Nav: Home

Violence against girls in conflict-affected populations reinforces gender norms

March 01, 2018

March 1, 2018 -- In some areas affected by conflict, adolescent girls and young women are perceived as responsible for their own safety and considered as burdens and threats to family honor should they become victims of violence or pregnant prior to marriage, according to a study just released by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. This latest research on gender based violence (GBV) also indicates that girls need to take responsibility for managing their interactions with boys and men. The findings are published online in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

The study, part of a larger intervention trial conducted by the International Rescue Committee and Columbia University, was conducted in two conflict-affected settings: fourteen conflict-affected towns/villages in South Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and three refugee camps with primarily South Sudanese/Sudanese populations in western Ethiopia. The three camps in Ethiopia include populations of refugees fleeing multiple conflicts in Sudan, as well as smaller numbers of refugees from South Sudan and DRC. More than 20 ethnic groups lived in the camps.

Caregiver and adolescent girl participants with a diversity of experiences based on gender, age, married or unmarried, in school and out of school were included in the study.

Three themes related to adolescent girls' and young women's experiences of gender based violence and of sexual violence, emerged: perceptions of responsibility for girls' safety; perceptions of girls' responsibility for interactions with men and boys; and community perceptions of appropriate responses to physical violence and rape committed against girls.

"What became clear from the data suggest that many girls and caregivers deemed adolescent girls themselves to be responsible for their safety, through the enactment of perceived good behavior," said Marni Sommer, DrPH, MS, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School. "This in particular related to girls' outward appearances or how they dressed, and the respect they showed their elders and community members and family."

Similarly, girls were perceived to be responsible for managing their interactions with boys and men, and thus to some degree at fault if physical, emotional or sexual violence occurred. Lastly, the communities in both contexts held differing perceptions about appropriate responses to experiences of violence, with those occurring through marital relationships as to be expected and mediated but not rebuked, while those occurring from boyfriends or strangers as warranting police involvement but only if a girl was severely injured.

"Our study adds to the ongoing conversation on how to prevent and address violence against adolescent girls within conflict-affected populations through gender norms change," according to Lindsay Stark, DrPH, associate professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and director of the CPC (Child Protection in Crisis) Learning Network.

"The evidence on how both adolescent girls and caregivers conceptualize abuse and respond to different cases of abuse within the Ethiopian and the DRC refugee camps suggests that programs should work with community structures and leaders to address victim-blaming, silence surrounding experiences of violence, and justification of abuse," said Dr. Sommer.
The study was supported by the UK Department for International Development.

Co-authors include: Anaise Williams and Yana Mayevskaya, Mailman School of Public Health; Miguel Muñoz-Laboy, Temple University; and Kathryn Falb and Gizman Abdella, International Rescue Committee.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at