A VoxDev video highlighted Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah’s study of interventions designed to reduce intimate partner violence among Tanzanian adolescents. This type of violence is highly prevalent among 15- to 24-year-olds in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Tanzania study, interventions for girls included instruction on setting personal goals during sessions at after-school clubs. For boys, the interventions included a soccer program that wove in lessons on respecting women. “While they’re playing soccer, they’re also learning key messages, like when we respect girls and women, that’s better for all of us,” said Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. In addition to a decline in sexual activity and intimate partner violence, the study found, girls who participated in the goal-setting activities chose partners who were closer to their age, more likely to be in school and more likely to use contraceptives.
A World Bank blog highlighted research methods used in a study of domestic violence in India that was conducted by Global Lab for Research in Action Director Manisha Shah and researcher Saravana Ravindran. The study found a significant increase in domestic violence and cybercrime complaints in May in Indian districts with the strictest COVID-19 lockdown measures relative to districts with the least strict measures. At the same time, reports of rape and sexual assault declined as people avoided public spaces during the lockdown. “Putting some numbers on a ‘shadow pandemic’ is important for informing policies to address it,” the article said, noting the difficulty of collecting real-time data on such sensitive subjects. “Lockdowns can be an effective way of controlling a pandemic, but they come with costs.”
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah spoke to Quartz about domestic violence in India during the COVID-19 lockdown. A study co-authored by Shah found a significant increase in domestic violence and cybercrime complaints in May in Indian districts with the strictest lockdown measures relative to districts with the least strict measures. Reports of rape and sexual assault declined as people avoided public spaces and workplaces during the lockdown. “We cannot rule out the possibility of some displacement of rape and sexual assault from public spaces outside homes to rape by family members inside homes,” explained Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. Marital rape is vastly underreported in India, she said. “Women face a portfolio of danger, and policies such as lockdowns can improve certain types of violence outcomes while exacerbating others,” she said.
A surge in domestic violence amid shelter in place orders has been reported around the world. Global advocates, policymakers, funders and others will hear from experts on emerging trends and data as they discuss the evidence and how it can lead to informed solutions, interventions and strategies.
This Luskin Summit session is co-hosted by the UCLA’s Global Lab for Research in Action.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah spoke to the Chicago Tribune about how the COVID pandemic has impacted the sex work industry. The lockdown has forced many sex workers to switch to offering online services, including phone encounters, texting and video streaming. Many sex workers are ineligible for jobless benefits and have found the transition to online services to be considerably less lucrative than their normal gigs. While the economy is starting to reopen, Shah predicted that the sex work industry will likely trail the pack. “I don’t think sex work will go back to its pre-pandemic state even when stay-at-home orders ease as potential clients will still feel wary of in-person meetings,” Shah said. “It will likely take longer, perhaps even until a vaccine, before people feel comfortable interacting in person for sex services.”
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox Dev video discussing a community health and sanitation project across 160 villages in East Java, Indonesia. “Poor sanitation and hygiene are leading causes of high mortality rates among children under 5 in developing countries,” said Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. The project aimed to improve health and sanitation practices by promoting the construction of latrines in rural villages. However, it did not provide financial assistance to the communities, limiting the impact on children’s health, Shah said. “If we’re serious about getting some of these poorer households to build toilets, coupling the demand-side intervention with things like subsidies or financial incentives could get us to much higher rates of latrine construction” and improve the general health of individuals in rural communities, she said.
By Mary Braswell
In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.
In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?
Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.
This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called the Global Lab for Research in Action.
The Global Lab’s focus on health, education and economic empowerment comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.
“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.
Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.
She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.
Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.
“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”
The Global Lab integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.
“There is so much potential in bringing our international findings back to the United States, too, by identifying how our research can inform programs and policy here,” she added.
The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, Shah said.
The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at the Global Lab have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.
In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.
Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.
Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.
“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”
This is the kind of practical impact that powers the Global Lab, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.
“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. The Global Lab “speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”
Editors Note: A previous version of this story referred to the Global Lab for Research in Action by its former name, International Development and Policy Outreach.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah shared her insights and latest research about sex markets and public health on the podcast Probable Causation. In studies conducted in the U.S. and abroad, Shah has found that decriminalization of sex markets has led to a decline in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), rape and drug-related crime. In Indonesia, Shah and her research partners tracked sex workers and their clients in three towns, one of which had suddenly criminalized the trade. In the illegal sex market, STIs rose 60% after public health officials stopped providing free condoms and children of sex workers were more likely to have to work to support their families. Shah acknowledged that decriminalizing sex work is a complicated policy issue due to moral objections to placing a price on sex and the common belief that banning the trade will protect women. But “current empirical evidence points toward decriminalization,” Shah said.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah stressed the importance of data-backed claims in a GQ article describing the controversial New York movement to decriminalize sex work in order to make workers safer. “Many people see sex work as morally repugnant, so public policy around it is very rarely based on the actual evidence,” explained Shah, whose 2014 research findings supported decriminalization of the sex work industry. According to Shah, “A lot of people make very big assertions about this topic, but most of the time there just isn’t any data to back them up, or the methodological constraints mean they’re not able to make causal claims.” Shah’s research linked decriminalization to reductions in both rape offenses and female gonorrhea cases. Shah concluded, “Except for the growth of the market, everything else that we worry about from a policy perspective — like public health and violence against women — gets better when sex work is decriminalized.”