On February 11, Component Three of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Programme began its focus to explore the social and economic impacts of violence against women and girls in the Global South and to provide a framework for estimating the overall costs for national economies.

The launch was held at NUI Galway in the Aula Maxima Lower, it was open to the public.

Speakers included:

  • Jim Browne, President, NUI Galway
  • Katie Chapman, Social Development Advisor, Violence against Women and Girls Team, DFID
  • Liz Ford, Deputy Editor, Global Development, The Guardian
  • Anne Byrne, Head, School of Political Science & Sociology, NUI Galway
  • Nata Duvvury, Project Leader, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway


In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) survivors of sexual violence face rejection from their families and are at heightened risk of poor mental health as the result of such trauma.   Women who experience stigma from their families and communities may also be less likely to have a steady income as their partners may ostracize them from their homes or be unable to access money to start a small business. The negative economic and mental health effects of stigma from sexual violence are compounded in Eastern DRC, which is typified by pervasive poverty, inequitable gender norms, and insecurity.

To address the burden of social stigma, poor mental health, and poverty among female survivors of sexual violence in the DRC, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) implemented a group savings programme that would provide a forum for social support for women, as well as an avenue to increase their own savings and business opportunities. The evaluation, led by Dr. Judy Bass at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), found that although the group savings programme improved certain aspects of social and economic wellbeing among women, it did not confer improvements in mental health for survivors of sexual violence in Eastern DRC.

Through What Works Component 2: Violence against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, the IRC was able to take a deeper look into programming impacts through a secondary data analysis, conducted by researchers at JHU. In particular, the IRC was interested in learning more about how group savings actually impacted women’s experiences of stigma.

They found that women who were in the group savings programme experienced a statistically significant reduction in felt stigma over time, compared to women in the waitlist group. These reductions in stigma could be due to increased social support from other women in the group-based program or through increased economic wellbeing, which could strengthen resilience against stigma. Although the overall trial had limited impact on mental health improvements for survivors of violence, the reductions in stigma felt by women in the group savings program may demonstrate an important first step to improving their mental health over time.


South Sudan secured independence in July 2011 after a decade-long conflict, but only two years later, the country erupted into violence again amid a power struggle between the South Sudanese president and vice president. The renewed violence has displaced more than one million people.

In addition to this ongoing civil war lies another layer of violence in South Sudan; women are suffering from rape, beatings and domestic abuse.

Dr. Mary Ellsberg, Director of the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at the George Washington University, commented on how gender-based violence is often brutal and easily ignored in crisis-affected countries: “During a war and after the conflict, women are particularly at risk of being raped, which in many places is used systematically as a weapon of war. And often there is a large increase in domestic violence and other forms of family violence,” Dr. Ellsberg continues to state that “the cumulative effect of this on women, who have been living in a war zone for more than 20 years, can be both psychologically and physically devastating.”

This has prompted a study in South Sudan to better understand, prevent, and respond to gender-based violence there. GWI is the lead technical research partner on the study in a consortium led by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The consortium includes global humanitarian organization CARE International UK, and Forcier Consulting has been hired by GWI to assist with data collection.

In August 2014, Dr. Ellsberg, Executive Director of GWI and GWI Director of Research Manuel Contreras-Urbina traveled with Heidi Lehmann of IRC to Juba (the capital of South Sudan) and Rumbek to assess the feasibility of conducting research in the country. They met with local and national authorities, members of women’s rights NGOs, and community workers to map out a plan for their research. They also visited a Protection of Civilians (POC) camp where they plan to conduct parts of the study. Despite the complex and fluid political and social context, the team concluded that it is both feasible and relevant to conduct a mixed methods study on VAWG in South Sudan.

This will be the first population-based study in South Sudan to estimate prevalence, causes and consequences of violence against women and girls.

“What types of violence are these women experiencing? How prevalent is it? Where is it happening? Knowing the answers to these questions can help to make changes at a community level,” Dr. Contreras-Urbina said. “This research is the beginning step in a very long-term process.”

The researchers will use a cross-sectional household survey, and plan to conduct interviews with 2,000 women and 1,000 men. Ethical concerns are paramount, prompting GWI to survey participants only in areas where IRC is present, ensuring services can be provided during and post-interview. The semi-structured, in-depth interviews will ask questions pertaining to a 15-year range in the participants’ lives. A strategic research uptake plan will be used to make sure results of the research will be useful to key policymakers, researchers, practitioners, activists and other stakeholders in effectively preventing and responding to violence against women and girls.

A technical advisory group (TAG) will play a key role in guiding the research in South Sudan. Members of the TAG include representatives from all three consortium partners (IRC, GWI, and CARE), various UN agencies, the Department for International Development of the UK (DFID), and local partners. The TAG met for the first time in October 2014, after the feasibility study in August, and will meet regularly throughout the project.

