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Cross-Sectional Surveys

Last edited: January 06, 2020

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Cross-sectional surveys provide a snapshot of a population's characteristics and what is happening at any one moment in time. They can be population-based by carrying out household surveys through random sampling or they can be conducted with health services and schools. Special sampling techniques are required to conduct cross-sectional surveys that ensure proper sampling is conducted and that data are generalizable to a greater population. For implementing work on VAWG programmes, cross-sectional surveys can collect a variety of information including data on knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around VAWG, prevalence and drivers of VAWG in a community, information on barriers to disclosure and service access and data on social norms that support the continuation of VAWG.


Compared to other methodologies, cross-sectional surveys are generally easy and inexpensive and multiple surveys can be conducted to see trends over time. The key strength of cross-sectional surveys is that they can be used to understand what is really happening in the whole population and not just what is being reported. They are good for the purpose of doing a baseline or a formative study to really understand problems people are facing, which can then influence programming around the issue. For this reason, cross-sectional surveys can be very useful in conflict and post-conflict settings.


The challenge in cross-sectional surveys is that it can be difficult to determine causality because surveys are conducted retrospectively.  The survey asks respondent to think about a particular time in the past, which can be difficult to remember. For example, cross-sectional surveys cannot measure whether violence occurred before a conflict or whether the conflict caused the violence. To determine causality, a longitudinal study design may be better. However, in conflict and post-conflict settings, a complicated longitudinal research design may not be feasible, which makes a cross-sectional survey a practical method. Multiple cross-sectional surveys conducted across time will allow VAWG programmers to track changes in population-level indicators – such as knowledge, attitude and behavior questions – and can be an important tool for monitoring and evaluating VAWG prevention and risk mitigation programmes.


Box 6: Use of a cross sectional study

The Global Women's Institute (GWI) at the George Washington University, in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, CARE UK and Forcier Consulting, conducted a research study on GBV in South Sudan from 2014-2017 on behalf of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Consortium ('What Works'). The study's aims were two-fold: (1) to explore the magnitude and scope of the problem of VAWG in the South Sudan and (2) to help the international community better understand the connections between conflict and VAWG.


Findings from this research demonstrated that intimate partner violence was the most common form of violence reported by women and girls with about half to three quarters of ever-partnered women and girls having experienced IPV. Patriarchal societal norms that promote gender inequality (including men minimizing the occurrence of violence, and both men and women accepting the use of violence) were found to be common in all study sites. In addition, women and girls who had directly experienced armed conflict were more at risk of experiencing IPV. Respondents also reported that stigma against survivors of VAWG is high and women have little recourse, particularly for cases of IPV. Lack of confidentiality and poor-quality services also provided significant barriers to access.


These findings were shared with multiple stakeholders both in South Sudan and internationally and were used to inform prevention and response programming.


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