by Gerard Emmanuel Kamdem Kamga
The scale of gender-based violence (GBV) is alarming, as shown by various statistics in a recent opinion piece devoted to gender-based violence in South Africa. GBV contravenes human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. GBV has irradiated the main areas of our society including households, workplaces, schools, universities and various private and public spheres. Having being ignored and tolerated for a long time, genuine concern about the impact of GBV has developed in the past few years. Feminist movements, NGO, governments, rights movements, civil societies, the media, academics and researchers seem to agree that urgent actions are required to tackle this phenomenon. Yet I am of the view that before taking action, it is crucial to study the patterns embedded in GBV. In this opinion piece, I attempt to provide readers with what I believe might be a useful approach to assess, unpack and prevent GBV. As a researcher, I always strive to understand social phenomena and in so doing I firstly pay attention to facts, data and theoretical considerations. However, issues may arise as to know where do theories come from and how to make sure they match the situation on the ground. It seems to me a confrontation/combination of data and theories is crucial to understand or at least attempt to understand political, cultural, economic and socio-historical phenomena. Theories are not empty statements as they generally provide insights into the world. Data are crucial as well for, they are the benchmarks to measure the validity of theories. In the upcoming developments on the possible approaches to GBV, I will be focusing on consist of two methods, namely, deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. As basic definitions, one refers to deductive reasoning when particular conclusions emerge from general premises, and inductive reasoning when general principles are drawn from specific instances. If these two methods can according to the case complement or oppose one another, the issue is to know what could be the best approach when it comes to GBV. Before going further, it is crucial to understand what the concept of GBV amounts to, that is ‘violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society’ (Bloom 2008). It is worth mentioning that GBV does not only involve girls and women being subjected to physical or emotional abuse. Boys and men can also be victims of GBV, although girls and women are the primary targets. This explains why except the broad category of GBV, there is a special category exclusively devoted to women, namely, gender-based violence against women. Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) defined gender based violence against women as follows:
Any act of gender-based violence that is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
Whatever the category or definition that one may choose, the approach to this phenomenon remains more or less the same. In the following developments, I will firstly examine how deductive reasoning works before looking at inductive reasoning both within the context of GBV. In the last section of this reflection, I will provide some suggestions regarding what in my view could be the best approach.
Gender-based violence and deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning or deduction works from the general to the particular. This method starts with a theoretical premise regarding a particular topic of interest. Deductive reasoning strives to establish a relationship between the premise and the conclusion. Organisations or researchers who are interested in testing whether the theoretical premise is true will do so by putting forward a hypothesis. A hypothesis is understood to be ‘a statement of what we expect to observe if the theory is true.’ (Kalof et al. 2008) It indicates what should occur if a particular condition exists (Kalof et al. 2008). In other words, the notion of hypothesis can be linked to that of the scientific relation of cause and effect. Then if things occur under a condition or particular set of conditions, they will ineluctably lead to particular effects or results. Connecting these developments to the phenomenon of GBV, if we depart from the premise that this category of violence occurs as a result of culture, patriarchy, male dominance and power over women and girls, we may consider this statement as a premise or theory. The point is to see how to rely on deductive reasoning to affirm or refute this premise. In so doing, a researcher or anyone who intend to test this, will put forward a prediction, a hypothesis and will work in the direction where he or she will be able to confirm or refute the premise which posit culture, patriarchy and male dominance as the main drivers of gender based violence. In order to inquire whether the general matches the particular, the process of testing has to be carried out through data collection. At this stage, only the theory mentioned provides guidance for the type of information to be gathered. The first step might be to record and investigate instances of GBV in communities, including those registered by law enforcement agencies. The second step may consist to conduct surveys and interviews of victims and if possible perpetrators of GBV to establish some statistics. The third step could be about assessing the impacts and the society’s response to the phenomenon. If the outcome succeeds to show that women within the context of traditional African settings for instance are generally relegated to the background with a status of minor under the legal guardianship of their husbands, then the initial premise begins to match the data. Another set of data could portray how inequalities between men and women have been institutionalised and normalised by customs and practices, to the extent that women are always excluded when it comes about some matters such as for instance the right to inherit after their father’s or husband’s death. In such instances, it appears that culture, male dominance and patriarchy initially mentioned as a mere premise are effectively in line with the data, and therefore support the hypothesis. It is in this sense that deductive reasoning is also referred to as a confirmatory approach. It amounts to a process of deduction because the outcome is supposed to be the materialisation of the theory:
Thus we deduce the pattern we expect to see in the data from the theory because the theory tells us what the data should look like (Kalof et al. 2008).
Sometimes, data collection may lead to something completely different to what the theory suggests. In such a situation, researchers may shift and try a different approach like for instance inductive reasoning.
