Addressing SGBV among Vulnerable Populations in East and Southern Africa

Council researchers and partners are responding to the needs of refugees, children, and women facing sexual violence in East and Southern Africa.

The Issue

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a pervasive global health problem. Women and girls are most at risk, and consequences include physical injury, psychological trauma, unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

In East and Southern Africa, children age 14 and younger represent the greatest proportion of those who seek help for SGBV at health facilities and police stations. Because of the particularly sensitive nature of working with children who have been abused, existing policies and programs for sexual violence services must be tailored to their special needs.

Likewise, women and children refugees in humanitarian settings often lack basic legal protections, are at elevated risk of violence—including SGBV—and have limited access to even basic interventions like health services. Moreover, because most interventions for this population are provided in emergency settings, it is difficult to determine their feasibility and assess their effectiveness.

The Progress

Building on the Council-led Africa Regional SGBV Network—a partnership of national organizations that has been working since 2006 to strengthen and evaluate country capacity to care for SGBV survivors and share lessons learned regionally—this project bolstered the capacity of the medical, education, and/or legal sectors in seven countries to address violence against children and women, and meet the needs of refugee survivors in humanitarian settings.

The following interventions are being developed, tested, and evaluated:

  • In Kenya, the Council and its network partners determined the feasibility of screening for child sexual abuse in health facilities and schools, and addressed the availability and quality of comprehensive post-rape care services for child survivors of sexual violence.
  • In South Africa and Uganda, partners adapted a promising, community-based approach to preventing violence—the “Zero Tolerance Village Alliance” model—to mobilize communities to oppose SGBV and strengthen care and response services for children in school in South Africa and refugees in settlement contexts in Uganda.
  • In Rwanda and Uganda, network partners adapted successful approaches to screening for SGBV for use in humanitarian health care settings.
  • In Swaziland, a network partner strengthened efforts to enhance "safe spaces" clubs for in-school girls to improve their likelihood of declining and reporting unwanted sexual advances from peers and authority figures. In addition, the partner trained teachers and school officials to become champions against school-based SGBV.
  • In Zambia, the Council and its partners explored ways of adapting proven, adult-oriented SGBV response models by the police to the specific needs of children, who represent the majority of violence survivors seeking services at police stations.
  • And in three countries (Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia), the Council and its partners enhanced sexual violence survivors’ access to pregnancy prevention and pregnancy management services. In Kenya, we collaborated with the Ministry of Health to reorganize the provision of emergency contraception in public health facilities to reduce barriers for survivors. In Malawi, we joined forces with the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust (WLSA) to bring a test case around abortion rights for survivors. And in Zambia, we are providing support to the Safe Abortion Action Group (SAAG) to sensitize health providers in regard to Zambia’s legal framework for safe abortion, and to incorporate a greater SGBV focus into future work of the SAAG. 

The Impact

Research results helped strengthen the thin evidence base on responding to child survivors in low-resource settings, as well as to survivors in humanitarian contexts.

Findings on the context, feasibility, and effectiveness of network responses to violence against children in South Africa, Kenya, Swaziland, and Zambia are available.

These results are already being used to establish and improve SGBV programs and policies for children, women, and refugees in East and Southern Africa. 

Principal Investigator

Key Staff (2)

  • Harriet Birungi Vice President of International Programs, Kenya
  • Michael Mbizvo Senior Associate, Zambia Country Director, & Senior Country Advisor, Zambia

Journal Articles (3)

Research Publications (15)

View More

News & Views (2)

Curricula, Toolkits, and Guides (3)