Gender-based violence is a public health issue as well as a protection issue, due to its significant effects on physical and mental health through, for example, injuries, trauma, sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.
Around 35.6 per cent of women across the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, mostly from intimate partners in the domestic sphere. Large cross-country studies emphasise both similarities and wide variations of violence against women between different settings.
A range of factors drive this violence; amongst others, one of the increasing factors of gender-based violence is conflict. There is solid evidence that conflicts have a strong negative impact on: child and maternal health as measured by mortality, morbidity or nutrition; the occurrence of sexual violence; the prevalence of high-risk sexual behaviours; and poor access to sexual health and rights services.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence during outbursts of armed conflict as a result of: targeted violence as a weapon, the separation of families, disruption to community and institutional protection and service structures, and increased obstacles to access to justice for survivors, among others.
Furthermore, for a number of other reasons, including shame, stigma, low awareness of or access to services, lack of protection and security, and malfunctioning justice systems and impunity, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is often under-reported and available services are under-utilised. As a result, the effects of VAWG on physical, sexual and reproductive health, as well as psychosocial and mental health effects, are typically exacerbated in conflict situations by a lack of access to or improper medical care, concurrent infectious disease, malnutrition, stress, and other psychosocial problems.
Our work focuses on understanding types, patterns and dynamics of violence against women and girls, as well as causes and types of service provision and prevention in different contexts and regions.
How we understand masculinities and the engagement of men and boys in preventing violence against women and girls has received much increased attention over the past few years. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, even though men and boys can experience violence just as women and girls do, women and girls are more at risk in terms of scale and severity of sexual, physical, emotional and structural violence. And secondly, most violence that we know about is perpetrated by intimate partners, who are mostly men. Often, this violence goes un-detected and un-challenged because of our understandings of masculinities and femininities from men and women, boys and girls.
Much research has already been done by IDS and with partners worldwide, e.g. in South Africa, Sierra Leone and Egypt. However, some questions related to this still deserve more attention in future work. For example, how can men and boys and women and girls be 'better' engaged to develop 'healthier' understandings of masculinities that do not support the use of everyday and structural violence in different countries and settings? In conflicts and emergencies, where traditional gender roles are challenged, women and girls are at heightened risks of violence. However, with the 'right tools' these settings could perhaps also open up opportunities in which gender stereotypes could be overcome.
Developing better ways of addressing gender roles and norms could also contribute to reducing risks for sexual and gender-identity minorities that don't conform to common understandings of masculinities and femininities and which are at higher risks of violence as a result.