Celicia Serenata, Programme Manager, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.

Looking back on 2015, and the violence that dominated our headlines, from Kenya and Nigeria to Beirut and Paris, the end of year offers a welcome moment of respite to pause and enjoy moments of peace with our loved ones, and to reflect on how we can all contribute to building a broader culture of peace for the future.

Across 2015, the reminders of mass violence – insurgency, war, shootings, bombings – seemed constant and heart-breaking. And yet, largely left out of those headlines were the more constant expressions of violence against women and girls that happen every day, in every part of the world. The silent struggles of women and girls who never garner any headlines, unless there is a famous celebrity involved. As we mark the end of the year, we at What Works would like to remember the thousands of women around the world who did not make the headlines, but were killed, hurt, violated or harassed, and express our hope and commitment to doing all we can to prevent this from happening to others.

One step towards ending that violence, involves recognising that the issues of broader state violence and violence against women and girls are not separate matters to be addressed independently of one another – one by global leaders, and the other by individuals and response services – but are indeed linked.

Violence against women and girls is more likely to happen when the use of violence, in general, is seen as normal or acceptable. To prevent this violence, we must work to build cultures of peace.

But what does that mean? It sounds overly utopian, but is in fact a process of education and community-building that we in the prevention sphere take people through to provide alternative narratives around the use of violence, and equip them with the skills to resolve conflict in different ways.

For example, the What Works-supported project, Right to Play, in Pakistan, works with children to counter the multiple messages they may have received that make violence seem normal. Children are offered a programme of sport and play, accompanied with a broader education campaign that teaches them practical skills to resolve conflict, and wider messages on the equal value of girls and boys. As a result, we hope these children grow up with the skills to counter aggression, and valuing peace within their relationships and society.

Beyond this though, successful prevention programmes work to build coalitions across the strata of society, to create a wide base of support for peace and non-aggression. Help the Afghan Children, another What Works-supported programme, offers just one example of this work. Similar to Right to Play, it also works with children in schools. In conjunction with this, it develops ties with politicians, community leaders and religious leaders in Afghanistan to advocate at a wider level for a shift in perspectives on violence and the status of women. They are creating an environment that openly values peace, and condemns the use of violence in any situation.

These programmes, and the many others like them around the world, offer us a glimmer of hope, as we move into the New Year. It is possible to build cultures that value peace over violence. A better future is possible. And, as What Works continues to collect the lessons from these programmes to share with the wider world, we can hope to see a future where violence is not the default response, but respect is.



In September, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) hosted its fourth biennial SVRI Forum. As the largest gathering of violence against women and girls researchers in the global south, it brings together the world’s leading experts on research into violence against women and girls, to share innovative ideas about how to end gender-based violence.

We know that violence against women and girls is one of the greatest social, economic and public health problems facing the world today. In response, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative was set up to promote good quality research in the area of sexual violence, with a particular focus on the Global South. The forum brings together researchers, gender activists, funders, policymakers, service providers, practitioners and survivors from all over the world to showcase innovative practices to end sexual violence, intimate partner violence and child abuse, and strengthen responses to survivors in low and middle income countries – its ultimate purpose to understand what is working and why, with a view to scaling up those successes. The growth of the Forum over the years illustrates the increased value placed on research and evidence-informed programming, making this a biennial pilgrimage for those working in the field.

Opened by Claudia Garcia-Moreno, Chair of the What Works Independent Advisory Board, SVRI Forum 2015 Chair, and lead specialist on Gender, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Health and Adolescence at the World Health Organization, she highlighted the renewed vigour of the VAWG community to find real and sustainable solutions through evidence generation. Other notable speakers included Dr Rashida Manjoo, the former UN Special rapporteur on violence against women. Dr Manjoo’s inspiring speech as the Forum began ended with a powerful reminder and encouragement for the work we do, that despite these stark stats, there have been significant milestones in the work to prevent VAWG, and that it is no longer “scream quietly or the neighbours will hear.”

Plenary sessions showcased promising interventions around the world, including healthy relationships programmes in Bangladesh, and one programme that raised as many questions as it did smiles, called Pigs for Peace, working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to combine microfinance livestock programming with work to challenge harmful gender stereotypes.

What Works-funded projects and partners from around the world were at the centre of it all, leading discussion on successful new approaches that work to prevent violence against women and girls. Change Starts at Home, which is receiving support for its work in Nepal, looked at some of the social factors that contribute to nearly 31% of women in Nepal reporting they have experienced violence from their partner. Tearfund outlined strategies they have used to engage faith leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo as catalysts and agents for change on the status of women.

