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Preventing Violence Against Women

The past few week(s) we have witnessed unprovoked attacks on women all over the country by men; some of which have resulted in the deaths of these women. Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes.

Preventing the ultimate form of violence against women – femicide – requires knowledge of the broader contextual and underlying causes of female victimization (e.g., gender inequality, power imbalances, misogynistic attitudes, patriarchal social structures, and structural/systemic discrimination).

More generally, the prevention of femicide, and violence against women and girls, faces other practical challenges, particularly at the national level, including a lack of systemic evidence on what works in terms of prevention, services, legal responses, and early and long-term intervention. While there is a growing body of literature on what works, the lack of recognition about the importance of systematically monitoring the processes and outcomes of implementation and the ongoing impact of a variety of initiatives hinders a fulsome understanding of prevention efforts.

Taking a public health approach to addressing violence against women and girls has a general mandate for prevention. To prevent a phenomenon as complex as violence against women and girls, including femicide, involves a four-step process:
1. Defining the scope of the problem.
2. Identifying the risk factors associated with violent victimization/perpetration.
3. Evaluating potential prevention tactics based on the above information. 4. Sharing the knowledge widely.

The public health approach utilizes the ecological framework to further the understanding of the risk of violent victimization faced by women and girls. This framework was developed with the knowledge that no single factor accounts for risk but rather that the interaction among many factors at four levels – individual, relationship, community and societal – contributes to the outcome of violence and, ultimately, femicide. Brief descriptions of the four levels are provided here and expanded upon below:

Individual-level factors include personal history and biological factors (e.g. experiencing childhood maltreatment, alcohol or substance abuse histories).
Relationship-level factors include family, friends, intimate partners, and peers who may increase or protect against risk of violence.
Community-level factors refers to those contexts in which social interactions occur (e.g. schools, workplaces, homes).
Societal-level factors refer to social and cultural norms that may influence acceptance or rejection of violence as well as social structures, and institutional policies and practices that produce harmful or preventive outcomes in relation to violence.

Multiple risk factors have been identified at the societal, community, relationship, and individual level – each of which carries specific preventative measures.