- Costs and consequences of GBV
- Female infanticide
- Harmful traditional practices
- Domestic violence
- Sexual violence
- Human trafficking
- Addressing GBV
- Further resources
Gender based violence (GBV) is violence targeted at individuals or groups on the basis of their gender. While research suggests that a significant proportion of women worldwide will at some point in their lives experience GBV, the extent to which men and boys are affected is unknown. An associated form of violence is Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), which is directed specifically at females.
GBV is often divided into two interlinked categories, interpersonal and structural/institutional violence. Interpersonal violence refers to an act of economic, sexual, psychological or other violence perpetrated by an individual against another individual. Structural/institutional violence refers to ‘any form of structural inequality or institutional discrimination that maintains a person in a subordinate position, whether physical or ideological, to other people within her family, household or community’ (Manjoo 2011). Both types involve the prioritisation of hegemonic masculinities above the rights of other gendered identities, including women’s.
GBV is manifested through a multitude of actions, including forced marriage of young girls, trafficking in persons, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), female infanticide, male rape, purdah, violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, sexual violence, verbal abuse and laws and regulations that limit women’s and girls’ rights and access to services in relation to men’s. These practices are not only violations of the human rights of the individuals affected, but are also an instrumentalist approach to sustain the status quo and the hierarchy of gender identities. Women living in poverty are particularly vulnerable, as they face high levels of structural violence, including difficulty accessing health and legal services needed to address the effects of interpersonal GBV.
Programmatic responses to GBV cannot be considered in isolation from the context of individuals, households, communities or states: GBV is part of a continuum of violence and impacts the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of those affected. Approaches to address GBV have included justice-based approaches, health-based approaches and programmes that aim to change social norms both for women and men. Experience shows that these interventions may be directly followed by increased levels of violence directed at women and girls. This must not be viewed as a failure of the intervention, but may signal that it has targeted the core of the power structure. In this context, male backlash is a reaction of patriarchal attitudes sensing a threat to their existing power.
Manjoo, R. (2011). ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences’, Human Rights Council, Seventeenth session, 2 May 2011
This report analyses the causes and consequences of multiple forms of discrimination as regards violence against women. It also considers inter-gender and intra-gender differences, arguing that a one-size-fits-all programmatic approach is insufficient for combating gender-based violence. A holistic approach is critical for addressing the interconnections between violence against women, its causes and consequences, and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.
Duncan, B., Sommarin, C., Brandt, N., Aden, A. D., Briones, C., Barragues, A., & Ringhofer, L. (2013). Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women: A Call to Action Based on an Overview of Existing Evidence from Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Culture Health and Sexuality, 15(Suppl 3), S351-S364.
Which types of violence do indigenous women face? This comprehensive UN report examines the historical, political, economic, social and cultural contexts of indigenous peoples. Indigenous women experience intersectional discrimination, and there is strong evidence that they face a higher prevalence of violence, harmful practices, labour exploitation, and harassment, and are more vulnerable to sexual violence in armed conflicts. The report represents a systematic desk review of quantitative and qualitative sources spanning 2000 to 2013. Kenya, Guatemala and the Philippines are case studies.
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Fulu, E., Warner, X., Miedema, S., Jewkes, R., Roselli, T. and Lang, J. (2013). Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Summary Report of Quantitative Findings from the United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok: UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV.
This paper takes the approach that the elimination of harmful gender norms and practices can only be achieved through the engagement of men and boys. Understanding men’s own diverse experiences, within the context of deep-rooted patriarchal systems and structures that enable men to assert power and control over women, will help target the underlying drivers of violence against women and girls to stop violence before it starts. From 2010 to 2013, over 10,000 men were interviewed on men’s perpetration and experiences of violence, as well as men’’s other life experiences. The regional analysis found that overall nearly half of those men reported using physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner, ranging from 26 percent to 80 percent across the sites. Nearly a quarter of men interviewed reported perpetrating rape against a woman or girl, ranging from 10 percent to 62 percent across the sites.
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Costs and consequences of GBV
Gender-based violence has significant impact at the individual level, with victims suffering from physical and mental effects, loss of earnings and increased healthcare costs. It also has a wider societal impact, including lower productivity and thus reduced economic output and growth, and increased pressure on social and health services. Quantifying the cost of GBV in terms of human suffering and economic indicators is difficult: its hidden nature makes prevalence hard to establish. A number of methodologies have been developed, each of which offers both strengths and weaknesses, and these need to be assessed on a case by case basis.
