Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a pervasive problem around the world that frequently intensifies further in times of armed conflict, state instability, or humanitarian crisis. There are critical gaps in research, policy, and programmatic work to address violence against women and girls in armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies.
By pioneering research on prevalence of VAWG in conflict settings, the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) is making progress on a task long considered near impossible. As part of a global effort to address this critical human rights and humanitarian issue, GWI is developing the methodology and evidence base to assess prevalence of violence against women in emergencies, consolidating current knowledge about such violence in conflict and humanitarian settings, and bringing applied knowledge to key stakeholders who can affect change. GWI puts this research and education into action with a variety of international partners, including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), CARE International UK (CIUK) and the United States’ Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, among others.
The Global Women's Institute (GWI) conducted the first large-scale, population-based study of violence agains women and girls (VAWG) in South Sudan, one of the world's most intractable conflict regions. The research utilized both quantitative and participatory qualitative techniques to document the experiences of women and girls, as well as of men and boys. In some areas, as many as 70 percent of women have experienced sexual and/or physical intimate partner violence, and one in three women have experienced some form of sexual abuse, including rape and transactional sex. This project forms part of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls program (What Works), a flagship program from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development. GWI, in partnership with International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Care International UK (CIUK), is leading the What Works component on conflict and humanitarian crises.
GWI has an extensive portfolio working to address VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings. As part of the What Works consortium, GWI has conducted a review of literature on existing evidence on the prevalence of VAWG and on promising and emerging practices that prevent and respond to VAWG in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings. This evidence brief includes information on interventions involving both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by conflict as well as other groups of women and girls who have been affected by natural disasters and/or severe food insecurity. GWI has shared the results of this review at international forums, including the Commission on the Status of Women.
To improve and harmonize global approaches for conducting research on VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings, GWI is working to standardize methodology that is ethical and technically sound. In 2015, GWI and the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an experts' meeting, “Conducting Population-Based Surveys on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Conflict and Humanitarian Settings,” that developed a questionnaire based on the WHO multi-country survey on conflict, which is a gold standard in the field. In 2017, GWI hosted another experts’ consultation, “Building Gender-Based Violence Research Capacity in Refugee Settings,” which brought together practitioners, policy-makers and researchers to identify best practices for research, monitoring, and evaluation of GBV programs in refugee settings. This meeting was funded by the U.S. Department of State with additional support from the What Works consortium.
Building on shared expertise, GWI is developing a manual and toolkit that provides sample tools for practitioners and researchers working in refugee settings. These materials aim to standardize methodologies and increase the capacity of the humanitarian community to conduct research, monitoring, and evaluation. The overall goal is to increase the quality and scale of the global evidence base on VAWG and relevant programs in humanitarian settings.
As part of the What Works consortium, GWI and CARE International UK (CIUK) are conducting a study exploring the intersections of VAWG and post-conflict state-building and peace-building processes. The study examines how non-governmental (NGO), governmental and civil society actors have worked to address VAWG during peace-building and state-building efforts. Case studies on South Sudan, Nepal and Sierra Leone are based on fieldwork and literature reviews to examine these topics in three different post-conflict settings that have vastly different outcomes. The framework and report from this study will mark the beginning of a new, integrated approach to reducing VAWG and strengthening post-conflict states.
Gender-based violence (GBV) occurs at especially high rates in conflict and humanitarian settings around the world. While a number of community-based GBV prevention programs have been developed to address this problem, researchers find it difficult to measure the impact of these programs in conflict settings.
Research surveys — the most common tool for measuring program effectiveness in non-conflict settings, where risk of violent conflict is low — often require sampling of thousands of households. Although they require extensive time, money, and resources, these large-scale surveys produce highly accurate results because of their large sample sizes. However, in conflict settings, heightened instability within the community often makes it nearly impossible for researchers to access necessary resources and expertise to carry out such large-scale surveys. Therefore, smaller-scale yet highly accurate sampling methodologies are needed.
To address this problem, we have partnered with the Institut de Formation du Sud (IFOS) in Haiti to assess the accuracy and effectiveness of a smaller-scale, population-based sampling methodology called lot quality assurance sampling (LQAS). LQAS uses smaller sample sizes which can make it a useful approach for data collection in resource-constrained locations. The LQAS methodology has been effective in measuring the impact of other public health programs in conflict settings that focus on areas like maternal health, HIV testing, nutrition levels, etc. However, the LQAS methodology has not been widely used to assess GBV programmes to date. This project is being funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF).
Since its magnitude first came to light in 2002, the humanitarian aid community’s focus on addressing sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) has primarily rested on establishing reporting mechanisms and punitive actions against perpetrators of such violence, and only recently shifted toward documented, pro-active measures to mitigate risk and prevent abuse and exploitation from occurring. This project seeks to further examine the mechanisms through which aid—namely food, shelter, water & sanitation, fuel & firewood, and cash assistance—is delivered, and how these processes might inadvertently increase the risks of SEA within affected populations, in order to address them. Its goal is to support the creation or adaptation of aid delivery models that actively work to reduce power disparities and give women and girls a sustained voice in how aid is delivered.
The project utilizes participatory action research, a method that proactively acknowledges and addresses power imbalances between the affected population & researchers/humanitarians. Just as participation lies at the center of humanitarian response, it is a critical element in applied, operational research. The project is grounded in formative ethnographic work with refugee women and girls, to safely take an active role in asking and answering questions about their own lives.
Together with GWI and operational partner agencies—CARE International and URDA in Lebanon, and the International Rescue Committee and World Vision in Uganda—members of the affected population help guide the identification and prioritization of ways to make aid distributions safer. These are tested in small-scale pilots in ongoing humanitarian aid operations. Lessons as well as tools used in these pilots will be documented and shared with the humanitarian community, in order to improve practice and reduce the risks for women and girls when receiving aid distributions.
Recently, GWI Research Scientist Alina Potts, Harriet Kolli of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Uganda, and Loujine Fattal of CARE Lebanon discussed Empowered Aid on an episode of Women's Protection and Empowerment podcast.