Gender Matters - Manual on Gender based Violence Affecting Young People
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Summary of activities

Just Once

“Men their rights and nothing more. Women their rights and nothing less.”
Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906)


Level 2

Group size

6 to 30


90 minutes


This brainstorming and discussion activity aims to create a better understanding of the differences between arbitrary incidents of violence in a relationship and systematic abuse


  • To identify what constitutes violent incidents as distinct from abuse in a relationship
  • To discuss ways of recognising the difference between violent incidents and abuse in a relationship
  • To discuss differences in how to deal with violent incidents and abuse appropriately


  • Flipchart
  • Markers


Pre-prepare enough copies of the association pyramid (on flipcharts or A3 paper) for working groups as follows:

Draw a pyramid on the flipchart paper. ‘Conflict’ should appear at the top. You should draw two empty lines directly under it and a further two empty lines under each of those. You can extend the levels of association even further, but it is best not make the task too complicated. Three levels is usually enough to provoke a rich discussion.


Violent incidents

________    _______

________    ________    ________    ________


Explain that in this exercise the group will discuss the differences and similarities between violent incidents between people in a relationship and an abusive relationship using the method of word association. The work of word association is best done in small groups, so if your group is bigger than six or so, form several small groups to work in parallel.

For the purposes of clarity, it can be useful to draw a big version of the association pyramid on a flip chart and show it to participants when explaining what the groups have to do. Explain that participants should fill in the association pyramid by thinking about the word at the top position of the pyramid (in our example ‘Violent incidents’) and writing the first two things they associate with it in the two empty positions immediately below. They proceed in the same manner for all the words through the levels of the pyramid.

For example:

Violent incidents

Violence    Shouting

________    ________    ________    ________

The groups should prepare a second pyramid for the theme of ‘Abuse’.

Explain that the participants of each group should decide together which words they consider most appropriate to associate with the word above through an open and mutual discussion of what they consider related to the main theme, and the words that are later added to the pyramid. Explain that everyone’s ideas count and that everyone should feel their opinion is represented by the final result of the work of the group. The groups should be prepared to present the results of their work, including their flipcharts, to the plenary at the end.

NB: This part of the exercise can take up to 30 minutes, depending on how many people there are in each group and how many levels of the pyramid you ask them to fill in.

Finally, the groups present the results of their work to the plenary. Make sure that each group receives an equal amount of time for presentation, and remember to ask if there are any questions of clarification after each presentation.

Debriefing and evaluation

To initiate the discussion, refer directly to the outcomes of the group work. It is probably best to begin with a discussion of the first set of results (i.e. those for violent incident) and then proceed into a discussion of the results for abuse. The concluding part of the debriefing can link the issues.

Possible questions to guide the discussion:

On Conflict:

  • Do you consider the descriptions of violent incidents in a relationship from the group work to be accurate? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Is there anything that has emerged in the exercise that you find surprising or which you were not aware of beforehand? Why / How?
  • What about the final result at the bottom of the pyramids?
  • Are there any contradictions between the results of the work of the different groups?
  • Looking at the results of the group work, how would you define violent incidents in a relationship?
  • What do you think causes violent incidents in a relationship?

You can use the same set of questions, with slight adaptations, to initiate a discussion on the results for ‘abuse’, for example:

  • Looking at the results of the group work, how would you define an abusive relationship?

Already at this stage, different definitions for violent incidents and abuse will emerge. Try to keep track of the similarities and differences raised in the discussion. At this point, if there are items that appear in relation to both headings, point them out and discuss why they are characteristics of both conflict and abuse in relationships.

Having discussed what some of the differences between conflict and abuse in the context of relationships are, you can continue by discussing with participants what they consider to be appropriate approaches to dealing with each.

To conclude, ask participants about what they got out of the activity and how they feel they can follow it up:

  • What do you feel you have learned from this activity?
  • What do you think you (and your friends, group, organisation) can do to deal with the problem of abusive relationships?

Tips for facilitators

Word association activities depend to an extent on the language knowledge of participants, so be aware of the different levels of language competence in your group, especially if it is an international or multicultural group using one common language that is not their mother tongue. Furthermore, you are not necessarily fully aware of the kind of relationships participants are in or have experienced, so be careful not to ask direct questions about experiences of violent incidents or abuse. Additionally, be prepared for the possibility that a participant volunteers information of a personal and emotional nature about a previous or current experience of violent incidents and / or abuse.

Suggestions for follow-up

Contact a local organisation dealing with the issue of abuse in relationships and ask a representative of that organisation to come to meet the members of your group. Organise a discussion or a question and answer session about issues of interest to your group, for example, how to recognise an abusive relationship or how to provide support or help to a person trapped in an abusive relationship

Ideas for action

Initiate a research group with participants who are interested in finding out more about abuse in relationships. Encourage this group not only to search for ‘theoretical’ information about the causes of, responses to and legal provisions for prosecuting abuse, but also to contact organisations that are dealing with the effects of abuse and to meet former victims and perpetrators. Think about ways in which your group could support organisations or contribute to the promotion of their cause.