Research VAW

Violence against women exists in many forms and is pervasive throughout the world. Recent estimates suggest that 1 in 3 women globally have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner. Much of our work focuses on this most common form of VAW, intimate partner violence (IPV). We also lead several studies on non-partner sexual violence.

To see all of our projects relating to violence against women, click here. Or keep reading to find out more about our VAW research and browse projects by topic:

  • Extent, causes and consequences of violence against women
  • Prevention of violence against women
  • Health sector responses
  • Research consortia and learning initiatives

Extent, causes and consequences of violence against women

GVHC has been instrumental in bringing the problem of VAW to global attention, from its role in early high profile studies such as the WHO Multi-country study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence, through to the Global Burden Study to document the global prevalence of IPV.  By documenting the extent of VAW, and the physical, mental, social and economic consequences that it has for women, their families, communities and society as a whole, we increase the imperative of the global community to act – both to prevent violence and to respond more effectively to those affected.

Key to preventing violence is an understanding of what causes it. The Ecological Framework developed by Lori Heise, member and former-Director of GVHC, is now widely used by violence researchers, activists and policy makers around the world to acknowledge the different levels at which risk factors for IPV operate – individual woman, individual man, relationship, community and society. While our research focuses on all of these levels and the interactions between them, a strong focus of much of our current work is on community and societal (or ‘structural’) level factors that drive IPV risk. These include gender norms and women’s lack of access to education and economic opportunities.

Links between VAW and HIV are also a major focus of the Centre. IPV can be both a cause and consequence of HIV infection, and the two often share common underlying risk factors (such as notions of manhood that condone both men’s power over women and men engaging in risky sexual behaviours).

Our projects use diverse methods, from large-scale multi-country population based surveys allowing us to make comparisons between settings, through to longitudinal studies that allow us to look at trajectories of risk over time and better disentangle causes versus consequences of IPV.

Browse GVHC projects on Extent, causes and consequences of violence against women


Preventing violence against women

GVHC is at the forefront of research on the prevention of violence against women, and is a member of the research consortium implementing the DFID ‘What Works to Prevent Violence’ Global Programme.

Despite recognition of the extent of VAW and its severe consequences for women and girls around the world, rigorous evidence on what works to prevent VAW is scarce. GVHC has led some of the first cluster randomised trials of VAW prevention programmes in LMIC. We have evaluated a broad range of VAW interventions, including those aiming to empower women socially and economically, those working with men to promote ‘positive masculinities’, and those seeking to mobilise entire communities to challenge the underlying norms and structures that drive high rates of VAW. We are also interested in the potential for VAW prevention programmes to impact on other forms of violence such as VAC, and in how to integrate VAW and HIV prevention efforts.

GVHC is involved in all stages of the evaluation process, from formative research around the development of intervention approaches and content, through to impact evaluations and research into the adaptation and scale-up of promising intervention models. Economists within our team also work closely alongside epidemiologists and social researchers to cost interventions, a key consideration of policy-makers tasked with deciding which interventions to adopt on a wider scale.

At GVHC, we are strong advocates of mixed method evaluations. We have extensive experience in conducting cluster randomised controlled trials coupled with process evaluations (the ‘gold standard’ combo in the evaluation of complex interventions), but we also recognise the indispensable value of other kinds of quantitative and qualitative evidence, and the importance of theory to underpin both the intervention and its evaluation. We want to be able to answer not only ‘what works to prevent violence?’, but also the more complex questions of ‘how?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘for whom?’ different approaches might work.

Browse GVHC projects on Preventing violence against women


Health sector responses to women experiencing violence

Health systems have a crucial role in responding to violence against women (VAW) as part of a coordinated multi-sector response. Women access health services at multiple points – from primary care and hospital settings through to sexual and reproductive health clinics and HIV services. This provides opportunities for those experiencing VAW to access support, but health services are often slow to recognise violence, have limited resources, and lack staff trained in how to help. GVHC conducts research into how best to integrate VAW interventions into health systems and services.

While existing evidence on health systems responses to VAW is skewed towards high income countries, GVHC research spans low-, middle- and high-income countries. We have conducted studies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, sub- Saharan Africa, Latin America and North America. Our work draws on a variety of disciplines including health services research, health systems and policy analysis, social science and economics.

GVHC researchers have undertaken health policy and systems research evaluations of a wide variety of intervention models, including:

  • One Stop Crisis Centres in Asia;
  • the integration of IPV screening/services into primary care, sexual and reproductive health and HIV settings in a range of countries
  • the incorporation of an mHealth IPV intervention into nurse home visitation programmes in the US
  • responses to IPV in antenatal care settings

We explore the theoretical underpinnings of how these interventions work, as well as the systems and service factors that may affect their implementation in diverse countries and health settings. Furthermore, we conduct comparative research into promising intervention models, and estimate the relative costs of different health sector interventions.

Our focus extends beyond the evaluation of specific intervention models. Bigger picture questions have included: how to engage key stakeholders in intervention development and evaluation, how to create links between healthcare systems in LMIC and community organisations working on VAW, and identifying opportunities for coordinated responses to IPV and child maltreatment. Insights from these have helped us to achieve greater influence on policy and programming, and ultimately ensure better outcomes for women and children.

LSHTM is currently Co-Directing an NIHR Global Health Group (HERA) on Health Systems Responses to Violence against Women in low and middle-income countries with the University of Bristol. Further information about HERA (Healthcare Responding to Violence and Abuse) can be found here.


Browse GVHC projects on Health systems responses to women experiencing violence


For more information on GVHC research on health systems responses to VAW, contact Dr Loraine J. Bacchus or Dr Manuela Colombini.

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