1. An overview of government-wide strategy for gender-based violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence (GBV)1 against women and girls represents a global issue. Worldwide, nearly one-third of women experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime (WHO, 2021[1]). This violence is endemic to all regions of the world, including the most economically developed. A 2014 survey, for example, found that approximately 33% of women living in the EU had experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 (EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014[2]). The wide-spread prevalence of GBV has economic ramifications. According to a 2014 estimate of the EIGE (the latest estimation available), the total annual costs of GBV in the EU and the United Kingdom is about EUR 259 billion. The same study estimates that 13% of this amount represents a loss to the economy, through lost output as a result of injuries (EIGE, 2014[3]). Other studies, typically focused in intimate partner violence, estimate such violence typically costs countries between 1-2% of their annual gross domestic product (Duvvury, 2013[4]; CARE International, 2018[5]).

Yet, statistics only provide a snapshot of the problem. GBV is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. It manifests itself in multiple forms, such as through intimate partner violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, assault and harassment, stalking, and technology-facilitated violence, as well as “honour”-based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages (including child and underage marriages), and the denial or lack of reproductive health services. The impact of GBV on particular individuals may vary due to intersections of race, ethnicity, colour, indigeneity, class, age, religion, migrant or refugee status, sexual orientation, disability, location and other identity factors. Furthermore, times of crisis may increase certain forms of GBV, as evidenced by the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, for example, calls to the national domestic violence helpline in Colombia went up by 150% between 25 March and 25 June 2020 (compared to the same period in 2019), while in France, reports of domestic violence cases increased by more than 30% in March after its lockdown was implemented (OECD, 2020[6]; Government of France, 2020[7]). Looking at these various factors together, GBV affects multiple aspects of survivors/victims’ lives, including their access to education, employment, security, health care, and justice mechanisms as well as their physical and mental health and well-being. There is therefore no “one-size-fits-all” approach to addressing all forms of GBV against all women and girls.

Importantly, OECD governments have recognised that GBV is a crucial issue in the battle for gender equality. In a 2016 OECD survey, 21 of the 37 governments listed GBV as one of the three most urgent gender equality issues in their country (OECD, 2017[8]). In line with this, the OECD Working Party on Gender Mainstreaming and Governance (GMG), composed of gender equality officials and experts from Member and partner governments, has identified GBV as a top priority. This priority has been reflected in the OECD’s Public Governance Committee (PGC) Gender Mainstreaming Strategy and Action Plan, in the GMG’s programme of work covering 2020-2022, and by recent activities, including the inaugural High-level Conference on Ending Violence Against Women in 2020 and the production of policy briefs addressing the issue of GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key area of work that the OECD has undertaken is supporting Member countries to build cross-ministerial and state-wide responses towards GBV. Research has demonstrated that gaps in laws and policies, and in the implementation thereof, continue to persist across the world, hindering efforts to address GBV (OECD, 2019[9]; Hughes, 2017[10]). Unco-ordinated responses and institutional fragmentation may not only result in a failure to address GBV, but may also generate secondary victimisation. A whole-of-state and survivor/victim-centred approach is therefore essential to combating GBV. Such an approach requires several essential elements for success, including strategic planning, robust legal frameworks, political will, co-operation across multiple sectors and divisions, sufficient resources, and continuous engagement with affected populations and other stakeholders. As the COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified, it also requires having institutions and policies that are adaptable – and thus able to respond – to new situations and challenges.

In this regard, the present document aims to highlight a number of key governance dimensions necessary to provide a co-ordinated and survivor/victim-centred response to GBV, building on existing and past country practices as well as innovative responses taken during the COVID-19 pandemic in a range of OECD countries. It also aims to inform policy advice provided to specific countries to help tackle GBV and achieve gender equality. Elements based on country practices highlight common governance themes and patterns that can be useful in informing practices in other jurisdictions (see Figure 1.1).

This work builds upon and is complementary to existing international and regional standards and instruments, which recognise the importance of having state-wide policies to address GBV that are comprehensive, effective, and co-ordinated across relevant public institutions (see Annex A). In view of this, the present document aims to outline a government-wide strategy for GBV policy reform, inter-agency co-operation and communication, and mechanisms to ensure accountability and sustainability. It emphasises decentralising the typical vertical, top-down approach into a horizontal, collaborative approach that engages all relevant actors. It also affirms the necessity of placing survivors/victims at the centre of all policies and programmes, especially those related to access to justice. As a result, this document aims to encompass a whole-of-state and survivor/victim-centred approach to addressing GBV.

The purpose of this document is to start identifying key dimensions relating to whole-of-state and survivor/victim-centred approaches to GBV, building on elements based on practices in OECD Member and partner countries. This document aims to provide well-informed, multifaceted guidance to countries on how to implement effective changes into its own approaches to addressing GBV.