Few studies have assessed the full scope of gender-based violence in conflict settings, making this study particularly unique: “In South Sudan, this will be the first rigorous study to measure the different types of violence that women suffer throughout their lives,” Dr. Ellsberg said. “We hope to not only shine a light on the horrendous suffering of women and girls in South Sudan, but also to help create effective solutions for preventing violence there and elsewhere.”

To conduct their study, the researchers will need approval at national, state and village levels. In addition, interviewing women and men about the sensitive issue of their experiences of violence requires special training for interviewers and precautions to avoid putting participants and researchers at risk.

While the challenges may be vast, Dr. Ellsberg stresses that this kind of evidence-based research is key to addressing the problem of gender-based violence in the region:

“What I have found in my personal experiences, working in Nicaragua and other places, is that having numbers is incredibly powerful for persuading policymakers and international agencies that domestic violence and rape are serious offenses that need to be addressed”.


Component 2 of the What Works programme is focused on building knowledge on VAWG in humanitarian emergencies.  For this, it is critical for research to be operationally relevant from the outset, and for the programme’s teams to be engaged with policymakers, researchers, and practitioners at community, national, and international levels, and to meaningfully involve them throughout the project.

Stakeholder mapping carried out during the Inception Phase led to the establishment of in-country Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) in Kenya and South Sudan. The TAGs will provide technical input on research questions, on ethical and safety measures, and dissemination and uptake strategies.

The TAGs will also develop plans to engage and strengthen other stakeholder’s interest and investment in the research projects and will plan for on-going consultation with people in a range of different institutions and organisations throughout the project.

In addition, the What Works project will provide opportunities for the TAG members to build their knowledge and skills around research communication such as understanding, interpreting, and using the research findings strategically and effectively to increase effective VAWG programming and policies at the local, regional, and national levels.

Membership of the TAGs is varied and comprises representatives of UN agencies, humanitarian organisations, government ministries, research institutions, I/NGOs, women’s and civil rights organisations, and others.

In South Sudan, current advisors come from the South Sudanese Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare; the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS); Juba Teaching Hospital; UNICEF; United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); the South Sudan Women Empowerment Network (SSWEN); women’s development organisation EVE; and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). The Kenya TAG members come from LVCT Health; Population Council; UNHCR; UNICEF; and again DFID.

As Component 2 begins implementing its research, the continued support, advice, and engagement of the TAG members will be invaluable in ensuring the research responds to current needs in the humanitarian community, and that the findings will be applicable and adaptable to a range of audiences.


The What Works Global programme has received some great coverage to date across Huffington Post, The Guardian, The New Statesman, DFID blog, The Conversation and others. We opened the grant submissions at The Global Summit To End Sexual Violence In Conflict in London in June last year and announced the successful grantees to the media in December.

Our media coverage so far will have reached at least 12,377,056 people across print and online. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Huffington Post |
  • DFID Blog |
  • City Metric (The New Statesman’s cities site) |
  • The Conversation |
  • The Guardian |
  • Huffington Post |


The What Works Global Programme took part in the inaugural ResUp Meet Up, a DFID-funded symposium and training exchange on research uptake, to share on approaches to using digital media and videos for policy engagement, and ethical approaches to communication on violence against women.

The Global Programme’s Research Uptake Manager, Ani Lamont, was a part of a panel discussion on films and multimedia communication in research uptake. The programme shared What Works’ Stopping Violence Before it Starts and took part in a panel discussion to look at how well-crafted videos can be used to engage policymakers, and how that can help build brand awareness, as well as offer a quick way to get the attention of policymakers and other target audiences, if key pieces of research are chosen well and conveyed in a concise and visually interesting way.

Discussion also looked at some of the logistical and ethical difficulties associated with using visual mediums to tell stories around violence against women and girls, given potential risks of stigma, retaliation, or escalating use of violence by or against people who disclose they have experienced or used violence.



Technical leads from the Global Programme consortium partners met with researchers and managers from the What Works grantees, to set into motion the process of learning and working together.

The Induction Meeting, held in Istanbul in January provided grantees with an introduction to best practices toward designing and implementing prevention research and projects, from globally recognised leaders in the field.

“It was incredibly exciting to have representatives from all of the innovative and ground-breaking projects in the same room together, and see them sharing knowledge and experiences with each other,” said the What Works Global Programme’s Technical Lead, Dr. Emma Fulu.

“Apart from building technical capacity, the purpose of the event was to build relationships, and foster collaboration. I hope that by the end, the grantees saw that this programme isn’t just about the individual projects, but rather, that by producing evidence from such a diverse range of interventions and context we will be able to make major advancements in understanding what works to prevent violence.”

Grantees were given guidance on evidence-based approaches to developing prevention programmes and approaches to measuring and working to shift social norms on gender and violence, attitudes and beliefs. Projects were also guided through processes to develop a Theory of Change to underpin their work, and challenged to extend their research styles in line with the latest approaches for collecting qualitative and quantitative data on VAWG.

