Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Why combating gender-based violence matters to all of us

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A cheerful family playing in the park in Zagreb A cheerful family playing in the park in Zagreb

Did you know that 1 out of every 3 women will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime? And not just in a few countries – gender-based violence (GBV) is a global phenomenon that affects women and minorities disproportionately.

In the European Union (EU), for example, 29% LGBTI people in Croatia have been victims of physical and/or sexual violence or have been threatened with violence within the past five years.

The evidence shows that external shocks and economic crises considerably heighten the risk of GBV. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation of large parts of society, as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine have further led to a rise of GBV in the EU. For example, in Bulgaria, reported cases of GBV increased by  20% between March and May 2020, in comparison to the same period in 2019. Following the war in Urkaine, refugees fleeing to Europe continue to experience a heightened risk of GBV. A 2019 systematic review found that rape, unwanted sexual contact, sexual abuse and sexual torture were the most common types of GBV experienced by refugees. Providers of services for refugee victims of GBV in Europe have been overwhelmed with the surge in demand.

We know that that gender-based violence is rooted in power inequalities. Deeply-held beliefs about women’s subordinate role in society continue to shape individual collective behaviors and can render laws criminalizing GBV ineffective. Poverty, social exclusion, ethnicity, and discrimination are important drivers of GBV – and make it less likely for victims to receive support. Roma women, for example, are less likely than non-Roma to report GBV or seek support services due to poverty, fear of discrimination, and the lack of available social services in the areas where they live.  Similarly, LGBTI people often do not report cases of violence, only 20% of LGBTI people who were victims of violence in Croatia reported their case, in Hungary that’s true for just 13% of victims and in Romania for 5%.

Lack of data is one of the most pressing challenges to making progress on preventing and combating GBV through evidence-based policies. For Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Romania, the Gender Equality Index of the EU gives no score in the domain of GBV due to lack of comparable EU-wide data. UN Women’s Global Database on Violence against Women has estimates on the proportion of women who have experienced intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime for only 3 of the countries in Central and (South-) Eastern Europe: Croatia (13%), Poland (13%), and Romania (24%).

Countries in Central and Eastern Europe could start addressing this gap by catching up to other countries and commissioning the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), which includes a collection of data on intimate partner violence.  Beyond the DHS, building the institutional capacity and inter-institutional coordination to collect and use data for policies and the allocation of funding to relevant service and infrastructure investments is critical.

And if the moral obligation to protect women and the vulnerable against GBV was not enough to spur countries and societies into collective action, there is also an economic argument to be made. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) estimates in 2021 the cost of GBV across the EU to be EUR 366 billion per year, with the costs of violence against women amounting to EUR 289 billion (79%) and the costs of domestic and intimate partner violence (of which 87% is carried out against women) amounting to EUR 175 billion. These results are around one-third higher than previous estimates.

At the World Bank, addressing inequalities and strengthening the attention to GBV prevention is at the core of our mandate. We aim to respond to these dangers through investments, research and learning, and through collaboration with partners. The World Bank’s most recent Croatia Country Gender Assessment, for example, identifies concrete steps to address gaps in GBV reporting and monitoring, improve prevention programs, and close service gaps for survivors of GBV.

Through financial assistance, the World Bank supported the government of Romania in stepping up its efforts to provide high-quality social services, including support services to survivors of GBV, both for Romanians as well as for forcibly displaced people who are residing in Romania.

To further raise the bar on tackling GBV, the World Bank is the first multilateral development bank to disqualify contractors from receiving World Bank financed contracts for failing to comply with GBV-related obligations.

Only concerted efforts will allow us to stem the GBV tide. No country, community, or economy can achieve its potential or meet the development challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of all citizens, no matter their sex or gender. This is the reason why gender-based violence is at the core of the development agenda – and why combating GBV matters to all of us.


Gallina Andronova Vincelette

Country Director for the European Union, Europe and Central Asia

Valerie Morrica

Social Development Specialist

Chifundo Chilera

Social Development Specialist

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