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'One in three is far too many': Ending gender-based violence around the world through response and prevention

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You can’t send me to jail. You can’t prove that baby is mine.

That is what the man who raped Ikitegetse Liliane would say to her every time he saw her around their neighborhood. Liliane was 17 when the man who lived nearby, in Huye, Rwanda, forced her to have sex. She soon discovered she was pregnant. She told her mother everything and they went to a local government-run One Stop Center where gender-based violence survivors can seek medical, legal and psycho-social support. But Liliane’s case didn’t go anywhere. She felt powerless.

Things changed when a community volunteer with the Pact-led ACHIEVE project learned about Liliane. ACHIEVE uses a case management approach that Pact employs around the world to support orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in order to fight gender-based violence, poverty, HIV and other social challenges. Liliane’s ACHIEVE case manager immediately set to work on a comprehensive plan to support her. She connected Liliane with counseling and prenatal care. Together they went to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau in Huye, where Liliane gave a detailed statement.

Police are now set to take a DNA sample from her baby once it is born as a final piece of evidence before her attacker goes to trial. Liliane’s ACHIEVE case manager will be there to support her through it all, and Liliane says she feels in control of her life again.

Gender-based violence — harmful acts against an individual based on their gender — is a social problem that affects women and girls around the world. It is among the most common human rights violations, with an estimated one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetime, often at the hands of an intimate partner or relative. GBV takes many forms including physical, sexual, emotional and child abuse, and it is universally under-reported. It can result in emotional trauma, physical injuries, sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, unwanted pregnancies and worse.

“And the effects of GBV extend beyond survivors to families, communities, economies and societies at large,” says Alison Koler, Pact’s technical advisor for OVC and social welfare systems strengthening. “Girls and women’s rights are human rights, and when these rights are violated, this undermines progress made across many other spheres.”

During crises such as war or displacement, the threat of GBV significantly increases for women and girls. Indeed, during the Covid-19 pandemic, GBV has intensified around the world, into a so-called shadow pandemic, with record demand for services such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, according to UN Women data.

Although its specific circumstances and impacts vary across cultures, all GBV is rooted in gender inequality.

“It’s about systemic, historical power differences between women and men,” says Zwakele Dlamini, Pact’s OVC technical lead in Eswatini, “including patriarchal stereotypes and traditional gender roles.”

The key to stopping GBV is two-fold: Communities must effectively respond to GBV so that survivors report it and perpetrators are held accountable, and communities must work to prevent GBV by advancing gender equality and changing harmful social norms. Pact’s programming is doing this around the world, from Africa to Europe to Latin America.

“One in three is far too many,” Dlamini says. “We are working for zero.”

Globally, an estimated 736 million women have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life.

Fewer than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.

15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15 to 19 years, have experienced forced sex.

Source: UN Women


Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean

Much of Pact’s work to stop gender-based violence is closely linked to our work to stop HIV, as GBV is a significant driver of HIV. This is especially true among two key groups: OVC and adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). Across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, Pact and our partners are focusing our efforts on these groups. This programming includes ACHIEVE as well as the Pact-led Kizazi Kipya project in Tanzania, Government Capacity Building Support project in South Africa, Insika ya Kusasa in Eswatini and the Community HIV Prevention Program in Zambia, all funded by USAID and PEPFAR.

To prevent GBV, Pact engages girls, boys, women and men in discussions directly related to GBV, covering topics including gender roles and norms and unequal power relations. Such dialogues might take place during a savings and lending WORTH group meeting or another group forum. Pact helps young adolescent girls and boys build a better understanding of healthy relationships and sexual consent, and we equip community and religious leaders with knowledge and skills around sexual violence prevention. Young boys in several countries have completed the evidenced-based curriculum Coaching Boys into Men, which teaches them the importance respecting themselves and others, particularly women and girls.

“Harmful gender norms are deeply rooted and often institutionalized. Reinforcing positive social norms and promoting empowerment of women and girls isn’t done through one conversation or one radio show—it requires integrated approaches that engage people repeatedly, and it takes time.” —Pact's Alison Koler

In Eswatini and Zambia, Pact implements DREAMS programming, which works to reduce new HIV infections, unwanted pregnancy and GBV among AGYW by addressing many causes of their vulnerability. These include systemic factors such as exclusion from economic opportunities. DREAMS layers multiple interventions at once so that AGYW are surrounded by critical support to help them reduce their vulnerability to GBV and HIV. DREAMS also trains adolescent boys and young men as anti-GBV champions.