“We have a much more formal project design now,” said Lee Paiva of the Ujamaa project, following the meeting. A sentiment also expressed by Alexa Stevens of OPT’s Ma’an Television Network, “Our project changed and was strengthened. Our thinking behind the project has been rigorously tested and is based on what has been proven.”

Out of the meeting, What Works will establish capacity development plans and tools, to provide projects with ongoing support.


On Monday 15th December 2014, Dr Lyndsay McLean Hilker of Social Development Direct – part of the What Works to Prevent VAWG Global Programme consortium, presented at the second event in the DFID ‘What Works’ learning series. Her presentation “Preventing VAWG through Response Mechanisms: evidence on what works”, summarised the key findings of a rapid evidence review paper co-authored with What Works Director Rachel Jewkes.

In the presentation Dr McLean Hilker suggested a number of key implications for the prevention agenda and DFID’s programming:

  1. Only a small proportion of women and girls who experience violence report it and seek support from response services. Therefore, at a population level, interventions through response mechanisms are unlikely to ever result in prevention of many incidents of violence.
  2. Some studies document adverse consequences for women of some response interventions, especially those that are imposed (e.g. mandatory reporting and arrest). Thus, evaluations must examine adverse consequences.
  3. Some interventions are receiving substantial investment, but there is limited or no evidence of positive impact on prevention of VAWG (although they may be important for response) e.g. police training, paralegal programmes, women’s police stations, community policing.
  4. There are some interventions, which show promise but do not currently receive much funding e.g. shelters, therapeutic, counselling and psychosocial support, and protection orders.
  5. Further work is needed to optimise interventions rooted in response mechanisms to prevent violence, particularly on how to combine interventions.


18 ground breaking projects and research programmes to help prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG) across 16 countries have been awarded grants ranging between £450,000 to £1 million to implement and test cutting-edge approaches to stopping violence before it starts with funding from the UK Department for International Development.

The Global Programme, through its Innovation Grant scheme, will support ten projects across Africa, Asia and the Middle East and will additionally evaluate a further eight interventions. On December 10, 2014, at the launch of the grants scheme, at DFID Headquarters in the UK, the International Development Minister, Baroness Northover said:

“Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic. Though some societies have made more progress than others, we must all work together to end it. These are really exciting projects and thanks to the boost from UK funding they will help improve the lives of women and girls in some of the poorest countries.”

Baroness Northover Dec 10

Some projects, such as One Man Can, run in South Africa by Sonke Gender Justice, will work with men and boys to challenge attitudes that position women as lesser than men, and encourage participants to adopt ways of being men that value equality and non-violence. Another, run by Help the Afghan Children in Afghanistan, will work to mitigate the effects of generations of war, by providing young people with peace building education.

Some projects will address the economic factors that can lead to women being vulnerable to violence. In Tajikistan, the No More Violence project will provide women with new business and economic opportunities, while instigating wider conversations with political and community leadersAnd, in Bangladesh, the HERrespect project will work at every level of the supply chain, from factory floor to international retailers, to reduce sexual harassment and intimate partner violence experienced by garment workers, and build a solid business case for the inclusion of work practices that support gender equality.

In addition to the Innovation Projects, the Global Programme is also supporting existing projects by conducting research to evaluate their success, through an Impact Evaluation and Operational Research fund. Projects that have shown some level of success, such as South Africa’s Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, Samvedana Plus, which works with sex workers in India, and Right to Play, a sports-based programme in Pakistan, will have their interventions evaluated by What Works Researchers.

For information on all the projects supported through the What Works Global Programme go to


What Works has been shaping understanding of the underlying factors that lead to violence against women and girls, and pushing a global movement of support for prevention activities, via meetings with the United Nations and the World Bank.

Representatives from all three components of the What Works programme, including Dr Emma Fulu from the South African Medical Research Council, and Dr Jeannie Annan from the International Rescue Committee and Stella Mukasa from ICRW, led a series of learning sessions in New York in February.

Participants were shown a brief video, Stopping Violence Before it Starts, to introduce them to concepts of prevention work and approaches to addressing underlying causes, such as childhood experiences of violence, the promotion of aggressive forms of masculinity and alcohol abuse, as a way to prevent violence from occurring. They were also provided with an overview of the global evidence on what leads to, and what type of programmatic approaches are working to reduce incidences of violence.

At UNICEF Headquarters, New York, 30 attendees heard from Emma Fulu, Jeannie Annan, Natacha Stevanovic and Gina Alvarado. At another meeting with 30 members of UN Women, Fulu, Annan and Stevanovic looked at how findings from the What Works programmes would help shape future prevention programming.

The final meeting was with the World Bank where Jennifer Solotaroff, Senior Social Development Specialist, VPGB of the Gender-Based Violence Working Group, facilitated a discussion on emerging evidence on violence against women and girls, and priorities for the field of violence prevention.