What Works and its partners also led broader discussions on the latest global evidence from The Lancet on rates of violence against women and girls, and where there are gaps in research and work, as well as programmes that are working around the world to address these factors. This includes the IMAGE project, Tosta and SASA! Meanwhile, Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Lori Heise put forward a global call for action that called on nations to show leadership, create equality, change norms, challenge sectors, invest in research, and to commit to action. Rachel Jewkes stood alongside Michael Flood and James Lang to discuss the latest evidence on work with men and boys.

On the final day of the forum, What Works led a Special Session to share the latest lessons learned from the field on refining, adapting and implementing violence prevention programmes. Director of the What Works programme, Rachel Jewkes, and Lori Heise discussed approaches to social norms work. Emma Fulu discussed approaches to communicating research, as part of efforts to see research adopted into policy. And Jennifer McCleary-Sills provided insight into how What Works will begin measuring the economic and social costs of violence against women and girls.

For a full list of speakers, and access to their presentations, visit the SVRI Forum 2015 site for details.


Globally one-third of urban residents live in urban informal settlements; these are sites of exceedingly high rates of violence against women and girls.

Two What Works-funded projects in South Africa, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, and CHANGE, are pioneering new approaches to reducing VAWG in urban informal settlements, and undertaking rigorous evaluations of these approaches.

All around the world the population is rapidly urbanising. Of the seven billion people on earth, an estimated 50% live in cities and a third of those live in urban informal settlements. Sub-Saharan Africa is no exception where the urban population is expected to double in the next two decades (UN Habitat, 2015). In Africa, 61.7% of urban dwellers live in informal settlements and, in terms of numbers, this is expected to have increased from 400 million to 1.2 billion by 2050 (UN Habitat, 2015), resulting in multiple health, employment, sanitation and educational challenges. South Africa is no different.

Urban informal settlements globally are sites of particular health challenges, including violence and intimate partner violence. In Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest informal settlements in the world, research has shown that lifetime experience of GBV for women is 84.5%, double the national Kenyan average (Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2008). Similarly, in urban Bangladesh, women living in urban informal settlements were more likely to experience physical IPV in the past year (35%) than those not living in informal settlements (20%).

In South Africa, initial pilot work undertaken by the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Project Empower and the Gender and Health Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council in urban informal settlements in Durban found that 45% of men interviewed reported perpetrating IPV in the past year, and 32% reported perpetrating non-partner sexual violence in the past year; while 40% of women reported experiencing IPV in the past year.

The underlying causes of these high rates of violence experienced by women lie at the intersection of gender inequalities, widespread unemployment for both women and men, limited access to formal services and the hard reality of living in urban informal settlements.

In South Africa two innovative projects are rigorously testing highly promising strategies to reduce VAWG. In eThekwini Municipality, the NGO Project Empower is leading the implementation of Stepping Stones and Creating Futures intervention. This intervention works with young women and men who are out of school, to transform their gender relationships and strengthen their livelihoods. Through a series of 21 group-based sessions, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures encourage participants to reflect on how they can transform their realities. A pilot study undertaken over one year in 2013 showed great promise, with women reporting a reduction in IPV and women and men reporting greater earnings in the past month. The evaluation is being led by HEARD.

In Diepsloot, Gauteng, the NGO Sonke Gender Justice is implementing the CHANGE intervention. Building off their One Man Can project, it combines group-based sessions with community mobilisation seeking to build gender equality across whole communities. The evaluation seeks to show that such an approach can reduce men’s perpetration of IPV. The evaluation is being led by researchers at the Witwatersrand University, School of Public Health.

Both of these projects introduced their research projects, at an event in South Africa in November that was attended by government officials, donors and project partners. Over the coming years, research on these programmes – what makes them successful, what may be replicable or adaptable, will become available via the What Works website.

HERrespect launches in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, approximately 60 percent of female workers have experienced some form of harassment at work. Sexually explicit language, unwanted physical attention and out and out sexual harassment can be the norm. A new project, funded by What Works, and being implemented by BSR – Business for Social Responsibility, aims to prevent this, by transforming the factory floor from a space of discrimination, to a space of discussion and change.

The HERrespect project, launched in October, will continue to build on gender work already being conducted by BSR as part of its HERproject work that connects labour organisations with suppliers and buyers, to change start making the business case for improving the rights, standards and health of female workers across the business chain. The project has been developed based on rigorous formative research conducted by the icddr,b in Bangladesh.