Gender based violence and inductive reasoning
In contrast to deductive reasoning which begins with a theory and confirms such a theory by analysing the data, inductive reasoning proceeds the other way round. In this method, particular instances are studied to draw generalisations. There might be situations where no theory is available regarding a particular area of interest or where deductive reasoning failed to confirm the initial premise. In this case, inductive theory will be suitable for an assessment or reassessment of available data to establish or amend theoretical insights. It is in this sense that this method proceeds from the particular to the general. It is argued that some scientists chose inductive research, for they think preconceived ideas should not be imposed on data since they can limit and bias interpretations of the data; instead, the theory is created from the data (Kalof et al. 2008). Applying inductive reasoning to GBV, one can consider the growing phenomenon of child brides across some Southern African countries where young girls are marry off before reaching an adult age. A recent article by the Guardian entitled ‘why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides’ describes the extent to which this category of GBV has recently escalated in Malawi and Mozambique as a result of climate change (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/26/climate-change-creating-generation-of-child-brides-in-africa). Until recently theoretical approaches regarding female children being married off by their parents could only be blamed on patriarchy, culture and male dominance. But in the current situation, deductive theory might not be completely accurate. Indeed, the recent phenomenon of child brides seems in fact to be driven by patriarchy and culture but especially by climate change which has brought a new and unexpected dimension to the phenomenon. In such a situation, researchers who intended to study and understand the magnitude of the problem seemed to have chosen inductive reasoning. In so doing, groundwork, interviews and surveys were carried out in these countries and communities. They realised that ‘around 1.5 million girls in Malawi are at risk of getting married because of climate change.’ It appears that in several villages in Malawi and Mozambique, the child brides and their parents explained how in recent years, they had noticed the temperatures rising, the rains becoming less predictable and coming later and sometimes flooding where there had not been flooding before. As a result, families that would once have been able to afford to feed and educate several children reported that they now faced an impossible situation and the only solution was for one or more daughters to be sacrificed by getting married. Girls as young as 13 years are then given away to stave off poverty. Sometimes it was the parents who made this decision and sometimes the girls themselves suggested such a solution to their parents, for being unhappy, and/or hungry, the girls thought that early marriage might provide a solution to their difficulties. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/26/climate-change-creating-generation-of-child-brides-in-africa).
Following the assessment of this phenomenon through data gathering on the spot, researchers, using this inductive reasoning are now able to suggest some theoretical insights on the effects of climate change in the region and their devastating consequences on GBV. The theory to be proposed might contain premises on how drought and floods can affect fishing and agriculture which in turn, impact on families that rely on these activities to survive. Such a theory might predict an increase of child brides in the region if the state does not design a programme to assist families which are victims, to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. This is how inductive reasoning or induction works, which is to say, organisations or researchers gather available data, assess them and draw theoretical arguments that may be used in similar situations.
I am about to conclude this reflection and the issue I raised at the beginning is yet to be addressed, that is which approach between deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning is the best approach to GBV. I believe that it will be difficult and unrealistic to pick one or the other approach. The reason is that researchers who aspire to achieve a good scientific result will have at one point or another to rely on both approaches. If a researcher starts a project by using a deductive reasoning, he or she must firstly put forward a hypothesis that will be confirmed by relying on the theory. It may happen that at some point, something goes wrong and the researcher realises that the theory does not fit the data and therefore the hypothesis cannot be confirmed. In this case, it becomes necessary to change the approach and use an inductive reasoning that will focus on data and from there, will lead to conclusions. If it works, then the initial theory can be amended to fit the data from which it was designed. This means that far from being incompatible, the two theories are meant to fully complement each other. There is nothing wrong to rely on both approaches when involved in research of a sustainable solution to GBV.
Whether researchers decide to use deductive and or inductive reasoning in their approach to gender based violence, data and theory appear to be some of the most crucial features to be taken into account. Another important element is the capacity of the researcher to effectively rely on these approaches but also his or her capacity to analyse and interpret what is actually there. The researcher should be able to identify and assess the patterns contained in the data in order to propose a theory that is consistent with the area of interest. Whenever something goes wrong in the study, data and theory must always be checked. Theory can always be amended depending on the patterns contained in data. This is understandable in the sense that deductive reasoning starts with theory and inductive reasoning start with data. At the end it becomes obvious to conceive theory and data as two sides of the same coin.
Bloom, S. 2008, Violence against Women: A compendium of monitoring and evaluation indicators, Measure Evaluation, Chapel Hill.
Kalof, L., Dan, M., and Dietz, T., 2008 Essentials of Social Research Open University Press.
Gethin, C. ‘why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides’ view accessed 28 March 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/26/climate-change-creating-generation-of-child-brides-in-africa