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Violence against women is endemic. According to the UN, worldwide, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. Although gender-based violence disproportionately affects women and girls, it also affects men and boys and those with diverse sexual and gender identities.

A new report by Christian Aid lays the blame for gender-based violence squarely at the door of gender inequality and patriarchal norms. Gender-based Violence Programming in Contexts Affected by Violence & Conflict showcases the innovative work being done by Christian Aid and its partners to tackle the problem in five countries affected by war and conflict.

The report explains that gender-based violence increases during times of war and conflict, aggravated by factors such as the expectation that men will take up arms, and the adoption of military tactics that deliberately target women in order to disrupt community cohesion.

Practical guide for programmes

The Christian Aid paper identifies a dearth of guidance for practitioners working to reduce gender-based violence, especially in conflict-affected regions. It sets out seven guiding principles to ensure programmes are sensitive and effective, and includes an analysis model, summarised below, to help identify the factors which contribute to GBV:

  • Individual level: gender; age; disability; level of education
  • Relationship level: violent parenting practises; unequal decision-making; marital discord
  • Community level: unequal access to employment or resources; the local drug or sex trade
  • Societal level: a weak justice system; patriarchal norms; gender inequality

The findings are based on a literature review, country visits, focus group discussions, interviews and a conference held in Dublin last December. The researchers chose a range of situations in which gender-based violence occurs: humanitarian crises in DRC and Myanmar; political and economic violence in Zimbabwe and Colombia; and social and gang violence in Nicaragua.


In Nicaragua, the report found that 29% of women aged 15-49 had experienced some form of physical or sexual violence during their lifetime. Researchers conducting focus groups found that women, as well as men, held the view that the 'ideal man' was 'head of the family' and 'allowed to beat his partner'. One interviewee described the situation as worse today than during the violent conflict of the 1980s, citing the high murder rate of women, the rise of male-dominated narco-trafficking gang culture, and restrictions on women's access to reproductive healthcare.

In response, Christian Aid partners are challenging this aggressive masculinity by delivering safe, male-only workshops, led by experienced facilitators, in which men are challenged on their attitudes towards violence against women and invited to embrace alternative masculinities and gender-equal relationships.

Bayardo Fargas a former drug dealer in Nicaragua is now a family man.

Further south, in Colombia, the 2016 peace agreement legally ended the 52-year civil war that had claimed 222,000 lives. The women's movement and other civil society organisations scored an important victory by ensuring that the peace deal did not grant amnesty for crimes of sexual violence.

Christian Aid supports its partner, Sisma Mujer, one of the leading feminist organisations in the country, to work with women survivors of sexual violence, offering counselling and psychosocial support, and accompanying them through the judicial process.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Rwandan genocide in 1994 had a devastating effect on the DRC, plunging the country into decades of conflict and violence. Bitter fighting has continued with the emergence of various armed groups and widespread violence including mass rapes and killings. An attack in April 2016 by one of the armed groups, Raia Mutomboki, resulted in the kidnap of 55 people, among whom 18 women and girls were subjected to rape and sexual assault.

Add to this the incidence of non-conflict-related GBV and the picture gets even worse. In one region of DRC, 31% of women had experienced physical violence in the previous twelve months and 18% had experienced sexual violence during the same period.

Survivors of sexual violence are further victimised by the strong stigma attached to rape and its reporting to police, with the result that most perpetrators go unpunished. And such shame attaches to rape that survivors are often rejected by their families.

Christian Aid's partner organisation in DRC, SARCAF, is directly assisting survivors of gender-based violence. Twelve centres have been established where GBV prevention and response work is carried out. 1250 survivors have received support - psychosocial, legal and financial which is helping survivors not only to work through their trauma but also enabling them to gain some initial economic independence to re-build their lives. Through this approach, SARCAF is enabling survivors to reintegrate into their families and communities. SARCAF is also providing human rights training to police.

Lucienne was disabled at 16 years of age, due to conflict in DRC, and, as such is vulnerable to sexual attacks by soldiers and militia.

In Myanmar, the incidence of GBV is highest in the conflict-affected regions of Kachin and Rakhine. The report found that just 2% of survivors pursue legal redress and just 4% opt to access health services. Women feel especially insecure in camps due to a lack of privacy. A Christian Aid programme supports internally displaced people residing in camps by training civilian protection monitors (civilians who work to prevent violence) on the gendered impact of conflict, framing GBV as a violation of human rights. Community sector organisations have emerged which are supporting women to report GBV, gathering evidence in cases of trafficking, and ensuring women can access healthcare.


In Zimbabwe, the report found that 15% of women aged 15-49 had experienced physical violence during the past year. After independence, the situation worsened because the conflict over land between black men and white male land-owners reinforced the conservative gender regime.
This was not helped by customary law (unofficial law based on traditional beliefs) which runs parallel to constitutional law and is generally discriminatory against women. And although there is a law against domestic violence, there is a social stigma against reporting it with women who report being perceived as undermining their husbands.

Reflecting the important role played by the church in shaping public opinion in Zimbabwe, Christian Aid has partnered with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) to engage on these issues. ZCC member churches are now participating in social media campaigns and committing to end GBV. For the first time, the church's voice has been heard to say an unequivocal no to violence perpetrated by men against women. And a Christian Aid partner, Padare works at Harare Central Prison engaging with perpetrators, challenging them to adopt non-violent masculinities.

Meanwhile, LGBTQI relationships have been criminalised in Zimbabwe where hate speech, beatings, arbitrary arrest and even 'corrective' rape are rife. In Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, a feminist collective, welcomes lesbian and bisexual women and trans-identifying individuals. Called Voice of the Voiceless, VOVO it is documenting human rights violations; providing a safe space for marginalised communities; and delivering training to women's organisations and legal and medical professionals.


The paper found that:

  1. Gender-based violence is caused by gender inequality and patriarchal norms.
  2. The experience of survivors of gender-based violence should be reflected in programme design.
  3. It is important to work with men to challenge their attitudes and adopt new masculinities.
  4. Women must be central to peace processes and conflict reduction programmes.
  5. Faith leaders should be engaged as change agents.

Although men are more likely to die as a direct result of war, gender-based violence often intensifies for women and girls during times of conflict. This new paper by Christian Aid showcases the important work being done to tackle gender-based violence in five countries so that aid workers can better understand its root causes, identify risk factors and employ better methodologies for dealing with the problem.

First published 29 August 2018: Reliefweb

Unequal distribution of power is at the heart of poverty. And one of the most pervasive inequalities in the world is that between women and men.
A rape survivor and her children in DRC.