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Violence Against Women & Girls -- Resource Guide


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Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most oppressive forms of gender inequality and stands as a fundamental barrier to equal participation of women and men in social, economic, and political spheres. Such violence impedes gender equality and the achievement of a range of development outcomes. VAWG is a complex and multifaceted problem that cannot effectively be addressed from a single vantage point. The prevention of and response to such violence require coordinated action across multiple sectors.

More than 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. That is 818 million women—almost the total population of sub-Saharan Africa and almost three times the population of the United States. || ||

This resource guide was 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. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) joined the partnership in June 2015. The primary audiences for the guide are IDB and WBG staff and member countries, as well as other development professionals who do not yet have experience addressing VAWG. The purpose of this guide is to provide the reader with basic information on the characteristics and consequences of VAWG, including the operational implications that VAWG can have in several priority sectors of the IDB and WBG. 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.


Initiate, Integrate, Innovate

This resource guide draws on existing global evidence and emerging promising practices. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of the evidence (80%) on what works to prevent or respond to VAWG comes from high-income countries, according to a recent systematic review of reviews on this topic by GWI and WBG. The review also found that less than a quarter of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-experimental studies assessed interventions in developing countries. Nonetheless, the current evidence, combined with promising initiatives, provides robust entry points for action while the insufficiency of data is overcome.

Readers are encouraged to review the key information on safety, ethics and the do no harm principle, which is provided in the VAWG Resource Guide Introduction.

This resource guide is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it provides a starting point for integrating initiatives to address VAWG within sectoral work and refers interested readers to resources where more detailed technical information can be found.

The Role of International Agencies

International financial institutions (IFIs), other multilateral institutions, and bilateral donors have a vital role to play in preventing and addressing VAWG in both low- and middle-income countries. These institutions are in the unique position of having the global reach to generate and disseminate knowledge, leverage partnerships with governments and a range of other key stakeholders, and lead by financing innovative programming.

Because of their global influence, IFIs are uniquely positioned to promote evidence-based good practices. Not only can they leverage partnerships with governments to create a space for policy dialogues on addressing VAWG, they can also act as pioneers in promoting integrated and multi-sectoral approaches to addressing this issue. Lessons learned and evaluations of VAWG projects (or components of projects) can readily be shared across countries—such findings can, in turn, promote investment in effective strategies for preventing and responding to violence.


Introduction and General Tools

The VAWG Resource Guide Introduction is an essential piece of the resource guide, relevant and applicable to all team leaders, specialists, and program managers, irrespective of their sector. It outlines the magnitude of VAWG, key definitions, risk and protective factors, socio-economic costs, the needs of survivors, as well as the role and value-added of IFIs in supporting VAWG prevention efforts. In addition, it includes:

  • Guiding principles for data collection and working with VAWG survivors
  • Guiding principles for VAWG programming


Life Cycle of Violence

Different forms of violence affect women and girls throughout each phase of their lives, starting at pregnancy, through childhood, adolescence, reproductive age, and later in life. Adopting a lifecycle approach to addressing violence both in the home and in the community is an important strategy for VAWG prevention and for meeting the needs of women and girls at all life phases. The figure below highlights some of the main types of violence to which women may be exposed as their relationships (as a daughter, wife, mother, employee) and environments (home, work, neighborhood, etc.) change.


Types of Violence Against Women and Girls by Lifecycle Stages


Adapted from Watts and Zimmerman, 2002 and Shane and Ellsberg, 2002, in Ellsberg & Heise, 2005


Based on analysis of population-based surveys from seven countries (Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Haiti, India, Nicaragua, and Zambia),1 older women are substantially less likely to suffer violence than younger women. More educated women may be less likely to be victimized by violence. Although this effect is statistically significant in only three of the seven countries, the magnitude of the effect is quite large.


Service and Response Needs of VAWG Survivors

Around the world most women who experience violence never seek help or tell anyone about the violence. World Bank analysis of data from 30 DHS countries found that on average, only 4 in 10 survivors of VAWG had ever sought help from any formal or informal source of support.2  Another recent study estimated that only 2% of women in India and East Asia, 6% in Africa, 10% in Central Asia, and 14% in Latin America and the Caribbean made any formal disclosure of their experience of violence. This presents an enormous missed opportunity to leverage entry points to enhance women's agency through social service institutions and formal and informal justice structures.

For those survivors who do seek help, the plan of action should be driven by her preferences, as she is most familiar with her circumstances and level of comfort with the available decisions, such as proceeding with prosecution. This is often called a survivor-centered approach.3  As mentioned in the Ethics section, the principles of autonomy and confidentiality should prevail, with the utmost consideration for her safety and security. Depending on the services and plan of action decided upon by the survivor, many different actors might be required. Services may involve action from government actors, civil society, UN agencies, and local authorities. The figure below shows different services for VAWG survivors by sector.


Services for VAWG Survivors by Sector


Adapted from UNFPA, Building Survivor Centered Response Services: Participant Manual. Pakistan, November 2010


Coordination and Multi-Sectoral Approaches

Effective prevention of and response to VAWG call for multi-sectoral, coordinated action among health and social services actors, legal and security actors, and the community.  Coordination is crucial for identifying survivors, successful referral and service delivery across sectors, as well for implementing initiatives to prevent VAWG. Particularly in the context of emergencies and humanitarian assistance, where public service delivery is often disrupted, establishing a multi-sectoral, coordinated response to VAWG at the outset of the emergency ensures a more responsive action from the earliest stages and until stability is achieved.4  It is important to note, however, that while coordination may require sharing incident data, caution should be exercised in sharing names and details about the survivor, in line with ethical and safety recommendations.

Engaging various sectors and actors can increase the complementarity of VAWG prevention and response activities, address programmatic bottlenecks and gaps, and improve monitoring and data collection. The participation of different actors less familiar with such initiatives can also result in greater buy-in and commitment at all levels.

*GWI would like to thank the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for supporting their participation in this project.

  • 1 Kishor and Johnson, 2004.
  • 2 World Bank, 2014.
  • 3 A survivor-centered approach means that all those who are engaged in violence against women programming prioritize the rights, needs, and wishes of the survivor. The survivor-centered approach is based on a set of principles and skills designed to guide professionals - regardless of their role - in their engagement with women and girls who have experienced sexual or other forms of violence. The survivor-centered approach aims to create a supportive environment in which the survivor’s rights are respected and in which she is treated with dignity and respect. The approach helps to promote the survivor’s recovery and her ability to identify and express needs and wishes, as well as to reinforce her capacity to make decisions about possible interventions (UNICEF, 2010).
  • 4 According to the IASC, the overall objective of coordinated action is “to provide accessible, prompt, confidential, and appropriate services to survivors/victims according to a basic set of guiding principles and to put in place mechanisms to prevent incidents of [VAWG].” (IASC, 2005)