7. Improving policy implementation to end gender-based violence

Mollie Cretsinger
Valerie Frey
Estelle Loiseau
Hyeshin Park
Meeta Tarani

Women who have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) often require both short- and long-term support from a variety of service providers in order to regain their security and autonomy. They may need to repeatedly appeal for emergency police services, legal services, physical and mental health supports, and social services linked to childcare, income support, employment and housing. This is particularly the case for victims/survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), a very common form of GBV against women, who often need to completely rebuild their lives to escape an abuser.

When seeking out support, victims/survivors usually must apply for numerous social services, often provided by a patchwork of governmental, non-governmental and/or private sector agencies and institutions. This comes with high costs in terms of time, energy as well as mental, physical and financial resources. Help-seeking individuals are met with jurisdictional, administrative and bureaucratic challenges at the same time as they recover from violence or remain under threat of continued violence (OECD, 2023[1]).

The burden of applying for diverse services, including repeatedly re-sharing personal information, can dissuade women from seeking or pursuing help. These challenges can be exacerbated in development and humanitarian contexts, given their complexity (OECD, 2019[2]).

Reflecting increasing government awareness of the challenges of GBV (Chapter 6), policy makers and professionals have turned their attention to integrated service delivery (ISD) as a means to co-ordinate multi-sectoral solutions and better respond to violence against women. With origins in the healthcare sector, ISD is characterised by co-ordinated strategies to support funding, administration, organisation, and service delivery to connect, align, and foster collaboration within and between different social service sectors (OECD, 2023[1]).

OECD countries are increasingly prioritising ISD to support victims/survivors of IPV in crisis situations and in the long run. ISD can entail the physical co-location of services; case management; formal and informal referral networks; secure data-sharing and training co-ordination across agencies; and close co-operation across agencies, working together on individual cases towards pre-determined and consistent goals, often in the form of local multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) (OECD, 2023[1]).

Crucially, social services supporting victims/survivors are often chronically underfunded, which complicates even basic service provision – let alone well-co-ordinated service provision (see Box 6.1 in Chapter 6).

In spite of these challenges, many OECD governments report applying ISD practices in healthcare, justice, housing, child-related services, and income support. Most of these ISD practices rely on crisis and case management. ISD is frequently introduced at entry points in healthcare, emergency housing, and police services.

The health sector is one of the most common points of entry to public services for women escaping violence. OECD governments have most frequently implemented integrated IPV-related services deployed from hospitals and targeted mental health supports co-ordinated at the national level.

Hospital emergency rooms are often the first stop when violence occurs. Countries such as Austria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom regularly situate GBV resources at hospitals and other healthcare facilities, using a variety of integration models (OECD, 2023[1]). Austria has widely applied ISD in hospitals: all hospitals are obliged by law to establish “victim protection groups” for survivors of domestic violence. These groups are responsible for facilitating early detection and prevention of domestic violence through awareness raising among hospital colleagues. These groups also establish networks of cross-sectoral actors, including police, shelters, social workers and helpline operators who can then be mobilised to support help-seeking individuals.

Several OECD countries (Costa Rica, Greece, Japan and Korea) have established mental health programmes co-ordinated at the national level, typically in the form of multidisciplinary counselling centres (OECD, 2023[1]). Denmark’s approach is more intensive than most: municipal governments are required to offer up to ten hours of free treatment and counselling to women and children who have stayed in a shelter following domestic violence.

During times of crisis, emergency shelters offer an important resource to facilitate integrated access to social services. Some offer counselling on-site, linkages or referrals to health services, child-related services (like counselling or transportation to school), and legal advocacy. However, formal linkages to longer-term housing should be strengthened. Some countries, such as Chile, Ireland, Japan and the Netherlands, have adopted special provisions within existing (long-term) social housing schemes which prioritise access for women who are exiting emergency shelters, but space constraints in social housing mean that demand often exceeds supply. Only a few countries – including Austria and Hungary – have dedicated transitional housing services to help women transition from emergency shelter to long-term housing (OECD, 2023[1]).

