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‘The economics of violence are simple and devastating. No one gains. Everyone loses, and we have to turn this around. As we face COVID-19’s devastation, there has never been a more important moment to resolve to put our combined resources and commitment behind the biggest issues, and to end violence against women and girls, for good. We know what it takes to fight a pandemic. Now we need the will to do it, and with Generation Equality, lead the way’. – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director

The economics and geo-politics of knowledge generation and dissemination

In this ‘post truth’ era we are continuously exposed to the views of populist leaders who – in desperate attempts to gain or cling to power – are making use of fake news . The reasons for not listening to experts’ opinions and supporting ‘stupid’ decisions  are very complex. And there is no doubt that the Covid 19 crisis has further exacerbated the spread of this misinformation – particularly around vaccines – and with it the ignorance and mistrust of evidence and science. The politics of research around Covid 19 has reminded us of the importance of evidence in all disciplines, if we are to overcome the huge health and social challenges faced by all countries, especially those classified as low and middle income.

But the world of knowledge creation is fraught with power imbalances, hierarchies of knowledge and lack of adequate resources. The most recent UNESCO science report: towards 2030 shows that – although some low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have increased their investment in research – the gaps at global level remain huge:

The ‘Big Five’ – US, European Union, China, Japan and the Russian Federation still account for 72% of all researchers. Researchers from lower income countries are still pursuing career opportunities abroad but their destination of choice is widening’.

The scenario is replicated in the field of violence against women and violence against children in LMICs, where research to support evidence-based programmes is scarce .  The European Union is by far the single largest donor of overseas development assistance on gender-based violence, however, funding for GBV related projects comprises only 0.9%  of the total state members aid budget. Whilst information on how much of that budget is allocated to research is difficult to track, the SVRI is doing just that through our project Tracking the Funding Flows on Research on VAW in LMICs to see to what extent the “10/90 gap” is still pertinent. [1]

The power imbalance is also manifested in the language choice for most academic dissemination, with  English being the preferred language among the academic community.The bias has a number of negative consequences, for both non-native English-speaking researchers and potentially for key stakeholders and communities in the settings where they live and research. The hegemony of the English language means we know less about the possible research happening in LMICs – if produced and published in other languages – and we are poorer in terms of understanding and addressing the pervasive human rights violation that is violence against women and violence against children.

And then came Covid-19…Violence against women and violence against children on the rise

“Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis will be enough to cast doubt on women’s rights. These rights will never be vested. You’ll have to stay vigilant your whole life”. – Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was right, once again. The socio-economic crisis unleashed by Covid-19 has had profound repercussions on the fabric of society. The last year has seen a surge in violence against women and violence against children as a result of the pandemic. Alarm bells were already raised at the beginning of the pandemic by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women who – in a  report based on interviews with grantees in 69 low and middle income countries, confirmed the rapid rise in violence and the challenges faced by mostly civil society led efforts.

A recent brief by the Center for Global Development (CGD) takes stock of new studies linking VAW and VAC to Covid- 19 in low and middle income countries. The findings from these studies are telling and not that surprising: 80% of the studies presenting findings on VAW or VAC found exclusive evidence of increased violence; lost income and employment, among other factors, increase the risk of violence occurring; too few papers evaluate ‘what works’ to reduce the risk of violence or to support survivors. Overall, a major gap identified by the brief is the lack of studies on prevention and mitigation and the need for the field to focus on new questions emerging during the pandemic:

What types of policies and programs are effective during the pandemic and the recovery to mitigate and prevent diverse forms of VAW/C—including for specific populations (e.g., adolescent girls; healthcare workers)? How cost effective are these efforts, given programming tradeoffs? Are there important lessons for longer-term programming efforts that go beyond current experiences, to inform how to mitigate intergenerational and long-term effects?

These are key questions proposed by CGD and that researchers in the field – particularly those based in LMICs – need to answer if we are to efficiently respond at programmatic and public policy level to these new challenges posed by the pandemic.

Enter the SVRI Research Grant – Knowledge for Action to End Violence against Women and Violence against Children 2021

The SVRI has run a grant-making programme since 2004, and in a partnership with the World Bank between 2016 and 2020. To date, over USD 7 million have been granted to 68 projects in Africa, East Asia Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the MENA region and South East Asia. In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, we launched the SVRI Research Grant – Knowledge for Action to End Violence against Women and Violence against Children with the support of our long-term donor the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund and a new partner, Sida. Loyal to our institutional vision and strategic plan, our grant-making programme is feminist, committed to decolonising knowledge, supportive of research conducted in low- and middle-income countries and led by researchers based in those settings and – very importantly – geared towards ethical and actionable research that will make a difference in the lives of women and children experiencing violence.

We had an outstanding response with 330 proposals submitted from all regions. After an exhaustive, open and transparent review process, awards were provided to eight granteesfor research projects in Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, Mali, Nepal, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe.

And the research projects of the 2021 SVRI grantees could not be more relevant, and responsive to the current global crisis and new manifestations of violence: research on violence against children in the migration route in the Balkans; research on online intimate partner violence among young people in Nepal; research on online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines; research to understand the violence experienced by women of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics in Lebanon and Turkey to better respond to their needs; piloting of a programme to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence among couples attending fertility services in Jordan; developing of an intervention to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence and female genital cutting in perinatal services for pregnant women in Mali; developing and testing an intervention to integrate solutions for the prevention of both violence against women and violence against children in Zimbabwe and, research on the impact of Covid-19 and the associated responses – including public health measures and a national emergency conditional cash transfer – on domestic and family violence against women and children in Brazil. To learn more about these projects and their potential impact, hear direct from the grantees themselves in this video.

This new cohort of researchers – jointly with previous years grantees affected by the Covid-19 crisis – will also have the challenging task of conducting research in the midst of ongoing lockdowns and restrictions of movement. So how can we conduct remote research ethically and soundly? The SVRI has already provided some guidance on this matter and we expect new learnings to further enrich current thinking  from our current grantees.

‘Violence against women is a priority global concern especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting survivors during this time requires understanding the characteristics and magnitude of violence and effectiveness of responses – for which we need rigorous research. Researchers are well positioned to contribute to policy dialogue, drawing both on past evidence to inform critical pandemic responses, as well as studying dynamics as they unfold to inform real-time decisions within future pandemics.[2]

Research should not be a luxury reserved for high income countries. Research in low- and middle-income countries should not be conducted by high income countries researchers at the expense and exclusion of local researchers and local epistemologies. Research should have a positive and tangible impact on people’s lives. Most importantly, the need for research to arrive at sound and evidence-based policies and programmes, should not be questioned, whether it is on the face of a global health crisis like Covid-19, or whether it is addressing a gross human rights violation such as violence against women and violence against children.

Written by Angelica Pino, SVRI Grants Manager and Capacity Strengthening Specialist

[1] This refers to the phenomenon where less than 10% of funding invested in global public health research is devoted to research in health problems that account for 90% of the global disease burden – including inter-personal violence – Front Matter | Violence Prevention in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Finding a Place on the Global Agenda: Workshop Summary | The National Academies Press (nap.edu)

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