, and applicable to, disabled people.

In 2011, the Department of Health published UK physical health guidelines, issued by the Chief Medical Officers. These were the first nationwide activity guidelines in the UK and they included guidance for adults and children of all ages. A set of related infographics were also produced to support health professionals to promote healthy living and to empower individuals to stay active. However, with little evidence on disability and activity at the time they were produced, the guidelines had limited applicability to disabled adults and children. The 2011 guidelines did not specifically consider disabled people and disabled people’s voices were not included in the public health messaging around physical activity.

To promote health equitably, it is crucial that the development and roll-out of national activity guidelines include disabled people’s voices and take account of their experiences. This is especially important given that harmful ableist language features in many everyday discussions about the importance of physical activity (e.g. “don’t sit for too long”) and needs to be challenged.

In collaboration with disabled people and other researchers, Charlie Foster OBE from the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health’s has been working to address these issues. Embracing inclusive practices and being open to challenge has been of utmost importance for this work. As Professor Foster explained:

We need to consider inclusivity at every stage of the research process and be open to challenge. If you’re not considering equalities, diversity and inclusion, you’re going to overlook the people who would benefit most from the work. I don’t mean the government; I mean the users and participants.”

Below, I describe two projects conducted in collaboration with disabled adults and children and explain how co-production and attentiveness to inclusivity has helped, and is helping, to improve activity guidelines for disabled people.

Collaborating with disabled adults

Starting in 2018, Professor Charlie Foster led a review of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ 2011 physical activity guidelines, which included analysing existing evidence regarding the benefits of physical activity in disabled adults. This involved collating evidence on disabled adults and physical activity for health benefits and comparing evidence to the CMO’s 2011 physical activity guidelines. The review found little evidence to show ‘that physical activity is unsafe for disabled adults when it is performed at an appropriate dose for their current level of activity and health conditions’ and provided evidence, aligning with the CMO’s 2011 guidelines, that disabled adults should do 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate to vigorous intensity for health benefits.

Importantly, the review also involved collaborations with disabled adults, disability groups and healthcare professionals to produce public health recommendations. It also led to researchers and disabled people working together to create a set of infographics which summarised key evidence-based messages regarding physical activity. The colour and layout of the infographics were designed considering the needs of learning-disabled people. This resulted in more accessible infographics that would not have been possible without disabled adults’ input.

The co-produced review and infographics informed the CMO’s adult physical activity guidelines which were published in 2019, meaning that disabled people’s voices and experiences informed national guidelines. This was the first-time disabled adults were explicitly considered in physical activity guidelines.

 

Collaborating with disabled children

Professor Charlie Foster OBE is now supporting an evidence review of physical activity guidelines for children, with a particular focus on disabled children. This review will help to fill a gap in the existing physical activity guidelines. With limited evidence regarding disabled children and activity at the time the 2011 and 2019 guidelines were published, disabled children were not considered specifically in the guidelines.  Similar to the review of the benefits of physical activity for disabled adults, this review will involve analysing the existing research base regarding disabled children and activity. Publication is expected in mid-November 2021.

The project now involves collaborating with disabled school pupils to develop public health messaging and infographics to summarise and promote key messages about activity and health for disabled children, led by Professor Brett Smith at the University of Durham With a focus on prioritising disabled children’s voices and learning from their experiences, this is the first physical activity project of its kind.

The process of collaborating with disabled children in this project highlights the benefits of inclusive approaches to research. Co-production will be integral for ensuring that disabled children’s voices inform national guidelines on physical activity. By drawing on their personal experience, the pupils who take part in this project will contribute to making physical activity guidelines relevant to disabled children.

Improving health outcomes equitably

To improve health outcomes equitably, disabled people must be considered and their voices must be included in the development of physical activity guidelines. Research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences demonstrates the benefits of working with disabled adults and children to promote the health benefits disabled people can achieve by engaging in regular physical activity.

 

 

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