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Violence Against Women and Girls

Violence against women and girls is a global problem affecting many millions of women. It takes many forms ranging from rape in conflict, to female genital mutilation, to domestic violence, and has physical, sexual, psychological and economic consequences. As well as being a violation of individual rights, violence against women and girls prevents women and girls from flourishing and contributing to their families and communities. It also holds back progress on international development targets.

The UK Government can take pride in its recently increased efforts to tackle violence against women and girls overseas following its 2010 Call to Action on Violence Against Women and Girls. Through its Strategic Vision on Girls and Women, Theory of Change, and related guidance, the Department for International Development (DFID) has a strong policy framework in place to achieve change for women’s lives.

DFID now needs to focus on implementation. Some impressive programmes are underway. But violence against women and girls is not a strategic priority for most of DFID recipient countries where rates of violence are high. Too few DFID programmes address the underlying social norms that drive violence, yet tackling the attitudes that sustain violence against women and girls is of paramount importance. Work to tackle violence against women and girls also needs to be a key part of the different sectors in which DFID works. DFID should prioritise action against the pervasive, everyday forms of violence that women and girls suffer, including female genital mutilation, child marriage and domestic violence. Addressing violence against women and girls at grassroots level is crucial: DFID should review its funding channels in order to increase funding to women’s organisations.

The Department must strike a balance between getting work to address violence against women and girls underway quickly, and taking the time to learn from the—currently relatively limited—evidence base about ‘what works’ in different contexts. DFID’s new Research and Innovation Fund on violence against women and girls will help boost the evidence base over the next few years. In the meantime, DFID should adopt a flexible, learning-based approach to programming, piloting initiatives and integrating research into programming, so that it can scale up when positive results emerge. Further, it must not have unrealistic expectations about how quickly results can be achieved. This is especially true for DFID’s new £35 million programme on female genital mutilation.

DFID must also make violence against women and girls a central focus of its humanitarian operations, ensuring that the protection of women and girls is a priority from the outset. Refugee camps should be designed to be a refuge not a place where women are at risk of rape and other forms of violence. DFID must get tough with multilateral aid agencies who fail to prioritise this (as too often they do). We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative as a way to challenge the culture of impunity around rape in conflict. We recommend a broadening of its scope so there is an increased focus on violence prevention, as well as a more clearly articulated role for DFID.