To build effective responses to GBV, Pact trains community cadres to identify potential cases of GBV, refer and escort survivors to emergency health and police services, and promote uptake of comprehensive services such as psychosocial and legal support. Pact has helped strengthen GBV service delivery in government-run One Stop Centers in several countries as well as coordination among stakeholders through local protection committees.

“At the household level, our caseworkers help families understand what GBV is, what services are available for survivors and why it is important to report it. We also do this in small group sessions and via media like radio. We work with local leaders to get them to share this information with their communities, too. We teach girls how to forcefully and effectively say no to unwanted sex, and we improve services for GBV survivors. We advocate for justice for survivors until perpetrators are prosecuted. We push when no one else does.” —Zwakele Dlamini, about Pact's Insika Ya Kusasa project in Eswatini


Ukraine and Colombia

In Ukraine, two-thirds of women say they’ve experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or non-partner since the age of 15, according to the 2018 OSCE-led Survey on the Well-being and Safety of Women. Women who took part in the survey said they believe that Ukraine is a society where women are restricted in their choices and behavior, and more than half say their friends would agree that “it is important for a man to show his wife or partner who the boss is.” Nearly one in five believe that sexual intercourse without consent is justified in a marriage or between partners who live together.

Alyona Gerasimova, Pact’s Ukraine country director, lists some of the root causes of GBV in Ukraine: Patriarchal stereotypes. Insufficient education on topics such as gender equality, especially for young people. A lack of GBV prevention programs. Economic insecurity among women – especially rural and marginalized women – and their resulting financial dependence on men.

Gerasimova leads two programs that are working to change this, both funded by Global Affairs Canada. Under the Women of Ukraine project, Pact is strengthening the capacities of Ukrainian women’s rights organizations, including their abilities to prevent and respond to GBV. So far, Pact has trained 180 representatives from its network of nearly 80 local women’s right organizations. Through a sub-grant program, the project has provided funding to local organizations to provide psychological and legal counseling services for GBV survivors, to develop and distribute printed and online GBV prevention materials, to train public servants on GBV prevention and to develop local GBV prevention programs.

In response to an increase in domestic violence cases during Covid-19 lockdowns, Pact and its partners supported four regional violence helplines. The Women of Ukraine project has reached more than 1,800 women with GBV services and provided grants to support 115 anti-GBV initiatives.

“As elsewhere in the world, lockdowns and quarantines in Ukraine led to spikes in GBV cases. Women and their partners spent more time locked together, lots of people lost jobs and levels of stress were high.” —Pact’s Alyona Gerasimova

Pact’s WINGS project is focused on women’s economic empowerment, including an information campaign aimed at shifting attitudes about patriarchal stereotypes, carried out in 20 localities via posters, social media, newspapers, television and radio.

In Colombia, under the Conectando Caminos por los Derechos project, Pact and its partners are working to prevent GBV against migrant women, children and LGBTI people, and to protect victims and support response when human rights violations occur. Last year, the project's efforts included documentation of GBV against migrant women, direct services for LGBTI migrants, psychosocial support, care for pregnant and breastfeeding women, capacity building workshops for local organizations, trainings for public officials and GBV prevention campaigns.



In Somalia, women and girls are often not able to exercise their fundamental rights. When it comes to justice, they are usually barred from addressing formal courts directly, and local norms support the interests of the male-dominated community. This problem stands out particularly in cases of GBV. The reality that many women are unable to achieve fair outcomes is often what drives them and their families to seek redress in al Shabaab-administered courts, legitimizing an extremist group that only further victimizes and disenfranchises women and girls.

Among other goals, the Pact-led Expanding Access to Justice project works to change harmful gender norms in Somalia and improve access to justice and security for women to discourage GBV and reliance on al Shabaab justice. The project supports women as key contributors in shaping justice services and laws, empowering them in the legal system and in wider society. EAJ ensures meaningful participation by women in local Access to Justice Committees, trains women as justice promoters and mentors justice providers such as judges to ensure that women are heard.

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation and make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded.” —Jamila Mahad, Somali activist who works with the EAJ project

The project also provides direct legal support to survivors of GBV through trained justice promoters who act as case managers to ensure better outcomes. Last year, EAJ justice promoters identified and handled more than 1,000 cases.