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FEATURE STORYMarch 8, 2023

Tackling Gender Based Violence in Fragile Contexts

Haiti WGSS

In Haiti, Women and Girls Safe Spaces are keeping them safe from harm and harassment. 

Kay Fanm, 2022

It is fairly well documented that gender-based violence (GBV) increases during times of war and conflict. This includes sexual violence, forced or early marriage, and intimate partner violence, among others.  In some conflicts, GBV is used as a weapon of war to create fear and terrorize populations. Lack of access to health services, education, and employment —particularly for women and girls—aggravates the situation. 

Gender inequities are a root cause of GBV, which disproportionately affects women and girls living in conflict situations. Because gender inequality is now understood as one of the drivers of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) it is important to close gender gaps and create better programs for women and girls to make societies more resilient against FCV,” says Diana J. Arango, World Bank Global Lead on Gender Based Violence, Gender.

The lack of delivery of essential services to the population who has experienced conflict and instability can have a disproportionate impact on specific groups of the population, including women and girls.This is why it is important to fund essential services in conflict affected populations such as health services for women experiencing GBV, as well as access to mechanisms to document the violence should a survivor want to seek justice. Mental health services are also essential for conflict affected populations and especially important for survivors of GBV. Furthermore, prevention of GBV in conflict is possible and investment in prevention of GBV in FCV settings is greatly needed.”

For example, in Uganda, poverty, food insecurity, aid dependency, and trauma put refugees and forcibly displaced women and children at risk of violence, as well as limiting their ability to look for help and access services. Uganda is home to over 1.5 million refugees, making it the top refugee-hosting country in Africa. GBV and violence against children (VAC) are prevalent in both refugee and host communities, affecting women and girls disproportionately.

Uganda refugees

Martha sells perfume made from tree sap at a market in Rhino Camp in north-west Uganda.

WFP/Melissa Kyeyune

As part of the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa project the World Bank’s State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF) is financing a pilot initiative in 4 refugee districts in Uganda to help women and children get access to safe and ethical care through existing service providers in the districts and settlements.

Part of the project efforts focus on bolstering the government staff through training and mentorship and strengthening coordination and referral mechanisms. “The training of service providers will strengthen their capacity to be able to help survivors access quality essential services, such as health services, psychosocial support, legal aid, and shelter”, says Margarita Puerto Gomez, World Bank East Africa Senior Social Development Specialist.

Promoting attitudes and behaviors that foster social and cultural change toward gender equality is also part of the project activities because negative attitudes towards GBV victims often result in trauma and mental health issues among survivors. So far, 710 local champions —419 Males and 291 females— have been trained at the community level to understand GBV and VAC risks and reduce tolerance to incidents of violence that may be occurring during project implementation. This includes translation of risk mitigation materials into four local languages and developing a GIS mapping of services for women and children survivors of GBV and VAC in all districts hosting refugees to improve referral pathways and coordination of response services.

In Haiti, one in three women experience gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, domestic violence, physical violence, and early marriage. The numbers tell the story: in Haiti, physical violence currently affects 29% of women of childbearing age and is perpetrated by an intimate partner in 45% of the cases; violence linked to psychological pressure with the goal to exert control affects over 31% of women; women survivors of domestic violence account for 34%, with 37% of cases resulting in serious injuries.  

In Haiti, GBV represents a significant barrier to women’s full engagement in social and economic life and remains inextricably linked to violence and insecurity”, says Bruce Macphail, World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist, and lead on the Promoting GBV Services for Women and Girls project. “Access to prevention programs and survivor-centered responses services remain extremely limited throughout the country, are structurally under-funded, and remain affected by cultural social norms.” 

An SPF grant in Haiti will focus on improving the quality and increasing the reach of services for GBV survivors, and promoting women and girls socio-economic empowerment, safety and resilience through the strengthening of the community-based Women and Girl Safe Spaces (WGSS). Safe spaces provide a safe entry point where women and girls at risk, or that have already experience GBV, can be free from harm and harassment, and access opportunities to exercise their rights, and promote their own safety.

This intervention is particularly important in emergency contexts, where women and girls are deliberately targeted. Girls and women are provided with assets and skills for making healthy decisions in their life and being able to negotiate their needs as well as comprehensive services and/or referrals for GBV survivors. “The World Bank is acutely aware of the global problem of GBV.  This is why the SPF is increasing its focus on grants on gender in situations of forced displacement, conflict zones, personal violence, and crises”, says Valery Ciancio, World Bank SPF Program Manager.   

The World Bank is ramping up its efforts to address GBV in fragile, conflict and violence (FCV) settings through its analytical work and projects, for example in Bangladesh and Democratic Republic of Congo.  The SPF and its partners are contributing to that effort by ensuring that gender and FCV programs focus on activities that reduce disparities between women and men and boys and girls; ensure inclusion in the design and implementation of World Bank operations or dialogue; pilot innovative approaches to enhancing women’s voice and agency; and produce new analysis or knowledge on gender in FCV.  

From 2009-2021, SPF funded approximately $26 million (44 out of 286 grants) in grants primarily focused on gender. Most of these grants focused on GBV prevention or response: 40 grants totaling $20 million in commitments. The majority of the gender-focused grants were in the world’s poorest countries. The SPF has supported interventions primarily focused on addressing gender in FCV across all World Bank geographic regions. These grants have their main objective related to gender inclusion, equality, or empowerment, including grants addressing GBV. 


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