Written by Elizabeth Dartnall, SVRI and Anik Gevers, Independent Consultant.
With over 6000 members, the SVRI (Sexual Violence Research Initiative) is one of the largest global networks for advancing research on violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC). Founded in 2003, the SVRI brings together a diverse group of actors aiming to achieve a world free of violence against women and violence against children through rigorous, ethical research that will generate data and learning to drive forward evidence-based policies, strategies, services, and programmes to respond to and prevent these types of violence. The SVRI has a particular focus on research and innovation on these issues in low and middle-income countries (LMIC).
Why is research on VAW and VAC important?
With more than 1 in 3 women experiencing physical or sexual intimate partner violence or rape in their lifetime1 and more than 50% of children experiencing some form of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect in their lifetimes2, VAW and VAC touches the lives of us all. It limits women’s and children’s rights to lifelong health and well-being, and negatively affects the economic growth and development of countries, in terms of increased health service costs, loss of productivity and income as well as restricting the potential and growth of future generations. Very few survivors ever see justice, and many have to carry the burden of this trauma throughout their lives. Yet violence is preventable, and better services can help mitigate the effects of violence and even prevent further violence occurring. Research is essential to learn how to cost effectively prevent and respond to VAW and VAC, particularly in LMICs, to inform policies and practice, and to monitor progress.
VAW Research: Time is now
Research and activism on violence against women and children is gathering great momentum. We know more about prevalence and risk factors and what works to prevent VAW and VAC, and other forms of violence, than ever before. There is immense political will to end VAW both globally and at the country level. Goals to end VAW and VAC, and promote gender equality and child health and education, are included in the Sustainable Development Goals. The great progress within the research field and global activism against VAW, VAC, discrimination, and harassment presents a unique time in history for influencing decision-making and policy action.
Policy-makers and programmers are reaching out to researchers and practitioners for information on implementable, scalable, cost effective solutions for VAW prevention and response. It is important then that researchers are ready and available to share what is we know to be effective in relevant, timely ways to influence policy and practice. Now is the time for collaborative, multi-sector partnerships to bring an end to VAW and VAC.
What do we know works?
A systematic review on what works to reduce intimate partner violence found the following types of interventions particularly promising: community mobilization approaches, empowerment training, either for women and girls, or women and men together, & economic empowerment programs that include additional training on gender equality. In terms of programming, the following were identified as important for prevention programmes ie the need to include both women and men; adopt a whole community approach; interventions that have multiple components (e.g. group training, economic support, social communication), support new skills to be developed such as communication and conflict resolution, are longer than 6 months in duration, use participatory approaches to build the intervention and address structural factors of violence, such as poverty and unequal gender norms3 4 .Further, interventions that are framed around a clear theory of change are more likely to be effective. Multi-country and consortium projects like Partners for Prevention Regional programme5, the DFID funded What Works to Prevent Violence against Women6, the Know Violence In Childhood initiative7 and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children8 build on this knowledge with much new learning coming on line9. We are also learning that investigating how effective interventions might be delivered to more people affordably (and without compromising effectiveness) need to be asked at the time the intervention is being developed and tested.10
Even though we know more than we ever have before, this field is still very new and there is much more that needs to be learned. A review of the evidence on intimate partner violence prevention in LMICs found that although the body of evidence is growing, the evidence is clustered among a limited number of countries focusing on a small set of risk factors and populations.11 For example, no impact evaluations in LMICs on parenting interventions were identified, and very little evidence on the impact of workplace/private sector, out of school activities for children, and the role of legislation in IPV prevention was available. Other notable gaps in the research include studies looking at cost-effectiveness of interventions; of studies reporting results in the medium to long term; and of studies reporting effects for vulnerable populations.
