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.
The links between women's economic empowerment and violence against women have been found to be very complex, and depend on existing patterns of gender roles and norms in a society.
Where women's economic empowerment is not the norm, backlash in the form of violence can be expected where women seem to break-out of the traditional ways of living together. Violence is then used in order to maintain current power relations. In contexts where women are more empowered generally, economic independence can work as a protecting factor against violence, particularly intimate partner violence, as women increase their bargaining position.
What we know less about in the context of women's economic empowerment and violence, is how to empower women in a sustainable way that is passed on to future generations, i.e. under what circumstance can women participate in the paid economy without having to pass on their unpaid care work to their children – mainly daughters – who would then forgo their opportunity and right to education, good health and leisure? Some of our work at IDS with partners in Nepal, India, Rwanda and Tanzania is looking at these issues in more detail; but we need to learn more about how to achieve women's economic empowerment without backlash – much of which will link to the topic of masculinities and patriarchy.