Estimating all costs (including the intangible psychological costs) can help ensure that GBV is ranked equitably in terms of investment when it comes to resource allocation and priority-setting within countries. Quantifying the costs of GBV also validates victims’ experiences and shows that their suffering ‘counts for something’ in society.
ICRW. (n.d). ‘Estimating the Costs and Impacts of Intimate Partner Violence in Developing Countries A Methodological Resource Guide’, International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), Washington DC
ICRW conducted a pilot study in 2006 to develop a methodology to estimate costs and impacts of intimate partner violence. The pilot was conducted in Bangladesh, Morocco and Uganda. This guide provides the details of how to perform such a study, as well as a literature review.
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Female infanticide is an extreme form of GBV, encompassing actions such as aborting female foetuses and killing girl babies. This practice is particularly common in India and China, where millions of girls and women are now ‘missing’ (ActionAid and IDRC, 2008). Parents in these countries are under pressure to produce male heirs to guard the family line. Families tend to see their girl children as burdens, particularly if dowry is required.
Skewed sex ratios in India and China have led to an increased number of young men of marriageable age unable to find a female partner. This has resulted in an increase in the trade of brides both internally and internationally. It has also contributed to women being trafficked into these areas to act as wives.
ActionAid and International Development Research Centre (IDRC). (2008). ‘Disappearing Daughters’, ActionAid, London
What is the impact of sex-selective abortion and discrimination against girls on sex ratios in India and what are the solutions? The prevalence of ultrasound technology, coupled with long-term problems of discrimination against girls, means that up to 35 million women are now ‘missing’ in India. Further, the number of girls born and surviving compared to boys under the age of six in Northern India is far below normally expected ratios and continues to slide. The Indian government needs to address underlying problems that lead Indian families, regardless of their class or caste standing, to prefer sons to daughters.
Mahalingam, R., & Wachman, M. (2012). Female Feticide and Infanticide: Implications for Reproductive Justice. In Joan C. Chrisler (Ed.) Reproductive Justice: A Global Concern, 251-268.
This chapter examines son preference and neglect of girls through the lens of reproductive justice (women’s rights to make decisions on their reproductive health). It reviews the literature on infanticide, with a focus on India. Then it reviews the implications for reproductive justice and finally looks at possible forms of combating sex-selection. The chapter argues that sex discrimination is a result of a confluence of cultural, ecological and social factors. Communities which idealise beliefs about masculinity and femininity adversely affect women’s social mobility and wellbeing, and contribute to the sex trade, kidnapping and trafficking of women.
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Harmful traditional practices
Harmful traditional practices (HTPs), such as female genital mutilation/cutting, early and forced marriage, polygamy and purdah, are practiced in many communities. These practices are primarily directed at girls and women. HTPs stem from deeply entrenched social, economic and political structures, and are tools used to control the lives of girls and women, limiting their independence and future opportunities. While associated with patriarchal norms, both women and men carry out HTPs. Women’s participation in these practices must be viewed within the social convention which dictates that these practices must be followed to be part of the community. Women and girls themselves may therefore opt for, or put their children through, these practices despite knowing the risks. Not doing so would mean a lifetime of stigma and rejection by the community.
HTPs, such as FGM/C and early and forced marriage, have grave consequences for girls who are subjected to them. They are practices to control girls’ and women’s sexuality. Large age gaps within marriage further contribute to abusive power dynamics and interpersonal violence. The age difference between young women and their male partners is also a significant HIV risk factor, partly due to biological reasons (immature cervixes are thought to increase vulnerability to HIV) and to older partners being more likely to have a longer sexual history, increasing the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Initial approaches to addressing FGM/C emphasised the dangers that girls were exposed to by undergoing the procedure. One of the unintended consequences of this approach has been the increased medicalisation of the practice. While this has reduced the likelihood of girls contracting infections and dying of haemorrhaging, it has not changed the grave medical problems associated with the procedure later in life. Nor has it changed the underlying social norms that control the sexuality of girls and women. Approaches that target whole communities to promote human rightsbased social norms have proved more successful, but have not completely eradicated HTPs.
Goonesekere, S. (2009). ‘Harmful Traditional Practices in Three Countries of South Asia: Culture, Human Rights and Violence against Women’, Gender and Development Discussion Paper, no. 21, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
How can research, advocacy, and legal reform reverse social acceptance of practices that violate the human rights of women and girls? This paper explores these issues through case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It finds that harmful practices have evolved from originally nonharmful colonial, religious and cultural traditions. Combating the entrenched social norms that promote these practices requires a comprehensive, human rights-based approach.
