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Addressing violence against children and women in the family: A call for an integrated approach

Violence against children (VAC) and violence against women (VAW) are global epidemics with prolonged impacts on the health, well-being, and safety of individuals and societies. They are closely interconnected and frequently co-occur, especially in families. Global research from low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) has demonstrated other important intersections between the two, including common risk factors and shared social norms. Experiences of childhood violence are strongly associated with future perpetration and victimisation in adulthood. Harsh physical punishment by caregivers (both maternal and paternal) can also be driven by past childhood trauma or as a way to prevent intimate partner violence (IPV). Patriarchal family structures maintain male authority and dominance in the family, and normalise and justify the use of violence to discipline other family members. 

The intergenerational effects of violence begin before birth. IPV during pregnancy has been shown to have significant adverse impacts on both the mother’s perinatal health and the long-term outcomes of the foetus. Intervening early, with an emphasis on prevention, is critical to interrupting the cycle of violence.  

Nations have committed to eradicating all forms of violence against children and women as part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, but solutions will not be easy. Despite the growing body of evidence about the intersections between VAC and VAW, actions to address family violence comprehensively remain ad hoc and fragmented. Traditionally, the VAC and VAW fields have evolved separately and recent systematic reviews have identified few examples of programmes that aim to address outcomes for both children and women. Limited resources, competing mandates and a lack of cooperation within and between government and non-government agencies results in siloed approaches, with limited reach, thereby reducing the impact of programmes and doing little to support women and children who require integrated care and support. 

Nevertheless, promising practices about what works to address family violence are emerging from LMIC. Findings from rigorously evaluated parenting programmes suggest that it is possible to reduce harsh physical punishment by parents and caregivers as well as IPV, in addition to advancing positive gender norms. Cash transfers have also proven a powerful tool against IPV, as well as supporting improved care practices for children. Programmes aimed at building confidence, resilience and non-violent relationships amongst adolescents also show potential. What these programmes have in common are their community-oriented participatory design, feminist-inspired approaches and robust evaluation, including feedback from young people. Conclusions are tentative, however, due to the low evidence base. 

It is timely that the VAC and VAW communities deepen our collaboration and advance evidence-based practice. A cohort of organisations, activists and researchers willing to experiment with new models, as well as replicate and adapt existing ones for greater coverage, is needed. Flexible, long-term funding from funders will also be required to support innovation and learning. Violence prevention programming is multi-faceted and complex and there is still much we don’t know. But we have enough to start. Working together for an expanded community of practice brings results where they are needed most; helping children to develop to their maximum potential and creating just societies where all human beings flourish. 

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