The issue of gender-based violence (GBV) has become synonymous with South African life. A research unit at Stellenbosch University (SU) has set out to help understand and prevent this violence against women.
The Unit for Religion and Development Research (URDR) is a women-led, trans-disciplinary research unit that focuses on surfacing and addressing the root causes and multiple dimensions of violence against women and against children in order to prevent new and repeat violence.
According to Dr Elisabet le Roux, URDR Research Director, their research not only helps to understand why and how this violence is happening, but is also used to assist practitioners and policy makers in creating interventions, policies, protocols and laws that can actually help prevent violence and assist survivors.
“We do empirical research at grassroots level – we are there, in the community, using various creative, participatory methodologies to surface what people really think, feel and experience. Through our research outputs – reports, articles, webinars, conferences and dialogues – we give these communities a chance to actually influence the development agenda," says Le Roux.
The URDR did not start out as a female-led research unit. When it was founded in 2002, only men worked in the unit, but it gradually became a feminist research unit when it started shifting toward the research interest of Le Roux and the other women researchers affiliated with the unit.
“About 10 years ago when I joined the URDR, we started shifting to do much more work on religion and violence, especially gender-based and sexual violence. By doing more work on this issue, we started attracting more female researchers who are interested in the issue. It was an organic process, gradually shifting to becoming a feminist unit that prioritises participatory, collaborative and non-extractive methods that centre on women's experiences," says Le Roux. Le Roux, along with Dr Selina Palm, are the driving force behind the research agenda and activities of the URDR.
The URDR offers a unique research space, positioned within the multiple worlds of diverse religions and cultures. It also has a focus on sustainable development that leaves no one behind.
Over the last two decades, the unit has developed a critical yet constructive lens on religion and culture. It offers a range of tailored services to clients all over the world, including research studies, impact and process evaluations, quality of life surveys, database and innovative tools development, to name a few.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted and even halted many research projects at higher learning institutions, the URDR has managed to continue working on various projects.
One of those research projects is with the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development. The URDR is helping to develop a selection of case studies for European Union (EU) staff (at Head Quarters and EU Delegation level) on engaging with religious actors around gender equality and/or gender-based violence, as well as on the implications in terms of gender equality in development cooperation-related projects and programmes. In developing these case studies, the URDR is partnering with House of Sarah (Fiji), ABAAD (Lebanon), Episcopal Relief & Development (Liberia), SAfAIDS (Southern Africa) and Prevention+ (Indonesia).
Le Roux believes that religious leaders and institutions across the world are influential and can impact people's beliefs and behaviours to help effect positive change. “People actually want them to do so! Unfortunately, this potential is not always harnessed, or it is harnessed to promote social and gender norms that are harmful, especially to women and children. We focus strongly on the intersect between religion and violence and we take a critical lens on religion and culture to enable positive change."
For more information on the URDR and their research projects, click here.