What works to prevent violence against women and girls in conflict and humanitarian crisis: Synthesis brief

This brief was drafted by Maureen Murphy, Tim Hess, Jean Casey and Helena Minchew


Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is an important human rights concern and a pervasive issue affecting women and girls during times of conflict and humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the What Works to Prevent VAWG programme (hereafter What Works) published an evidence brief summarising the existing evidence base on VAWG in these settings. While the brief demonstrated that there is very limited evidence on what works to prevent and respond to VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings, it did highlight key areas of learning and specify what information gaps remain.

These gaps include:

A lack of timely and accurate data on VAWG

While prevalence data is not required in every conflict or humanitarian setting, and should not be a prerequisite for funding VAWG programming, experts did call for more information on types, forms and drivers of VAWG in these settings. The limited data that did exist was often hampered by methodological constraints (e.g. a lack of common definitions of forms of VAWG, differing measurement/recall periods, small sample sizes, etc.), which limited the utility of the data.

A lack of understanding about how armed conflict affects VAWG

While the links between armed conflict and sexual violence were relatively well-documented, there was less evidence on how conflict affected other forms of VAWG, such as intimate partner violence (IPV).

A lack of rigorous evaluations of VAWG prevention and response interventions

There were very few rigorous evaluations that examined the impact of VAWG prevention or response programmes. Of the evaluations that did exist, most were focused on postconflict contexts rather than examining the effectiveness of interventions during conflict itself or in the aftermath of natural disasters. While overall the evidence base is weak, a few key areas stood out as particular gaps. These included the need for:

  • More rigorous reviews of VAWG response programmes to identify best practices and reduce barriers that prevent access to existing services.

  • Further understanding of how economic empowerment and cash transfer programmes affect VAWG outcomes.

  • Evaluations of community-based, multi-component interventions, including approaches that challenge patriarchal gender norms in conflict-settings, to understand impact on VAWG and consolidate best practices.

  • Documentation of effective strategies that help to prevent and improve responses to violence against adolescent girls.

Since the publication of the What Works evidence brief in 2016, researchers and practitioners have continued to conduct research and expand the international community’s knowledge base around VAWG and the effectiveness of programmes that seek to prevent and respond to this violence. These efforts include new results from eight research studies conducted by members of the What Works consortium in various conflict-affected and humanitarian settings. This new brief synthesises the key results of these What Works studies as well as other key findings from contemporaneous research efforts published since 2015 (see Annex 1 for details on the search strategy utilised). It aims to provide an up-to-date resource for practitioners, policymakers and researchers on the state of evidence on VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings.

The first section of the paper summarises new knowledge on the nature of VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings, presenting the findings of research on the prevalence, forms and drivers of different forms of violence in these contexts. The second section reviews what is known about the effectiveness of interventions designed to tackle VAWG in conflict and humanitarian settings, looking at recent evidence on VAWG prevention and then on VAWG response. The final section summarises the conclusions and provides recommendations for future policy, programming and research.

Access "What works to prevent & respond to violence against women and girls in conflict and humanitarian settings?: Evidence brief" here.