BRIEF

Violence Against Women and Girls

November 8, 2017

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Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic that has or will affect 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Violence is not only a personal struggle for the victims, but also has severe consequences on social and economic outcomes. As a leading development institution, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to address violence against women and girls around the world, and currently supports $128 million in development projects aimed at addressing the issue.

Context

The numbers are staggering:

  • Nearly 1 billion women will experience intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
  • 125 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.

One characteristic of VAWG is that it knows no social or economic boundaries: gender-based violence is a reality in both developing and developed countries, affecting women of all socio-economic backgrounds.

While terms like “violence against women and girls” put the focus on women as victims, and “domestic violence” masks who commits those acts, the overwhelming majority of this violence is perpetrated by men, which makes gender-based violence a quintessential male issue. Therefore, we cannot unravel the causes of VAWG without first trying to identify what leads men to use violence.

What is known is that there is not a single causal factor, but rather a number of risk factors that include:

  • Social NormsNorms related to male authority, acceptance of wife beating, and female obedience affect 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 permeates all socioeconomic groups, evidence suggests that men who live in poverty or are socially excluded are more at risk of perpetuating violence because they can’t find jobs or earn an income, which 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.

The costs of violence against women are high. The trauma caused by VAWG often has long-term emotional impacts on the victims themselves, but can also lead children growing up in violent households to perpetuate the cycle of violence once they become adults, either as victims or perpetrators. Aside from psychological repercussions, gender-based violence has been shown to have dire economic consequences, costing an estimated 3.7% of GDP due to lost productivity which is more than double what most governments spend of education.

Strategy

Violence against women is a men’s issue: it is mostly men who are abusing women. So men are integral to ending violence against women.

Evidence suggests that the initiatives that showed most impact in decreasing violence against women were community-based, used several approaches, and engaged with multiple stakeholders over time (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 included

  • Directly engaging men in the spaces they occupy, sports for example, and having them reflect on how social norms affect them.
  • Targeting men’s peer groups and entire communities that establish and reinforce norms and behaviors through, for example, Community Driven Development (CDD) programs.
  • Engaging broad-based alliances locally and nationally to change the discourse on men and manhood. The biggest of these is MenEngage.

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

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 and other work 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 $128 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.

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.

Launched in December 2014, the guide provides IaDB and WBG 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.

And finally, as a convener, the Bank is uniquely placed to bring together a range of development stakeholders to discuss VAWG issues.

Results

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

The Bank finances projects directly, such as the Great Lakes Emergency Sexual and Gender Based Violence & Women's Health Project. In 2014, the Bank approved $107 million in financial grants to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda to provide integrated health and counseling services, legal aid, and economic opportunities to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Bank also plays a leveraging role for larger operations, such as in Brazil. The Bank provided Brazil with a $500 million Development Policy Loan for a major infrastructure project to update and connect Rio de Janeiro’s urban transport system. The project takes advantage of the urban network to deliver a range of economic and legal resources to women. Now all stations will have women’s restrooms and improved lighting. A similar transport-led initiative is now under way in Ecuador.

The Bank’s analytical work looks at what works. The area of VAWG is a relatively new field in development, and most of the studies done to date have been in the developed country context. More needs to be invested in impact evaluations of interventions and regional research, such as the Bank did in South Asia to inform policy and programming.

And using media and digital media provides an unprecedented opportunity for transformational change by affecting social norms and behavior. In 2015, Bank established the WEvolve Global Initiativewhich aims to empower young women and men to challenge and break through prevailing societal and cultural norms that underpin gender violence, as well as identify and address factors that lead men to use violence.