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Evidence SynthesesEvidence Syntheses

What Works to Prevent Partner Violence?

This document reviews the empirical evidence of what works in low-and middle-income countries to prevent violence against women by their husbands and other male partners.

The review focuses on efforts to prevent partner violence – on interventions designed to reduce the overall level of violence in the medium to long term, rather than on interventions to meet the immediate needs of victims. It prioritises programmes that have been evaluated using rigorous scientific designs, emphasising formal impact evaluation over practice-based insights.

The review firstly summarises evidence that establishes the link between key factors and risk of partner violence. Secondly, it summarises what is known about the effectiveness of interventions to either reduce partner violence directly or indirectly by influencing these factors.

State of the evidence

  • The evidence base that currently assesses the effectiveness of programmes is highly skewed toward high income countries, especially the United States. The extent to which these findings are relevant to other economic and cultural settings is uncertain.
  • Understanding is currently lacking of the multiple causes of gender-based violence and how this varies by type of violence and context. To inform future programming, more research is needed on the developmental and situational pathways that lead to perpetration and victimisation.

Key risk factors for partner violence

  • Changing gender norms: Strong evidence exists that norms related to male authority, acceptance of wife beating and female obedience affect the overall level of abuse in different settings.
  • Childhood exposure to violence: Exposure to violence in childhood also emerges as a contributing cause of later partner violence. Boys who are subjected to harsh physical punishment, who are physically abused themselves, or who witness their mothers being beaten are more likely to abuse their partners later in life.
  • Women’s economic empowerment: The role of economic factors on women’s risk of violence appears to be complex, context-specific and contingent on other factors (such as partner’s employment or education). Current research suggests that economic empowerment of women in some situations can perversely increase the incidence of partner violence, at least in the short term. 
  • Excessive alcohol use: The review establishes that excessive alcohol use by men, especially binge drinking, as a key factor that increases the frequency and severity of partner violence.