Police are located on the ground to respond to emergencies, to support administrative processes where civil or criminal charges are pursued or imposed, and to initiate related, inter-disciplinary help-seeking services. In Austria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and the Slovak Republic, police are required to contact support services and link them with the women experiencing violence. Some countries (e.g. Australia) frequently co-locate community-based service providers within existing police stations, while others have introduced specialised women’s police stations (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, India and Portugal).

Police are just one entryway for women to access the justice system, which can include specialised domestic violence courts and sponsored legal support for victims/survivors. These justice services have the potential to be integrated with counselling centres, healthcare facilities, and other services.

Access to justice, one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) under the UN 2030 Agenda, is a critical dimension to realising several other SDGs, including attaining gender equality. In the absence of access to justice, women can face a worsening of their social, emotional, and financial outcomes, compounding already existing gender inequalities. Access to justice provided to survivors/victims of GBV thus forms an integral pillar to tackling GBV (OECD, 2021[3]).

Globally, women and girls are more likely to face several and compounded roadblocks in accessing justice, such as:

  • financial barriers (e.g. direct cost of services, legal fees, fines, transportation, childcare responsibilities, uncompensated work leaves)

  • structural barriers (e.g. lack of awareness or understanding of the justice system, complex procedures, lack of understanding of the legal concepts and language)

  • sociocultural barriers (e.g. bias and discrimination due to gender norms and stereotypes held by judicial/law enforcement actors, lack of education and/or literacy).

Certain groups of women – including women and girls with disabilities, trans women and girls, lesbian and bisexual women and girls, migrant women and girls, indigenous women and girls, women and girls who are visible minorities, senior women, women and girls living in remote and rural areas, and women and girls living in poverty – face group-specific and multiple obstacles (OECD, 2021[3]). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability of survivors/victims to access justice was further impacted by movement restrictions imposed by governments, as well as the overburdening, reduced activity, or shutdown of GBV response services (e.g. shelters, legal aid centres, etc.). Moreover, the economic impact of the pandemic and subsequent financial insecurities also affected many victims/survivors’ ability to report abuse or leave their abusive partners (OECD, 2020[4]; USAID, 2021[5]).

Survivors/victims of GBV are a particularly vulnerable group when interacting with the justice system as they face the risk of revictimisation and stigma throughout the process (OECD, 2020[6]). They also have unique, intersecting, direct and indirect legal needs that may need to be dealt with simultaneously (e.g. civil and criminal proceedings). Moreover, these needs are also linked to other economic, social, and psychological needs that arise from the violence they have faced.

Systemically speaking, access to justice for survivors/victims can effectively be ensured only if laws on GBV encompass its multiple, prevalent forms in a jurisdiction (Chapter 6), and if these laws are backed by sufficient judicial engagement, budgeting, and monitoring. Laws that do not adequately outline the substantial sanctions for perpetrators and guidelines for its interpretation, or laws that are not backed by measures for rehabilitation or restorative justice, pose further challenges to justice and the risk of recidivism.

Due to the specific nature of femicides, it is important to facilitate not only justice but also analysis of the phenomenon, for instance through processes like “fatality reviews” (formal or informal reviews building a summary of each case using the various sources of information available) and gathering statistical data about perpetrators and victims to help recognise warning signs and patterns (OECD, 2021[3]).

In recent years, access to justice is being increasingly acknowledged as an important dimension to eradicating GBV and gender inequalities. Some countries have taken measures to tackle specific barriers faced by women accessing justice. For example, Canada, Colombia and Spain have introduced spaces for providing free and independent legal advice pertaining to GBV (Government of Canada, 2019[7]; Government of Spain, 2019[8]; OECD, 2020[6]). New Zealand’s Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act provides specific protections and rights to employees affected by domestic violence, such as ten additional days of paid leave and access to flexible working arrangements (Government of New Zealand, 2020[9]). In light of the lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries adopted measures to ensure continued access to emergency support services. For instance, some countries increased assistance through resource centres, crisis intervention units, drop-in services and direct support provision (e.g. Canada, Costa Rica and Korea), while the Colombian Government issued a decree to ensure continued access to police and justice services virtually, among other services (OECD, 2022[10]; UN Women, 2020[11]).

