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Coordinated response reflects the reality that different forms of violence against women are connected and thus, can better address them

Last edited: January 14, 2019

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Violence against women is internationally recognised as both a cause and consequence of gender inequality (United Nations General Assembly, 1993), and women’s experience of it is connected to other forms of inequality and discrimination, such as those based on race/ethnicity, age, caste, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, level of resources or disability (United Nations Secretary-General, 2006a).  Evidence shows that the root causes of different forms of violence against women are inter-linked and that it is not uncommon for women to have experienced more than one form of violence (e.g. women who have been infected by HIV through marital rape may also be subject to further abuse by others because of the stigma attached). While the contexts in which violence occurs can vary considerably – whether as part of trafficking, amid conflict, in families, intimate partnerships or stranger attacks – the forms of physical and sexual assault, threats and harassment can be remarkably similar (Kelly, 2000). 

[See Programming Essentials: Forms of violence against women and Causes, protective and risk factors for more information on the types of violence against women and links between them]

The table below illustrates the multiple forms of violence against women and discrimination women and girls may be exposed to throughout their lives.

Violence against women across the life course

Phase

Type

Prenatal

Prenatal sex selection, violence during pregnancy, coerced pregnancy (e.g. rape during war)

Infancy

Female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse

Childhood

Female genital mutilation/cutting; incest and sexual abuse; child prostitution

Adolescence

Dating and courtship violence; sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment; sexual exploitation; prostitution

Reproductive

Intimate partner violence; marital/partner rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner femicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities

Later life

Abuse of widows, elder abuse (which affects mostly women)

Source: Adapted from Heise, L. (1994) Violence Against Women: The Hidden Health Burden, World Bank Discussion Paper, Washington DC: The World Bank. More information is available in English.

One of the primary tasks of coordinated responses is developing a shared understanding of the causes, dynamics and impacts of violence against women to effectively reduce and prevent it. This offers an opportunity for enabling critical links to be made between different forms of violence, locating them as part of the continuum, or spectrum (Kelly, 1988; United Nations Secretary-General, 2006a). 

A coordinated response helps to tackle a common barrier often faced where many agencies focus on single forms of violence, and may work in isolation from those addressing other forms. Similarly, agencies may develop different institutional approaches determined by their own roles and responsibilities, and may be limited in scope and mandate (e.g. working with just children or adults, or focusing just on rape and not sexual harassment or stalking). 

It is vital to recognise the following connections between forms of violence against women in a coordinated response and ensure that they inform the development of policies, service standards and interventions:

?      Unequal gender relations and issues of power and control underpin all forms of violence against women (United Nations General Assembly, 1993), creating the conditions that allow it to take place.  It also contributes to keeping women and girls in unsafe situations with little recourse. For example, a lack of economic opportunities and autonomy (risk factors for experiencing abuse in the first place) are also often cited as reasons why women feel unable to leave violent partners, especially when they have children.  A coordinated response should adopt a gender perspective and seek to tackle violence against women in conjunction with these related socio-economic issues, for example, through ensuring girls complete secondary school, marry voluntarily and have access to economic empowerment opportunities (e.g., employment, credit, vocational skills-building and income generation, etc.).

?      Common myths and stereotypes underpin beliefs about many forms of violence against women, producing many instances of victim/survivor blame and ways in which perpetrators are excused.  By grounding each agency’s response in a common theory of violence, a coordinated response can challenge these misconceptions more comprehensively, showing that it is not the behaviour of women but that of perpetrators that should be under scrutiny. 

?      Women may experience different forms of violence, committed by the same and different perpetrators, over the course of their lifetime (Krug et al., 2002; Johnson et al., 2008).  For example, a woman may experience sexual abuse in childhood, as well as intimate partner violence in adulthood.  Coordinated responses that recognise the possibility of cumulative experiences will be able to respond better to the complex needs of women who are re-victimised. Further, when a woman’s history can be dealt with by a single integrated service, this can be more cost-effective.

?      The majority of abuse is perpetrated by men, especially those with some relationship to the victim/survivor. Coordinated responses should take this into account, and develop programmes that not only address impunity, and perpetrator rehabilitation, but also educate and mobilise men and boys as partners against violence.

?      There are common impacts and consequences of violence against women for victims/survivors.  All forms of violence against women can have a negative impact on women’s health and self-esteem (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2005). For example, they are 16% more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby. They are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and, in some regions, are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence (WHO et al., 2013). Many forms can directly affect their aspirations and achievements in education and employment. These impacts, in turn, are likely to influence how and whether a victim or a survivor seeks help and the types of needs for which they require support.  In a coordinated response, knowledge gathered about the effects of violence against women can be shared widely to inform protocols for first responders, service delivery and referral processes.

 

Women speak about the connections between forms of violence against women and seeking help (Canada)

The court system seems to think that counseling or treatment (30 days, 60 days, 90 days) will heal the woman right away.  Little do they know that the woman could have a history of intergenerational abuse” (Victim/survivor, survey respondent).

 “I was trying to get help for childhood sexual abuse.  Because I was having a problem with addiction, she (the counselor) wanted to stop the counseling and wait until I had that solved.  But that was what was causing the problem.  So I just gave up and didn’t get help with either” (Victim/survivor, focus group participant).

Services need to be coordinated for women.  I have run into situations where a woman with concurrent issues ended up with no support, as all of the services she had sought out continuously referred her to another service until she decided it was not worth the time or effort.”  (Support service provider, survey respondent)

Source: Purdon, C. (2008) No Wrong Door: Creating a Collaborative Rural Response for Women with Abuse, Mental Health and Addictions Issues, Final Report, Grey Bruce Violence Prevention Coordinating Committee, available in English.