Lee-Rife, S., Malhotra, A., Warner, A., & Glinski, A. M. (2012). What works to prevent child marriage: A review of the evidence. Studies in family planning,43(4), 287-303.
This peer-reviewed journal article presents an overview of the types of programmes which work to prevent child marriage. The authors review 23 programmes in low-income countries, providing an assessment of implementation, evaluation, how robust the evaluations are, and the main findings. The evidence suggests that programmes offering incentives and attempting to empower girls can be effective in preventing child marriage and can foster change relatively quickly. It is unclear whether these effects last in the long-term.
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Boyden, J., Pankhurst, A., & Tafere, Y. (2012). Child protection and harmful traditional practices: female early marriage and genital modification in Ethiopia. Development in Practice, 22(4), 510-522.
This article draws on qualitative data from the longitudinal Young Lives study, from five sites in Ethiopia. It suggests that there has been progress on changing attitudes towards FGM and early marriage, but that they persist in many communities and at the behest of men, women and girls. These practices are socially accepted and provide girls with a safe transition to adulthood and protection from social risks. This suggests that policy-makers need to pay more attention to the socio-cultural and economic context, and to engage with the complexities of change.
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Svanemyr, J., Chandra-Mouli, V., Christiansen, C. S., & Mbizvo, M. (2012). Preventing Child Marriages: First International day of the Girl Child ‘My Life, My Right, End Child Marriage’. Reproductive health, 9(1), 31.
What is the current situation of child marriage? This journal article provides a brief overview of child marriage and links to further articles and organisations working on this issue. The highest rates of child marriage are in West Africa, followed by South Asia. It has declined over time, but not to a significant extent. Adolescent pregnancy is particularly dangerous for both mothers and children. Child marriage is exacerbated by poverty.
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Godha, D., Hotchkiss, D. R., & Gage, A. J. (2013). Association Between Child Marriage and Reproductive Health Outcomes and Service Utilization: A Multi-country Study from South Asia. Journal of Adolescent Health, 52(5), 552-558.
How does child marriage affect fertility, fertility control, and maternal health care use outcomes? This peer-reviewed article uses data from the Demographic and Health Surveys for India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. The results suggest that child marriage is significantly associated with a history of rapid repeat childbirth, current modern contraceptive use, female sterilization, not using contraception before first childbirth, pregnancy termination, unintended pregnancy, and inadequate use of maternal health services, although the associations are not always consistent across countries. Furthermore, women who married in early adolescence or childhood show a higher propensity toward most of the negative outcomes, compared with women who married in middle adolescence. Child marriage leads to poor fertility control and low uptake of maternal health services.
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Berg, R. C., & Denison, E. (2012). Interventions to Reduce the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in African Countries. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 9, 155.
This systematic review provides a comprehensive overview of the effectiveness of interventions to reduce FGM/C. It reviews eight studies. The studies provide only weak evidence on what works, as the studies’ validity was questionable. The authors draw tentative conclusions that the main factors that supported FGM/C were tradition, religion, and reduction of women’s sexual desire. The main factors that hindered FGM/C were medical complications and prevention of sexual satisfaction. All of the interventions were based on a theory that dissemination of information improves cognitions about FGM/C, but the interventions’ success was contingent upon a range of contextual factors.
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Domestic violence is primarily thought to affect women, girls and boys, although men are also victims. Forms of domestic violence can include physical violence, sexual violence, economic control, and psychological violence. Prevalence is difficult to assess because of significant underreporting among both male and female victims. Domestic violence is a tool to assert control in the household, but certain risk factors have been identified which increase the likelihood of victimisation. Children who grow up witnessing domestic abuse are more likely to become victims themselves (girls) or perpetrators (boys). There are also some links between low self-esteem among women, often related to low socioeconomic status, young age and low education levels, and victimisation. Male substance abuse has also been identified as a trigger factor for domestic violence. In some societies, such as in South Asia, extreme cases of domestic violence include acid attacks, resulting in burns that can be fatal.
Legislation and services to address domestic violence have often been neglected by policymakers. Following obligations stemming from CEDAW, many countries now have laws in place which criminalise domestic violence against women and children. However, it is difficult to uphold the law in contexts where reporting rates are low. Further, in the face of a number of pressing development issues such as poverty and unemployment, domestic violence is often not considered a priority. Many individuals may also not be aware that there are laws explicitly criminalising domestic violence. Civil society monitoring and awareness raising is thus crucial to ensure that domestic violence laws are upheld, legislation is made more effective and the government is held to account.