Their research found emotional violence to be common for female workers, and that sexual violence was also a common, but hidden phenomenon. Their research also indicated that in the workplace, middle-level management were most likely to be the perpetrators of violence against women; but that it was violence from partners outside the factory walls, that still posed the greatest threat to women.

To read more about the project, see this blog, Bringing Respect to the Factory Floor and Beyond: Launching HERrespect in Bangladesh, from BSR Associate, Marat Yu.


“Two God’s heads cannot fit in the same pot,”

-Rwandan idiom used to justify why women cannot head households.

The words we use to describe and talk about gender and violence matter. And yet, when it comes to designing research questionnaires or interventions, the power of language can be forgotten, in our haste to get a programme going. The potential for real change perhaps lies in the tiny idiosyncrasies of local language; although it often takes time to uncover such nuances.

Indashyikirwa: Agents of Change for Gender-based Violence Prevention, a DFID- and What Works funded project about to start in Rwanda, recently went through a process of test piloting its couples, women’s space facilitators and opinion leader curriculum, and found that making a few tweaks to the way ideas and concepts were phrased, could have a big impact on the project’s success.

“It’s always so important to get some involvement and feedback on an intervention from the people it is meant to benefit,” Indashyikirwa Impact Evaluation Coordinator, Dr. Erin Stern said. “Giving participants space to say ‘we did like this’, or ‘we don’t agree with this’ makes it more adaptable, more attractive to participants and ultimately more effective”.

The Indashyikirwa project is a 5-month curriculum designed to help improve the way couples negotiate power in their relationship to support healthy, equitable and non-violent relationships.

It is based on both the SASA! Approach to community-building, and Promundo’s Journeys of Transformation relationship skills curriculum and is being implemented by CARE Rwanda, Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) and Rwanda Women Network (RWN). To test it, 15 couples (30 people) were taken through the couples curriculum at a rapid pace, and asked to provide feedback in a series of gender segregated focus groups. Several opinion leaders and women’s space facilitators were also taken through a condensed and adapted version of the curriculum and given an opportunity to collectively share feedback.

Amidst a range of feedback that came through the testing process, including the need to have two facilitators deliver each session, equip facilitators with support and counselling referral skills, and offer more comprehensive information on legal rights and responsibilities, facilitators also found an opportunity to connect the curriculum more to peoples’ lived realities and language.

“There are a lot of cultural metaphors, or different ways to say things in more appropriate ways, which participants shared to relate to the issues they were talking about,” Stern said.

“We can use context specific sayings like ‘two god’s heads cannot fit in the same pot,’ to start conversations which challenge the way people think about gender roles and decision-making. And we can also look at ways to make use of idioms that support gender equality, and to counter the idea that equality somehow runs counter to cultural norms and values.”

“We can look at how to better incorporate Rwandan values of reconciliation and community mobilization, and how gender equality is related to, and can complement those same values.”

Similarly, the green in the Rwandan flag is meant to represent progress, prosperity and development.

“We’re keen to use that as a way to open discussions on the economic costs of violence against women and girls,” Stern said, which is a theme of Component 2 of What Works. “Preventing gender-based violence is good for development, and by reducing those costs has benefits for the community and broader society.”

“It’s interesting because in the training it seemed that couples were quite open to work on issues related directly to physical violence, but it can be harder to work on issues related to more subtle forms of gender inequality, like sharing household duties or equal decision-making. Using the right metaphors and idioms can be helpful to initiate such conversations, grapple with challenges, and frame issues in a way that stresses the benefits for everyone, men and women, that comes from gender equality.”


Erin Stern, Study Coordinator of What Works Impact Evaluation of Indashyikirwa, on preventing GBV and building healthy relationships in families

A few weeks ago, on Friday 4 December 2015, a swathe of people decked out in orange – the colour of hope and the theme colour for the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women in Rwanda – made their way through the Northern Rwandan town of Musanze, clapping, dancing and chanting songs to the string and bow of the umuduri, calling for an end to gender-based violence. They had all come to be a part of the official launch of Indashyikirwa, a DFID-funded project designed to empower women and engage men, to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG).

Indashyikirwa – which means agents of change –is a three-year project, coordinated by CARE Rwanda, Rwanda Men’s Resource Center (RWAMREC) and Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN), which is giving couples and opinion leaders special training to challenge the attitudes, norms and practices that catalyse violence in relationships. Couples are given relationship skills and will be taught and supported by RWAMREC to act as community mobilisers and ‘change agents.’ Indashyikirwa also supports the Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN) to create support spaces for women in the response sector, and conduct training and advocacy work around VAWG prevention with key opinion leaders. An evaluation of the programme is being funded and conducted by What Works, to ascertain what elements are successful and could be replicated elsewhere.