Further, with an increase in more complex, multicomponent interventions, the review recommends evaluations that measure the impact of these interventions at different levels of the socio-ecological model – individual, interpersonal, community, society. Policy-makers need information on the cost-effectiveness of different components of these interventions so they can decide, what, if any, part of these programmes should and can affordably be taken to scale and still effect the desired changes. There is a call to invest in more research on the intersections between VAW and VAC and to deepen the coordination between the two fields.12
We also need to build knowledge and capacity on ethical and sound research methods and tools to measure violence against women and children, and to promote better coordination and collaboration between key actors, particularly in the global south.13
Developing a culture of learning and sharing
The VAW field is changing rapidly – new ideas, new interventions, new research and new players are emerging. Supporting a learning culture is imperative for the field to ensure VAW and VAC research in LMICs continues to drive innovation, is ethical, feminist and women and children centred. To do so, partnerships and joint learning must be encouraged. Shared learning accelerates knowledge building and helps solve problems more efficiently. It reduces duplication of effort, wastage of precious resources, builds better research questions, methods and approaches, fosters solidarity, and ultimately results in better programmes and services for women and children.
The SVRI is drafting a new strategic plan to guide our efforts to cultivate a culture of learning, by bringing people from multiple fields together in platforms like SVRI Forum, to discuss complex questions like how VAW and VAC intersect with other violence and development challenges, how we can best respond and prevent VAW and VAC, and how to deliver programmes cost-effectively at scale particularly in LMICs. We are delighted to be partnering with Reproductive Health Matters (RHM) on SVRI Forum 2019 at which RHM will host a writing for publication workshop.
SVRI new strategic plan
The SVRI has developed a new strategic plan.14 It is built around four core pillars: Strengthening evidence; building capacity; promoting learning and partnerships; and influencing change.
Through this new plan, the SVRI strives to build a field of researchers and stakeholders working together to develop and identify scalable solutions to respond to survivors compassionately and effectively and to stop VAW and VAC. Further, given the greatest burden of violence against women and children remains in low and middle-income countries, it is imperative that more research is undertaken in these settings, and that this research is led by researchers based in LMICs.
The SVRI envisions a research field in which there is less fragmentation, more funding for VAWC research in LMICs, increased skill and capacity for research and research translation on VAWC in the global South, resulting in better evidence to support stronger VAWC services and prevention programmes. Finally, this work is hard, we do it because we care, and because we care, the work can take an emotional toll – the SVRI will continue to support, encourage and build compassion within the field to prevent vicarious trauma and promote a caring and supportive field.
1WHO (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence.
2Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, et al. Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates. Pediatrics 2016;137:e20154079.
3Michau, Lori et al. Prevention of violence against women and girls: lessons from practice. The Lancet , Volume 385 , Issue 9978 , 1672 – 1684
4Ellsberg M, Arango D, Morton M, Gennari F, Kiplesund S, Contreras M, Watts C. Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say? Lancet 2014; published online Nov 21. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61703-7
5Partners for Prevention – a UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV regional joint programme for the prevention of violence against women and girls in Asia and the Pacific. More information online: http://partners4prevention.org/
6What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls is an innovative global programme working in 13 countries across the world building the evidence base on What Works to prevent violence against women and girls. Website: https://www.whatworks.co.za
10On the CUSP of Change: Effective scaling of social norms change for gender equality. Source: http://raisingvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/CUSP.SVRIpaper.Final_.6sept2017.forWeb.pdf
12Fulu, E. McCook, S. & Falb, K. What works Evidence Review: Intersections of Violence Against Women and Violence Against Children (2017), p. 4, available at https://www.whatworks.co.za/documents/publications/116-vac-vaw-evidence-brief-new-crop-1/file.
13Dartnall, E. & Gevers, A. (2017). Harnessing the power of South-South partnerships to build capacity for the prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence. African Safety Promotion Journal, 15, 8-15.
14SVRI Strategic Plan 2019-2023: Advancing research to end violence against women. Draft available for comment.
Please note that blog posts are not peer-reviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of RHM as an organisation.