Methods: The sampling strategy sought to identify research reports that were conducted or supported by international organizations. Documents were identified through a keyword search in the United Nation’s Kathmandu-based Information Centre online repository, and perusal of top donor websites and citations of sample documents. The final sample included reports from 26 studies, 13 of which were first-authored by organizations located within Nepal. Targeted summaries were generated that captured each document as a narrative whole, including constructions of culture. Matrices were used to examine similarities and differences between the reports.
Results: Analysis of the data revealed a dominant discourse, present across the sample documents, which explained present day violence through allusions to traditional Nepali culture. In this discourse, present-day violence was depicted as a carryover from a static cultural past, in contrast to the non-acceptance of violence which was coded as social change. While most reports alluded to diverse cultures, attitudes, and experiences in Nepal, four documents--all written by organizations located outside of the country--depicted violence as so relentless that women lacked recourse or agency.
Passages that countered the dominant narrative that violence stemmed from traditional Nepali culture revealed how this discourse constrained knowledge about domestic violence. These insertions drew attention to 1) Nepali cultural practices, norms, and structures that could be used to counter domestic violence, 2) the existence of patriarchy within developed countries, and 3) recent or international contexts that may exacerbate violence, such as the breakdown of community life in the face of increasing labor migration. Only documents first-authored by organizations in Nepal discussed cultural strengths or patriarchy within developed countries.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that culturally essentialist discourses constrain what can be known about domestic violence in developing countries. When domestic violence is viewed only as a product of local culture, then important strategies for addressing violence are missed. Social workers in development settings should be aware of assumptions embedded in development reports, continue to promote diverse local perspectives and leadership, draw on cultural strengths in program design, and document the impacts of transnational processes on family life.