This document highlights patterns and elements of practices emerging at different stages of implementation of several governmental GBV frameworks. It also identifies existing gaps in access to justice and discusses potential remedies.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated GBV across the world and further exposed governance gaps and inefficiencies in relation to gender equality, this document also seeks to enhance consideration on how governments can better prevent, plan for, and respond to GBV in emergency contexts. This document is based on the understanding that GBV often increases during crises, such as pandemics, natural disasters, and economic recessions, yet governments have often been unprepared to handle this challenge when faced with it.2

The content of this report is the result of multiple information-gathering processes, including the following:

  • Desk research of publicly available sources focused on GBV policies and practices in several OECD Member and partner countries, particularly: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Iceland, Mexico, Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The selection of these countries is not meant to be fully encompassing, but to serve as a basis for the identification of further practices from an array of OECD Member and partner countries. Furthermore, the information resulting from the desk research was reviewed by government representatives of the countries in question.

  • Outcomes from the inaugural OECD High-Level Conference on Ending Violence Against Women, held on 5-6 February 2020. Under the theme “Taking Public Action to End Violence at Home,” the Conference facilitated a survivor/victim-centred exchange of ideas and experiences on ending intimate partner violence between Ministers and high-level officials from OECD Member countries, emerging economies and developing countries, as well as representatives from businesses, trade unions, and civil society.

  • Discussions of and input from the OECD Working Party on Gender Mainstreaming and Governance (GMG), which comprises gender equality experts and officials from OECD Member countries. In particular, the report reflects outcomes of discussions from two meetings of the GMG. The report was also circulated to all GMG delegates for review and comment.

  • An April 2020 survey of national gender equality institutions3 focused on mapping good practices and challenges in tackling the effects of COVID-19. With 26 respondents (24 OECD Members and 2 partner countries), the survey gathered information on the different actions that governments have taken to respond to GBV during the pandemic.

This report presents the OECD’s three-pillar approach to a whole-of-state framework for GBV, which builds upon elements of practices from OECD Member and partner countries and is structured around three pillars: Systems, Culture, and Access to Justice and Accountability. Finally, the concluding section highlights key issues related to GBV where more analysis will be needed going forward, such as addressing technology-facilitated GBV, leveraging behavioural insights and public procurement to deliver better programmes and services, and closing intersectional gaps in GBV policy making and service delivery.


[5] CARE International (2018), Counting the Cost: The Price Society Pays for Violence Against Women, https://www.care-international.org/files/files/Counting_the_costofViolence.pdf.

[4] Duvvury, N. (2013), Intimate Partner Violence: Economic Costs and Implications for Growth and Development, The World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/Gender/Duvvury%20et%20al.%202013%20Intimate%20Partner%20Violence.%20Economic%20costs%20and%20implications%20for%20growth%20and%20development%20VAP%20No.3%20Nov%202013.pdf.

[3] EIGE (2014), Estimating the costs of gender-based violence in the European Union, https://eige.europa.eu/publications/estimating-costs-gender-based-violence-european-union-report.

[2] EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey: Main results, https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2014-vaw-survey-main-results-apr14_en.pdf.

[7] Government of France (2020), Orange pleinement mobilisé aux côtés de l’Etat pour garantir une continuité du service d’écoute aux victimes et auteurs de violences conjugales et intrafamiliales, https://www.egalite-femmes-hommes.gouv.fr/cp-orange-pleinement-mobilise-aux-cotes-de-letat-pour-garantir-une-continuite-du-service-decoute-aux-victimes-et-auteurs-de-violences-conjugales-et-intrafamiliales-06-04-20/.

[10] Hughes, C. (2017), Legislative Wins, Broken Promises: Gaps in implementation of laws on violence against women and girls, Oxfam, https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/resources/legislative-wins-broken-promises-gaps-in-implementation-of-laws-on-violence-aga-620206/.

[6] OECD (2020), Gender Equality in Colombia: Access to Justice and Politics at the Local Level, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/b956ef57-en.

[9] OECD (2019), SIGI 2019 Global Report: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd.org/publications/sigi-2019-global-report-bc56d212-en.htm.

[8] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264281318-en.

[1] WHO (2021), Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates, 2018, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/violence-against-women-prevalence-estimates.


← 1. The current draft adopts the term gender-based violence (GBV) instead of violence against women because GBV provides a clearer understanding that the violence in question is based on gender, gender norms and unequal power relations. Overall, this report focuses on GBV against women and girls because they are mostly the targets of GBV while perpetrators of GBV are predominately men. However, this does not mean that men cannot be survivors/victims of GBV, nor that women cannot be perpetrators.

← 2. While many of the report’s examples related to crisis situations focus on intimate partner violence and domestic violence, various forms of GBV can increase during crises. For example, economic recessions can exacerbate forms of GBV such as forced marriages and trafficking of women and girls, including forced prostitution, to earn or secure income.

← 3. These institutions are often tasked with creating social change and utilising a gender lens when conducting research and drafting policies. There is no single blueprint for the design of these institutions. Arrangements across the OECD include having a full ministry dedicated to gender equality, having a gender equality unit within ministries responsible for social policy, having a gender equality unit with the centre of government, or having an independent agency or commission.

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