Recognising the interconnectedness among criminal, civil, family, and other legal proceedings regarding GBV, some OECD countries are developing integrated domestic violence courts, practicing the “one family one judge” model. For instance Spain, the United Kingdom (Londonderry) and the United States (New York), among others, offer integrated domestic violence courts (Government of Spain, 2019[12]; New York State Unified Court System, n.d.[13]; OECD, 2016[14]).

The concept of “restorative justice” – referring to survivor/victim-centred, dialogue-based practices that aim to address the harms caused by a crime – is gaining traction in several OECD countries. Some countries have also developed or updated rehabilitation or treatment programmes to reduce the recidivism rates of perpetrators. For instance, Switzerland has introduced changes in the criminal code enabling a stay of proceedings requiring those accused of GBV to follow a prevention programme (OECD, 2021[3]). In some cases, countries have reviewed the use of ancillary orders (e.g. protective mechanisms or removal orders) in order to reduce the risk of harm. For example, authorities in Norway increasingly use restraining orders with electronic monitoring of those accused of violence (Government of Norway, 2020[15]). In Mexico, the Alert Mechanism for Gender Violence Against Women outlines a set of emergency actions for governments to confront potentially homicidal GBV (EuroSocial, 2019[16]). Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some jurisdictions – such as Western Australia and Austria – developed online tools for securing restraining orders (Government of Western Australia, 2020[17]; OECD, 2020[18]).

Truly effective policy implementation to end GBV relies critically on prevention. Effective prevention and response efforts require promoting an organisational culture supportive of gender equality, addressing power imbalances, reducing impunity, and improving accountability.

GBV is an “outcome” of a host of environmental factors linked to social, economic, and political frameworks and of the inequalities and power imbalances that derive from those. These shape social norms in formal and informal institutions and impact organisational cultures and values. The underrepresentation of women (and marginalised groups) within decision-making and power structures is just one of the negative consequences of these imbalances. To ensure effective GBV prevention, governments and key stakeholders will need to understand the underlying culture and norms of their institutions and societies and tackle the existing barriers and inequalities.

Placing gender equality measures at the heart of these efforts remains important. Creating an institutional culture supportive of gender equality, and taking into account other intersecting inequalities, is a key starting point for governments. This can also contribute to create overarching frameworks to respond to and prevent GBV. An approach centred on targeting behavioural change can be supportive of these efforts (OECD, 2022[19]).

There are societal expectations around men’s and women’s behaviours and roles, and such beliefs are shaped by and are part of social institutions – formal and informal laws, social norms and practices. Including a “masculinities” lens in the policy agenda supporting a whole-of-society effort on ending GBV is a fundamental part of the equation.

While there are diverse forms of masculinities across cultures, geographical locations and time, there is a common denominator: they can affect women’s empowerment and gender equality either positively or negatively. Restrictive masculinities tend to be rigid and promote non-negotiable notions and expectations of what it means to be a “real” man – such as being the breadwinner or financially dominant in the household, which undermines women’s potential to contribute to the labour market. In contrast, gender-equitable masculinities enable men to take on diverse roles and behaviours that do not limit women’s agency, but rather support women’s broader access to education, the labour market (OECD, 2021[20]).

Restrictive masculinities often start within the home where they exert an influence on women’s decision-making power. This can spill into the public sphere, restricting women’s contributions to the economy or hindering their political voice. Beyond this, restrictive masculine norms can be reinforced when men sense a threat to their own masculinity or dominance (OECD, 2021[20]) and they can lead to higher levels of GBV – at home, at work and in public places. This is aligned with research findings showing that women’s relative increasing financial independence can result in men’s use of physical violence to re-establish their dominance at home (OECD, 2021[20]).

GBV not only has disastrous effects on the victim’s/survivor’s health, well-being and ability to participate actively in life, it also entails important economic costs for societies (OECD, 2019[21]; European Institute for Gender Equality, 2021[22]; Schulze and Hurren, 2021[23]). Transforming restrictive masculinities into gender-equitable ones is thus not only a human rights necessity but also beneficial to public welfare in general as well as for the economy (OECD, 2019[24]). Achieving such transformation requires targeted actions for men and women alike (OECD, 2019[24]).