One couple who have completed two sessions of the Indashyikirwa couples curriculum spoke out at the launch; “It is a beautiful gift you gave to me. It has started to bring change in my family because of the take home reflections. We need to take home and practice what we have been talking about in the sessions,” the wife said.

Her husband added: “I was coming every day late at home, even 11 pm. I didn’t care. But now I have learned how to come home earlier because I know that it’s important for the family. Now the children start to get used to me because I am coming home earlier, and I have more time with them. I am happy because of trainings I am getting. And now I am participating in different work at home because I came home earlier. I am sure that many things will come with the future sessions.”

In response, Richard Badacoka of the Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN), emphasized how “Indashyikirwa is a three-year project, you can see in less than a month of starting, we already have these testimonies. Slowly we will have something great.” Richard Badacoka was the Master of Ceremony of the Launch, and opened with a reflection on the theme of the 16 days of Activism for Rwanda, which was to take the roots out of gender-based violence (GBV) from the ground up. Other presenters at the launch included the Representative of the Executive Secretary of Gacaca Sector, Hakizimana Innocent, the Director of CARE Rwanda, Bena Musembi, the Executive Secretary of RWAMREC, Eduouard Munyamaliza, and the Director of RWN, Mary Balikungeri.

Clementine Uwimpaye, a representative of the women’s council in Gacaca Sector, who had also just completed a 10-day opinion leader Indashyikirwa curriculum facilitated by RWN, spoke out: “We have started the journey, we can say that we need to be examples as opinion leaders as others will see what we do, the change within us, which will help people to change because we have started by ourselves.”

The Head of DFID Rwanda, Laure Beaufils, also spoke about how addressing GBV is one of DFID’s top priorities because “it is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development. Gender-based violence has tremendous costs to communities, nations, societies, families, public well-being, health and safety, school education, productivity, law enforcement, national and local budgets and programmes. This will provide evidence which can be used to support decisions on whether and how to scale up the programme in other parts of Rwanda.”

The Representative of Musanze District, Martin Nitrenganya added, “a family which has violence can never develop”. He applauded the efforts of Indashyikirwa and urged the community to take advantage of “this blessing we have received. Let us please take it with two hands and try to take care of it because it is a precious gift…let’s take proper efforts in building healthy relationships in our families.”

The Representative from the Ministry of Gender, Marie Claire Uwaamahoro, further discussed how “Indashyikirwa will be focusing on how we can balance our power, the root cause of quarrels in the family, which is very special for this project.” She emphasized how ending GBV is everyone’s responsibility: “let’s all put together men and women, boys and girls to take out the root of GBV. And together we will achieve something big.” After such encouraging and committed speeches from this diverse range of beneficiaries and stakeholders, many people came together to sing and dance to officially close the Indashyikirwa launch.


Component 2 of the What Works programme specifically focuses on VAWG in conflict and humanitarian crises.

This study uses the 2005 Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings as a tool to assess how the humanitarian sector met the needs of women and girls in the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. It specifically looks at how prevention and mitigation of VAWG were carried out in the early phase of the emergency response and investigates the effectiveness of deploying gender-based violence experts to assist with mainstreaming VAWG prevention and response activities across the humanitarian response. It also links to the revised Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action, published in September 2015, with recommendations for implementation, funding, research, and more.

It can be accessed here. You can also access the Policy brief: Responding to Typhoon Haiyan here.


A video produced by the What Works-funded Change Starts at Home project, to commemorate the 2015 International Day to End Violence Against Women and Girls, as part of the #16 Days of Activism. Change Starts at Home is a project working in Nepal to prevent violence against women and girls. Here, couples speak openly about what defines violence, for them, and why it has no place in Nepalese society.

Watch the video here.


This International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women, the What Works global programme created a short film to celebrate the people around the world working in the field, asking people to join in a global conversation on What Works to prevent violence from happening. The two-minute short is made with researchers from around the world, who were each asked what their perfect world looks like. Watch the video here. Join the conversation and discuss with us how we can all contribute towards making this perfect world a reality, via @WhatWorksVAWG and the #perfectworld.


This paper outlines our current knowledge base regarding the issue of VAWG and identifies where the evidence base needs to be expanded in order to inform more sophisticated interventions and make a real impact on the prevalence of VAWG globally. It highlights the implications of this knowledge for prevention interventions and points to how information can be used to drive current policies and programmes as well as future research endeavours.

Access the full paper here.