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Understanding VAWG during conflict

Last edited: January 06, 2020

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Data on GBV in conflict settings mostly can only be collected at one point in time, for example collecting data through cross-sectional surveys. This makes it difficult to determine whether violence was caused by conflict or whether violence led to negative outcomes such as poor mental or physical health. Events are remembered in different ways by different people; therefore issues of temporality need to be carefully considered. To better understand the timing of events, some cross-sectional surveys ask about violence that occurred during specific time periods to understand the timing of incident of GBV. For example, consider asking questions about incidents that occurred before, during and after times of conflict and about changes that occurred when the conflict began. Typically, cross-sectional surveys will also ask about lifetime experiences of violence and violence in the last 12 months in addition to violence during specific conflict periods. Another approach that allows researchers to place an incident in time and space is to ask the respondent what age they were when an event (i.e. outbreak of conflict) or incident of VAWG occurred and where they were located.[1]


Different approaches can be taken to collect detailed information on each violent event that a respondent has experienced. These approaches can help reconcile issues of temporality. Questions can be asked through unstructured or semi-structured interviews with highly trained interviewers or through visual indicators such as calendars and timelines that help demonstrate a series of events.[2]


For example, one survey undertaken in Rwandan refugee camps using the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) GBV Assessment tool specifically inquired about violence that occurred prior to and then after arriving in the camp (Wako, 2015). Another effort to assess temporality was to use detailed community calendars to aid individuals in remembering the exact timing of incidents of violence based on memorable community events (e.g. the election of a chief, drought or natural disaster, etc.). For example, Ager et al. (2010) used semi-structured focus groups to construct local timelines of significant agricultural, ceremonial, political and remarkable (as judged by a majority of focus group members) events before conducting individual interviews with conflict-affected girls who then used the timelines to help discuss the timings of negative events and their reintegration back into their community in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Similarly, Rowley (2010) developed community calendars of local historical and military events as well as local events, such as school openings to aid recall incidents of violence during the research.

[1] GWI and WHO. 3-4 Feb 2015. Conducting Population-Based Surveys on Gender-Based Violence in Conflict and Humanitarian Settings. Experts Group Meeting. Washington DC.

[2] Ibid.