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Research the nature and extent of the problem

The investigation and documentation of human rights violations creates the platform for most, if not all, actions to advocate for changes in law, policy and practice.  Fact-finding must be conducted using ethical research techniques and preserving the confidentiality of victims of human rights abuses. Evidence gathering should be aimed at uncovering the information needed to objectively evaluate a government’s compliance with international obligations to protect women and girls from violence and identifying the problem to be addressed with advocacy. At times, it may also be necessary to preserve the anonymity of government sources of information in order to protect those with intimate knowledge of the government’s compliance. Regardless of the sources of evidence, researchers must be fair, accurate, reliable and impartial or run the risk of undermining the entire effort.

Research the nature and extent of the problem

  • The value of a human rights-based approach to investigation and documentation of violence against women and girls helps to uncover barriers and breakdowns in the overall criminal justice system (for example, in cases of domestic violence, the victim must pay for a forensic examination, or the police delay sending files to the prosecutor).  In many countries the problem is not in the law itself, but in the implementation of the law, meaning that existing procedures and regulations create obstacles to women who try to access the system. Often information about the nature and extent of the problem has already been documented through the United Nations reporting system. Advocates should review the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee Against Torture, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child for their country. Human rights reports from other sources can also be used as guides to identify exactly which sections of the system need to be improved or corrected. (See: Using Human Rights Reports, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights, 2003) 
  • Non-governmental organizations may choose to conduct human rights fact-finding missions on their own, with partner organizations or use the human rights reports of other trusted organizations. NGOs can use the information in human rights reports to support arguments for specific changes to the system, both at the policy level and, if necessary, changes to the laws themselves. See: Using Human Rights Reports, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights, 2003.
  • Several NGOs have developed methodologies and guides for investigation and documentation of human rights violations against women and girls.

    • Women, Law & Development International and Human Rights Watch include a step-by-step guide for investigating and documenting violations of women’s human rights. See: Women’s Human Rights Step by Step, Women, Law & Development International and Human Rights Watch, Chapter 6, 1997.

    • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a human rights monitoring manual, which contains basic principles for monitoring, suggestions for prioritizing human rights violations, and interviewing techniques.  See:  Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2001 available through the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library.

    • The Advocates for Human Rights, a U.S.-based NGO, has created methodologies for research on domestic violence and employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace which may provide useful guides for other advocates who are developing their own methodologies. See: Sample Methodologies and Guidelines, StopVAW.

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    • The World Health Organization and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) published a guide that describes qualitative research methods on gender-based violence and ways to use the findings of such research to influence policy and decision-makers. It draws upon the experiences and insights of members of the International Research Network on Violence Against Women, and others.  See: Ellsberg M, and Heise L, Researching Violence Against Women: A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists, Washington DC, United States: World Health Organization, PATH; 2005.