Abstract: Synthesizing the Evidence: Prevention of Gender-Based Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Women and Girls Safe Spaces in Humanitarian Settings (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Synthesizing the Evidence: Prevention of Gender-Based Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Women and Girls Safe Spaces in Humanitarian Settings

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Lindsay Stark, DrPH, Associate Professor of Social Work and Public Health, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background/Purpose: Gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian contexts represents a global issue of grave concern, disproportionately affecting women and girls. In light of its detrimental impact on the health, well-being and development of survivors, the international community has placed a strong priority on preventing and responding to GBV. Despite a growing programmatic focus on GBV in humanitarian settings, gaps in evidence exist for two notable issues in this sector: (i) evidence of the effectiveness of Women and Girls’ Safe Spaces (WGSS) in the prevention of GBV; and (ii) evidence on what works to prevent violence against adolescent girls, specifically. Although WGSS are a popular humanitarian intervention due to their potential to increase the well-being, safety, and empowerment of women and girls, there is a lack of rigorous evidence regarding promising practice for implementation and impact. Relatedly, less is known about the effectiveness of WGSS – and other GBV prevention interventions – for adolescent girls, as opposed to women and girls, in these settings.

Methods: In response to these crucial gaps in evidence, two systematic reviews of peer-reviewed and grey literature were conducted. The first review aimed to answer the question: What is the current evidence available on the impact and effectiveness of Women and Girls' Safe Spaces (WGSS)? Records were deemed eligible if they were published in English in 2004 or later, and if they stated use of a safe space intervention that included activities to achieve at least of the five objectives for WGSS as defined by the Inter-Agency GBViE Minimum Standards for WGSS. The second review was designed to update a 2015 review of evidence-based interventions targeting GBV reduction for adolescent girls in humanitarian settings. The employed search strategy expanded on the previous authors’ list of search terms and also expanded the list of countries to include those with ongoing crises and disasters, based on ReliefWeb’s crisis map as of February 12, 2020.

Results: Both reviews highlight a dearth of evidence on the effectiveness of WGSS and GBV interventions for adolescent girls in humanitarian settings. The first review found only seven studies evaluating the effectiveness of WGSS in humanitarian settings, and only two of these studies included a comparison group in the evaluation design. The second review uncovered six studies evaluating GBV interventions for adolescent girls in emergency settings, with four of these studies including a control arm. While studies from both reviews demonstrated improvements in participants’ well-being, only one study found reductions in violence associated with the intervention.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study will build an evidence base for WGSS and adolescent-focused best practices to prevent and respond to GBV, particularly with respect to humanitarian settings. Findings will help policymakers and practitioners have a better understanding of the outcomes they might reasonably expect to affect by implementing existing GBV interventions in these settings. The ways in which existing programming can be adapted to more effectively meet the needs of women, girls, and adolescent girls in particular, settings will also be discussed.