WHO/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. (2010). ‘Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence against Women – Taking action and Generating Evidence’, World Health Organisation: Geneva
This report argues for a public health approach to intimate partner and sexual violence that emphasises primary prevention, where issues are tackled at the wider societal level and before they occur. While further research is required on effective public health strategies, it is only by taking action and generating evidence that intimate partner and sexual violence will be prevented.
World Health Organization. (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence. World Health Organization.
WHO takes a public health approach to violence against women. This report provides the first global systematic review on the global prevalence of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either or both forms of violence, mostly IPV. This violence has significant repercussions on women’s health, for example low birth weight babies, abortions, depression, and increased risk of HIV. The report recommends approaches which empower women and address structural gender inequalities, as well as services for victims of violence.
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Sexual violence is perpetrated by and against both men and women. It is a strategy used to assert power over the victim and to cause long-term suffering for the victim by turning an experience that should be associated with pleasure into one associated with harm. While research has shown that sexual violence against women perpetrated by men is widely practiced, less is known about the prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated against men and women’s roles as perpetrators.
Sexual violence is a broad term used to define violence of a sexual nature in all areas of life, including in the home, workplace and in the public sphere. It includes marital rape, ‘corrective rape’ aimed at ‘converting’ lesbian women, sexual harassment, commercial sexual exploitation (primarily of women and children), and sexual assault.
Sexual violence is often part of the strategy in violent conflicts, as acknowledged by the UNSCR 1325. The consequences for victims include undermined confidence, physical disabilities, stigma and shame. Sexual violence also puts women at increased risk of HIV/AIDS.
Dartnall, E., & Jewkes, R. (2013). Sexual Violence Against Women: The Scope of the Problem. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology,27(1), 3-13.
What is the state of the evidence on global sexual violence against women?. The focus is on prevalence estimates on rape and sexual abuse, from peacetime or post-conflict settings. The paper also outlines some of the challenges of researching sexual violence, particularly under-reporting due to stigma and shame. Rapes mostly occur within intimate relationships and often co-occur with other forms of violence. Sexual violence is prevalent across all societies and social strata. Measuring prevalence is important, but there are many difficulties with doing so, including under-reporting, different definitions, and cultural beliefs, making it difficult to devise appropriate responses.
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For further discussion and resources on sexual violence in situations of violent conflict, see ‘Sexual Violence’ in the chapter on ‘Gendered impact of violent conflict’ and the sections on ‘Humanitarian interventions’ and ‘Peacekeeping and peace support operations’ in the chapter on ‘Gender and fragile and conflict-affected environments’.
Trafficking in persons is defined by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’. Human trafficking is a gendered form of violence. It is estimated that 55-60 per cent of victims are women and a further 17 per cent girls, while men and boys make up 10 per cent of victims, although patterns differ between regions (UNODC, 2012). Most trafficking is for sexual exploitation and prostitution, where women and girls are the main victims. Other forms of trafficking include forced labour, factory work, begging and forced marriage. Perpetrators of trafficking include both men and women, with studies showing that women dominate or play an important role in trafficking networks in some regions (Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Nigeria).
Demand for sexual services and cheap labour are driving forces for trafficking, while poverty is a major factor in pushing individuals into situations where they are able to be exploited by traffickers. Despite high awareness of trafficking in many regions, individuals continue to migrate internally and internationally in search of better opportunities. Combating trafficking therefore needs to be linked to alternative livelihood strategies. To date, anti-trafficking programmes have focused on: i) prevention (awareness raising and alternative livelihoods); ii) victim support (psychosocial and livelihood); and iii) prosecution (developing legislation, training of judiciary, and legal help to victims).
UNODC. (2012). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Vienna.
This global report is updated every two years. This most recent report provides an overview of patterns and flows of trafficking in persons at global, regional and national levels, based on trafficking cases detected between 2007 and 2010 (or more recently). It covers 132 countries. Although there are significant information gaps, the current state of evidence is relatively robust. In the last few years, the number of trafficked women has declined but the number of girls has risen. Of people prosecuted for trafficking, two-thirds are men, although women’s participation in perpetrating trafficking is higher than for other crimes. Trafficking for forced labour is increasing rapidly. Most trafficking is intra-regional.
