By Robert Tapfumaneyi
As part of the Gender Challenge Initiative, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) with support from the Research Triangle Institute, has hosted a one day, national dialogue on gender, gender based violence (GBV) and HIV.
Policy makers, programmers and media came to the event to discuss the use of ‘implementation science’, the strategic use of evidence-based health interventions, to inform gender programming in Zimbabwe.
Through the dialogue, gender experts were challenged to answer the daunting question of whether gender programming in the country is informed by evidence.
The discussion focused on interpreting gender-related indicators in the current 2010/2011 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) as well as how ‘gender machineries’, the formal government structures assigned to promote gender equality, have aligned their work to the DHS results.
Lois Chingandu, the executive director of SAfAIDS, asked to what extent Zimbabwe’s gender initiatives are informed by implementation science. She said while the subject of gender is an “old phenomenon”, implementation science is a new innovation that promotes the uptake of all aspects of research findings into routine clinical, community and policy contexts.
Implementation science creates generalisable knowledge, which can be applied across settings and contexts to answer central questions such as why established programmes lose effectiveness over time and why tested programmes sometimes exhibit unintended effects when transferred to a new setting.
Chingandu added that as an emerging innovation the definition of implementation science and the type of research it encompasses may vary according to setting and sponsor.
The intent of implementation science and related research is to investigate and address major bottlenecks (e.g. social, behavioural, economic, management) that impede effective implementation, test new approaches to improve health programming, and determine a causal relationship between an intervention and its impact. In the context of gender programmes, implementation science research would help to answer central questions on why gender programmes sometimes cease to be effective after a while despite proving effective at the beginning.
Chingandu said implementation science may help answer why societies and communities are still fighting patriarchy and the power imbalance between men and women, why women still suffer GBV at the hands of people they love, and why good education and economic empowerment are not necessarily giving women the protection they need from HIV and GBV.
Further, she said that implementation science can address the gaps that exist between research-to-policy and research-to-programme. These gaps exist when research evidence has not been fully considered or integrated during the development of a policy or the programme outcomes.
Implementation research allows policy makers and programmers to identify problems and use evidence to make programme decisions in a timely manner using scientific methods.
The dialogue challenged participants to identifying the extent gender programmers have used the data from the recent Zimbabwe DHS 2010-2011 to renew their understanding of the priorities and interventions within gender programmes.