DFID’s efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls — a review

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact has reviewed how DFID is performing at an early stage of its work in this challenging but vital area.

Girls in Zambia take part in a DFID-funded safe space session. During these weekly sessions they learn about health and financial issues as well as how and why to avoid early marriage. Early and forced marriage affects about 14 million girls every year. Image: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

The UK government has made a strong start to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) in developing countries, a new report has found.

VAWG is deeply rooted in cultural norms and unequal power relations between women and men. One in three women around the world experiences intimate partner violence, and other forms of VAWG are also widespread. As well as being a violation of women’s fundamental human rights, VAWG has profound personal, social and economic consequences.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which scrutinises taxpayer-funded UK aid, has examined the Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) efforts to fight the problem.

In Ethiopia the DFID-funded Finote Hiwot programme encourages communities to talk about child marriage. 
Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

A promising start in a challenging area

ICAI found that UK aid has made a significant contribution to tackling violence against women and girls in developing countries.

DFID has demonstrated strong global policy leadership, through initiatives such as the 2014 Girl Summit, and has made a significant contribution to knowledge and evidence on preventing abuse, including on global challenges such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

ICAI scores its reviews using a traffic light system

The report — ICAI’s first learning review — gave DFID’s current performance a ‘green’ rating, highlighting its rapid expansion of programmes to eliminate violence against women and girls and the significant investment in research and innovation to promote learning on what works.

A suggestion box where girls can report attempts of forced marriage or sexual harassment, part of the DFID funded Finote Hiwot programme in Ethiopia. Picture: ICAI

But programmes remain small compared to the scale of the challenge

DFID’s VAWG-focused programmes are innovate are high quality but they don’t match up to the scale of the issue. To achieve transformative impact DFID needs to scale up its response by integrating VAWG into programming across a range of sector. Learning how to deliver interventions at a scale large enough to make a real difference is the major challenges facing DFID in the coming period.

The report found that DFID doesn't have a clear strategy for scaling up its work and lacks understanding of how to mainstream VAWG initiatives without compromising their quality. The challenge now facing DFID is to continue to learn and innovate while scaling up successful interventions — both within its own programming and by demonstrating to others what works.

DFID has been a strong advocate for VAWG at the international level

At the global level, DFID has invested considerable effort in raising the profile of the VAWG agenda. The high-profile Girl Summit in 2014 helped to galvanize global campaigns against female gentile mutilation and child marriage.

A delegate signs pledges to end FGM and child marriage at the 2014 Girl Summit. The Girl Summit helped raise the profile and support for these issues. Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

Working with others, DFID also contributed to securing the inclusion of VAWG in the Global Goals. The UK’s strong commitment to the VAWG agenda had helped to mobilise political leadership and to build international momentum.

Having helped to raise the international profile of VAWG, the next challenge is to persuade other donors and partner countries to mainstream VAWG into its sectoral programmes.

Photo: Graham Crouch / World Bank

This is ICAI’s first learning review, which allows us to examine new challenges for the UK aid programme and focuses on generating learning which can be translated back into programming.

The review looked at DFID’s efforts to assemble evidence of what works, invest in research and innovation to fill knowledge gaps and how well this emerging knowledge has been used to design programmes. The report also looked at influencing and engagement efforts at the international level and DFID’s collaboration with other UK government departments.

Our full report in available here.

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