Violence Against Women and Girls

April 4, 2018

Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

This issue is not only devastating for victims of violence, but also entails significant social and economic costs. In Latin America, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP – more than double what most governments spend on education.

Failure to address this issue now may also entail significant costs for the future. Numerous studies have shown that children growing up with violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violence in the future. It is time to break this cycle.

As a leading development institution, the aimed at addressing the issue.


The numbers are staggering:

  • Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
  • 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.
  • 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence
  • Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner.

One characteristic of VAWG is that it knows no social or economic boundaries: this issue needs to be addressed in both developing and developed countries, and affects women of all socio-economic backgrounds.

When speaking about “violence against women and girls,” it is important to remember that this issue involves both men and women and requires a holistic approach. The overwhelming majority of violence is perpetrated by men, and addressing male perpetration is a critical part of addressing VAWG.

Understanding the drivers and underlying risk factors for violence is vital for understanding this complex issue.

No single risk factor can be blamed for violence against women. Rather, there are:

  • Social NormsNorms related to male authority, acceptance of wife beating, and female obedience are linked to the overall level of abuse in different settings. The expectations that society places on men play a key role. Men who fail to provide for their family’s financial needs, for instance, tend to be socially sanctioned, and may try to exert power over women and children in frustration, or to prove their manhood.
  • Exposure to Violence in Childhood. Exposure to violence in childhood is a contributing cause of violence later in life. Boys who are subjected to harsh physical punishment, who are physically abused themselves, or who witness their mothers being beaten are more likely to abuse their partners later in life. For example, men who witnessed violence against their mothers growing up are approximately 2.5 times likelier to commit violence against a female partner.
  • Alcohol Use. Excessive alcohol use, especially binge drinking, increases the frequency and severity of partner violence.
  • Poverty. Even though gender-based violence is present in all socioeconomic groups, evidence suggests that men who live in poverty or are socially excluded are more at risk of perpetuating violence. Economic stress brought on by joblessness, and feelings of social exclusion can lead to anger, frustration, and violence. Conditions are most extreme in conflict, war-affected, or fragile states where economies have collapsed, whole populations have been displaced, and insecurity prevails.


Evidence suggests that the initiatives that showed (men and women of diverse ages and ethnic background). They also addressed underlying risk factors for violence, including social norms regarding gender dynamics and the acceptability of violence.

Specifically, the most effective approaches:

  • Involve multiple sectors
  • Engage partners and communities over a sustained period of time
  • Include women and men of different ages and backgrounds
  • Use multiple approaches as part of a single intervention

The World Bank’s involvement in this issue is relatively recent, however, the Bank has a unique role.  

Developed and launched through a partnership between the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at George Washington University, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank Group (WBG) in December 2014, which then included the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in June 2015, the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) guide provides the World Bank Group and InterAmerican Development Bank staff and member countries with basic information on the characteristics and consequences of VAWG, including the operational implications that VAWG can have in several priority sectors of these organizations. It also offers guidance on how to integrate VAWG prevention and the provision of quality services to violence survivors within a range of development projects. Lastly, it recommends strategies for integrating VAWG into policies and legislation, as well as sector programs and projects.

As a leader in research on development issues, the Bank supports analytical work on violence against women and girls, which is a topic on which there is limited empirical evidence. An example of this is the Violence against Women and Girls: Lessons from South Asia report, which was the first of its kind to gather all available data and information on this topic in the region. The Bank has also produced a systematic review of reviews that examined the global evidence for effective interventions to prevent or reduce violence against women and girls.

In October 2016, the World Bank launched a Global Gender-Based Violence (GGBV) Task Force to strengthen the institution’s response through its projects to issues involving sexual exploitation and abuse. It builds on existing World Bank work, as well as work by others, to tackle violence against women and girls, advising on strengthened approaches to identifying threats, and applying lessons in World Bank projects to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.

In November 2017, the World Bank released an Action Plan outlining administrative and operational measures being undertaken to help prevent and respond appropriately to incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) in projects the World Bank supports. The Action Plan addresses the recommendations of the GGBV Task Force released in August to strengthen the World Bank’s capacity to identify, prevent, and mitigate against GBV in World Bank-supported projects.

As a financier of development projects, the Bank has supported over $150 million in development projects aimed at addressing VAWG. To implement these projects in an evidence-based, safe, and ethical way, the Bank, along with key global partners, has created a series of tools to provide operational guidance for staff to include VAWG prevention and response into their programs, which span many different sectors – from health and education to infrastructure and public services.


The World Bank is a new actor in this area, however, as a global development bank it is uniquely placed to support projects aimed at reducing gender violence.

In June 2017, the Board approved the $40 million Uganda Strengthening Social Risk Management and Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response Project. The project focuses on community-based interventions for the prevention of GBV drawing from several rigorously evaluated approaches and on strengthening critical sectors to provide quality response services to survivors of GBV. The project also includes an Impact Evaluation focusing on GBV prevention interventions.

The World Bank's Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice is also leading a Global Platform on Addressing GBV in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings in a $13 million cross-regional and cross-practice initiative that includes pilot projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Georgia, focused on GBV prevention and mitigation, and knowledge and learning activities.

GBV programming is now incorporated in operations in other sectors, including transport, education, citizen security, and urban infrastructure projects, as well as piloting innovative uses of social media to change behaviors. There is a substantial portfolio of this work – for example, in the South Asia region, the pilot program WEvolve used social media to empower young women and men to challenge and break through prevailing societal and cultural norms that underpin gender violence. In the East Asia and the Pacific region, GBV prevention and response interventions – including a code of conduct on sexual exploitation and abuse – are embedded within the Vanuatu Aviation Investment Project.

The Bank is able to convene a wide range of development stakeholders to address violence against women and girls. For example, WBG President Jim Yong Kim has committed to an annual Development Marketplace competition, together with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, to encourage researchers from around the world to build the evidence base of what works to prevent GBV. 

Last Updated: Apr 04, 2018