Efforts to include a masculinities perspective to address GBV have increasingly gained traction in recent years – both in government policies and frameworks, but also through programmatic approaches. For example, Sweden’s National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Men’s Violence Against Women (2017-27) and Canada’s programme entitled “Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence” puts the participation and responsibility of men at the heart of this violence prevention strategy (Eriksson, 2018[25]; Government Offices of Sweden, 2016[26]; Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence, 2018[27]). By working with a wide range of actors and professionals, initiatives like these carry the potential to initiate a shift in mindset both at individual and community levels.

To gain a better understanding of masculinities and provide men with a space to express their emotions or concerns, many countries are also setting up hotlines dedicated to men. This is the case in Colombia: the hotline Línea Calma (Calm line) provides men with immediate emotional support and guidance to prevent harmful behaviour (Mayor's Office of Bogotá, 2021[28]).

Importantly, successfully promoting gender-equitable masculinities in society starts with addressing gender norms early on. Equimundo is a global advocate for the promotion of positive masculinities and has been successful in implementing evidence-informed programmes that increased father’s involvement in childcare and household work, promoted gender-equitable decision between partners or parents, and reduced domestic violence both towards women and children. To ensure sustainable transformation, the Global Boyhood Initiative aims to deconstruct restrictive masculine norms at an early age, with a view to empowering both girls/women and boys/men (Kering Foundation and Equimundo, 2022[29]).


[25] Eriksson, E. (2018), Exploring Best Practices in Combatting Violence Against Women: Sweden, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2018/604958/IPOL_IDA(2018)604958_EN.pdf.

[22] European Institute for Gender Equality (2021), The costs of gender-based violence in the European Union | European Institute for Gender Equality, https://eige.europa.eu/publications/costs-gender-based-violence-european-union.

[16] EuroSocial (2019), Evaluation of the Mexican Alert Mechanism for Gender Violence against Women (AVGM), https://eurosocial.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/1_MEXICO_experiencia_ENG.pdf.

[7] Government of Canada (2019), It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence 2018-2019, https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/report-rapport2019-en.html.

[9] Government of New Zealand (2020), Domestic violence leave, https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/domestic-violence-leave/.

[15] Government of Norway (2020), Report submitted by Norway pursuant to Article 68, paragraph 1 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Baseline Report), https://rm.coe.int/grevio-inf-2020-15/16809f9e09.

[12] Government of Spain (2019), Guide to the System of Action and Coordination in Cases of Gender Violence in Spain, https://violenciagenero.igualdad.gob.es/informacionUtil/guia/docs/GUIADEACCIONESINGLES.pdf.

[8] Government of Spain (2019), Report Submitted by Spain Pursuant to Article 68, Paragraph 1 of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic violence (Baseline Report), https://rm.coe.int/state-report-from-spain/16809313e0.

[17] Government of Western Australia (2020), Media Statement: New laws to protect family violence victims during COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2020/04/New-laws-to-protect-family-violence-victims-during-COVID-19-pandemic.aspx?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news.

[26] Government Offices of Sweden (2016), National strategy to prevent and combat men’s violence against women, https://www.government.se/4ac3ba/contentassets/4bbb1643e427432682464d4559c41027/fact-sheet_national-strategy-to-prevent-and-combat.pdf.

[29] Kering Foundation and Equimundo (2022), Global Boyhood Initiative, https://boyhoodinitiative.org/.

[28] Mayor’s Office of Bogotá (2021), ¡Regresa la Línea Calma exclusiva para hombres! Conoce los nuevos beneficios [The exclusive Calma Line for men is back! Learn about the new benefits], https://bogota.gov.co/mi-ciudad/cultura-recreacion-y-deporte/linea-calma-bogota-para-hombres-que-es-beneficios-telefonos-y-mas.

[13] New York State Unified Court System (n.d.), Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Courts, https://ww2.nycourts.gov/COURTS/8jd/idv.shtml.

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