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Addressing Gender-based Violence
Addressing gender-based violence (GBV) is not only a human rights principle: states that have ratified CEDAW also have a legal responsibility to address GBV to the best of their capacities (referred to as the due diligence standard). To date, addressing GBV has taken multiple forms, including: legislative and criminal justice responses, measuring incidence and costing of GBV, awareness raising, women’s empowerment programmes, community-based social norm programmes, and health-based interventions. Initiatives to work with men and boys to change their perceptions around women and gender equality have also been tried. While initial evaluations suggest that including men and boys shows promising results, this continues to be a controversial issue among feminists, who fear that it will divert resources away from women and girls.
Multisectoral approaches involving coordinating resources and initiatives across various sectors including security, justice, health and psychosocial services are required, as is the engagement of both government institutions and civil society. Implementation of current laws addressing GBV has been inadequate. This can be attributed to: i) lack of resources; ii) lack of longterm government commitment; iii) gains that are often short lived and fragile; and iv) weak organisational capacity, both in governments and civil society. Given that addressing GBV is about addressing structural gender inequalities and harmful social norms, it will require significant resources and long-term commitment by all stakeholders.
Improved monitoring and evaluation of programmes addressing GBV is needed to ensure accountability of interventions for the targeted populations and continued learning from intended and unintended effects of interventions. Civil society organisations should be actively involved in monitoring government progress and should ensure the state is held accountable if straying off the due diligence standard. Some of the most successful responses to GBV have been driven by feminist and civil society activism.
Sardenberg, C. (2011). ‘What Makes Domestic Violence Legislation More Effective?’ Pathways Policy Paper, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment RPC, Brighton
This paper draws on lessons from Brazil’s Maria da Penha legislation, passed in 2006, and from Bangladesh and Ghana. It argues that women’s organising is vital not only to get laws passed, but also in monitoring their implementation and holding governments to account. The effectiveness of domestic violence legislation depends on: monitoring policies by civil society organisations, appropriate training for all service providers, cross-agency coordination, public support, and adequate budgets at all levels of government.
BRIDGE. (no date). Review of Research on Collective Action and Engaging Men to Tackle Gender Based Violence.
This paper collects and summarises programmes which 1) show how collective forms of agency have made a difference in eliciting positive social change in relation to gender-based violence; and 2) highlight ways in which engaging men and masculinities on gender based violence issues has made a difference. Successful programmes often intertwine both aspects. There are several programmes which are consistently cited as successful and which could act as models elsewhere.
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Weldon, S. L., & Htun, M. (2013). Feminist Mobilisation and Progressive Policy Change: Why Governments Take Action to Combat Violence Against Women. Gender & Development, 21(2), 231-247.
This peer-reviewed article analyses policies on violence against women in 70 countries from 1975 to 2005, to examine what accounts for differences in policy. It discusses findings from a cross-national study of government responsiveness to violence against women The analysis reveals that the most important and consistent factor driving policy change is feminist activism. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.
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Ataya, O. and Usta, J. (2010). ‘Women and Men: Hand in Hand against Violence: Strategies and Approaches to Working with Men and Boys for Ending Violence against Women’, KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation and Oxfam GB
This is a manual for engaging men and boys on issues of GBV in the Arab countries. It explores the main concepts and approaches, maintaining cultural sensitivity. It can be used as a guide for facilitators in providing training on VAW and engaging men in VAW prevention, and may be used as a helpful tool that provides activities and handouts needed to implement orientation and awareness-raising sessions on specific topics related to VAW.
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Heise, L.L. (2011). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIVE Research Consortium.
The review focuses on prevention programmes rather than responses or services, and on research-based evaluations rather than insights from practice. Individual chapters cover: changing gender norms; childhood exposure to violence; excessive alcohol use; women’s economic empowerment; law and justice system reform. Heise summarises the evidence that links each factor with the risk of partner violence as well as the effectiveness of prevention programmes.
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Monitoring and evaluation
Bloom, S. (2008). ‘Violence Against Women and Girls: A Compendium of Monitoring and Evaluation Indicators’, USAID, Washington DC
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Gage, A. J. and Dunn, M. (2010). ‘Monitoring and Evaluating Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Mitigation Programs’, A Facilitator’s Training Guide, MEASURE Evaluation, USAID, IGWG
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Guidance and tools
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2010). ‘Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women’, United Nations, New York
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IASC. (2005). ‘Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings Focusing on Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence in Emergencies’, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Geneva
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