Reflections from the world’s premier conference on ending violence against women and violence against children from the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2019
Nearly 800 researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and activists descended on Cape Town, South Africa for the world’s key conference on ending violence against women (VAW), violence against children (VAC) and other forms of violence stemming from gender inequality— the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI)’s biennial forum 21-25 October, 2019. The energy behind the #TimeIsNow movement to end such violence was channeled into themes including social change, linkages between VAW and VAC, importance of scale, the Sustainable Development Goals, new technologies and more. UNICEF was there to share and meet researchers working on both VAC, as well as VAW, and help build bridges between the two communities. On the heels of a packed week, including stimulating research, networking and agenda setting, we asked three of our experts about key takeaways or points of reflection from the forum.
What were our researchers’ takeaways? Read their reflections and cues for next steps:
Manager, Gender and Development Research at UNICEF Innocenti and Co-Chair of the SVRI Leadership Council
- We can prevent violence!: Although many of us have repeated this phrase numerous times, we have often been met with skepticism and occasionally have been concerned ourselves about the feasibility of documenting measurable reductions of the prevalence of violence within our projects’ lifetime. How reassuring, then, to hear that multiple initiatives have been able to decrease levels of violence within reasonable timeframes, as shown by Rachel Jewkes’ presentation summarizing evidence generated by the Global Program “What works to prevent violence against women and girls?” Now we must ensure the evidence is put to good use, with a sense of urgency that is commensurate with the size of the problem. As DFID’s Emily Esplen emphasized in her closing remarks, evidence alone is not enough, “we need to advocate to build outrage.”
- Quality is of the essence: As evidence emerges about effective interventions, it is tempting to want to scale these up, but we must not lose sight of the principles and values that made the methodologies effective in the first place. It was repeatedly emphasized that interventions are highly dependent on the specific activities, quality of the training provided to those who are implementing them and such training requires time and resources, both human and financial. Ellen Bajenja and Tina Musuya made a great presentation highlighting additional insights from the Community for Understanding Scale Up (CUSP), including the need to prioritize accountability to communities.
- Let’s be creative! While we must look for ways to expand and scale up interventions that have been found to be effective, it is crucial that we don’t stymie creativity by over relying in a small number of tried interventions. Donors have a key responsibility to continue to support innovative strategies to end VAW and VAC.
- Ideas that sound good need to be measured. It is always inspiring to meet like-minded researchers who share their hypotheses and research methodologies on reducing VAW and VAC. It is even more inspiring to meet and listen to different practitioners share their experience from specific programs that address issues related to VAW and VAC. However, while attending different panels and sessions, something became clear to me. I heard from quite a few practitioners who questioned the “lengthy” and sometimes cumbersome processes that are involved with evaluations. I left the forum with the realisation of major responsibility for us as researchers to support and engage programs in the use of evidence to inform policies. Evidence improves practice and therefore a win-win situation for programs!
- Voices of researchers in the Global South need to be amplified. Despite specific efforts from SVRI to promote inclusivity, we are still missing sufficient involvement at the forum from practitioners and activists from the Global South. The next stage of evidence generation needs diverse groups of women with research from the Global South collaborating on violence prevention studies. This will improve our state of the evidence with a lens that compares the global vs. local gaze. It is also a good opportunity to learn from each other, regarding our similarities and differences. Several questions come to mind – how similar (or different) is the face of VAW/VAC across the Global South? What tools can we borrow from each other in our fight to unroot the deep-rooted issues that are associated with VAC/VAW?
- We need to invest in social norm transformation. Those who attended or watched the opening plenary may agree with me that it was emotional. Two survivors of intimate partner violence, Josina Machel (Mozambique) and Malebogo (Max) Molefhe (Botswana), shared how they had to fight the system to get the justice they deserved after suffering life-changing injuries from their abusers. According to Josina “Women wake up every day and they’re faced with rape, beatings and PTSD just like soldiers at war.” The need for systems that address gender norm transformation has never been greater. We need to identify how norms that protect VAW/VAC serve or contradict our communities’ values.
Consultant, Social and Economic Policy at UNICEF Innocenti and Research associate professor at the University of North Carolina
- Measurement matters: Maybe it is the data geek in me, but I was quite excited to see a resurgence in thinking about how we can better measure and analyze violence-related outcomes and trajectories. A presentation by Lori Heise stressed that the way we think about program success, relies critically on how we analyze outcome data, what we consider abuse, and if we interrogate how programs affect not only occurrence, but also severity, frequency of violence. There were also intriguing debates around data on couple concordance/discordance of violence reporting, an area which the field is only now starting to grabble with—given an emerging generation of evaluations which have explicitly collected data on couples. I expect lots of innovation in the coming years on measurement, and look forward to new insights gained.
- Going to scale: There was a lot of (welcomed) emphasis on scale, and the need for innovative programming that we not only know works, but that can reach large populations. Some promising examples presented include social protection, school-based programming and mass media or mobile applications – accompanied by the theme of costing from pilot to national scale up. We need more positive examples of programming across different platforms, including within employment (work) based programs, particularly those that are tested with national Governments if we want to leverage economies of scale for prevention efforts. One example of this is the cash transfer and IPV reseach collaborative which Innocenti is part of, which is exploring how to leverage cash transfers at scale for violence reduction.
- All hands on deck: Attending a forum with such a wide diversity of actors, helps us understand that GBV is not an issue for one organization or one set of stakeholders—it is everyone’s issue. If we want to end violence, everyone has a role to play. It is encouraging to see non-traditional fields attending the forum and thinking creatively how GBV mitigation and prevention components can be integrated into sectors as wide ranging as climate change and environmental programming, to sport and social policy. The most exciting work in my opinion comes from inter-disciplinary and inter-sectorial collaborations—I’m looking forward to more of this (and more Economists, Political Scientists and Psychologists attending the forum in two years!).
SVRI 2019 ended with a big bang and left us pondering how to advance gender equality, social justice and violence prevention through research. We feel optimistic that “We know more than before” (Claudia Garcia-Moreno), and that we seem to be “on the cusp of change” (Tina Musuya).
- Bridging the gaps: a global review of intersections of violence against women and violence against children
- Cash Plus Model Improving Adolescent Wellbeing with Evidence
- Breaking the Cycle: Understanding and addressing the intersections of violence against children and violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean