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Fighting violence against women with a “nudge”

Every November 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the streets and social networks of Latin America and the Caribbean are filled with messages and testimonies that tell of the violence that women experience daily.

It is stark evidence of the thousands of femicides and the millions of women who survive different forms of violence in our region. A perennial and often unseen tragedy despite the efforts made, nearly one in three women in Latin America and the Caribbean today have been physically or sexually abused by their partner, according to the World Health Organization.


violence against women


The IDB, in collaboration with The Behavioral Insights Team, a social purpose company co-owned by UK Cabinet Office, is seeking to support governments in addressing this crisis by offering a series of effective, easy-to-implement and low-cost strategies. They are based on behavioral science, a discipline that draws on neuroscience, anthropology, economics, sociology and psychology to study human decision-making.

The practical application of behavioral science seeks to break down complex problems into smaller issues to make incremental changes based on an understanding of the context, of the actors whose behavior you want to change and the barriers that make,” explains Marta Garnelo, one of the co-authors of the new report.

Small changes to the context in which choices are made can contribute to more women denouncing their aggressors, accessing preventive services and receiving the support they need to get out of dangerous situations, the publication argues.  

Co-author Andrew Morrison, Gender and Diversity Division Chief at the IDB, explains that these small, impactful adjustments changes are generally called “nudges.”

“A nudge is a change in the decision structure that helps people make better choices without prohibiting any option, without imposing an action and without changing incentives,” he says.

Morrison encountered a particularly elegant nudge during a recent hotel stay:

“To reduce water consumption, hotels usually invite you to reuse your towel with a message that explains how many liters of water would be saved. In this hotel, they did something different. They posted a message saying that 80% of guests reuse their towels more than once. Thus, through social pressure, you change your behavior without being mandated to, because you don't want to be among the 20% bad guys.”

That behavior-change strategy, he notes, is extremely cheap to implement.

In the case of violence against women, nudges can improve the effectiveness of the existing infrastructure to protect survivors, such as police units, shelters and crisis hotlines.

"Everything we are proposing is complementary and is not intended to replace the existing programs. Those are essential, and countries should invest much more in them. The difference is that nudges help these programs work better and have an immediate effect," says Morrison.


Video production by the Citizen Security division of the IDB, filmed by AP Media.

Victims, who often have substantial emotional and economic ties to their aggressor, sometimes seek support from the authorities, receive it, and then return to the aggressor – only to suffer more violence and ask for support again. Faced with this situation, officials can become frustrated, leading to reduced support for victims and dissuading those victims from seeking it out. But what if testimonials were placed on police officers’ desks?

When a similar nudge was applied in radiology departments in U.S. hospitals, it improved the quality of service and increased the empathy of doctors and technicians for their patients.

Another proposed nudge aims to make the most out of existing shelters. Evidence indicates that many at-risk women are unaware of the shelters in their community and the services they provide. Something as simple as putting up posters and distributing pamphlets in areas where women frequently meet not only increases the visibility of the resources that are available, but normalizes their use.

"The nudges we indicate in this book are recommendations, possibilities and options, but each organization will have to test and evaluate whether they work in their context," says Morrison.

"In the end, the message we want to send is that the solution is in your hands."

Discover more nudges and how to replicate them here Applying behavioral sciences to intimate partner violence: Improving services for survivors in Latin America and the Caribbean

Improving Lives