The Whole System Approach

Effectively addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG), including domestic abuse and sexual assault, throughout all of society is often called ‘coordinated community response’. This good practice process enables all members of society to be part of the solution and take action which has been proven to save lives. At Commonwealth Says NO MORE we refer to this process as The Whole System Approach (WSA).

How member countries use The Whole System Approach and engage in the process will often determine the success of VAWG endeavors. This section briefly describes the theory and what may be done as part of a ‘whole’ approach strategy.

The WSA is framed in a holistic way of working in partnership with national and local government, civil society and the voluntary sector to deliver a national (strategy and delivery methodology addressing SDG5) reduction in violence against women. This model inherently understands that to succeed it needs joint working and leadership at a high government level.

The WSA is defined as working in partnership collaboratively in a non-partisan, apolitical way with organisations, states and bodies to eliminate the incidence of VAWG, domestic violence and sexual assault. Outcomes prove the validity of the approach, with culturally sensitive solutions that include the private, public, government, voluntary and civil society sectors. At the core, the approach recognises that to achieve sustainable results, the main areas of delivery are protection, provision and prevention, which must be addressed in equal measure.

The tenants of WSA are:

Leadership: The aspiration to eradicate VAWG in a member country must come from the highest levels of government. Only strong leadership can promote the involvement needed in a multi-sectoral strategy.

Develop a legal framework for VAWG/SDG5: Ensuring that the entirety of the state and all sectors of civil society understand the definitions and deliverables on SDG5 is critical. Having an understanding of how the country legally understands gender equality via the same parameters ensures all sectors work towards the same strategy and deliverables.

Independent state assessment: Through this proposed self-assessment methodology, a country can initiate the process of generating a gap analysis of needs, while at the same time-sharing good practice with others. By working within a similar framework, countries will be able in future to measure progress and understand their needs realistically. This process allows each member country to see where they are in respect to SDG5 and what they wish to deliver on for 2030.

Research and policy development: This critical stage empowers working with Commonwealth Secretariat missions, governments, and the public, private and voluntary sectors to identify effective policies, strategies and legislation to address gender equality. In terms of research, it is important for countries to develop their own data sets to create a baseline through which impact can be measured and policies and strategies constructed.

Coordinate a multi-sectoral response: This type of response ensures that all the parties (government, civil society and the private sector) needed to take the required work of the SDG5 agenda forward are part of a wide consultation process. This will ensure that all sectors have the tools to work together to ensure the strategy moves forward.

Implementation of strategy and development of services: The implementation period requires collaboration, cooperation and leadership. Planning and regular meetings of key stakeholders will benefit this process. Resources throughout the entire country need to be in place to create or continue programmes and/or services for society as a whole and align with each member country’s SDG5 commitments.

Measuring results and re-evaluating: From a baseline created through the assessment, it is important to measure progress on the main goals for each country to deliver on SDG5. This approach allows understanding of what has gone well and to continuously evaluate this policy area.

In terms of process, it is important that the member countries begin with the internal assessments and understanding of its policy issues and data sets. In essence, a deep internal examination and its SDG5 situation that leads into the joining all actors into a collective response. Moving forward, coordinated community response principles with government leadership at the highest level will lead to change. It is important as the process table shows below to measure results at the end and start the learning cycle again to improve the response further.


Prevention, Provision and Protection

Good practice of any VAWG strategy and delivery must ensure a multi-sector response to violence against women. Good practice ensures that all sectors of society are included in response mechanisms that are thoughtfully developed with the needs of the victim at the centre. This approach empowers participants to take one step at a time, building on resources, research and collaboration. At its core good practice must recognise that to achieve sustainable results, the main areas of delivery are protection, provision and prevention. These areas must be addressed in equal measure.

The methodology is framed to enable working in partnership with national & local government, civil society and the voluntary sector to deliver a national reduction in violence against women.

The chart below illustrates how prevention, provision and protection work together.


Prevention is a critical factor towards eliminating VAWG, including domestic and sexual violence. Prevention programmes include campaigns, working on policies, educational programmes, looking at and challenging the role of media, and working with the public at large.

Example of Prevention: VAWG training to ‘herd boys’ in Lesotho

In the highlands of Lesotho, young herders – commonly called ‘herd boys’ – learn to fight each other over territory and grow up in an area where violence is considered a normal, masculine trait.

Violence against women and girls is often normalised. According to a 2014 national survey, 33 percent of women and 40 percent of men in Lesotho believe wife beating can be justified. To make matters more challenging, discussing sexuality or sex is considered taboo, even among friends or with partners. As a result, many young people do not know how to address issues of consent.

Studies showed that herd boys were frequently among the perpetrators of gender-based violence and in 2014, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and ‘Help Lesotho’ began offering the herd boys –along with other at-risk groups, such as out-of-school youth and adolescent mothers – VAWG awareness education sessions. The programme involves intensive five-day training and then monthly meetings over six to eight months.

The sessions cover interpersonal skills, goal setting, anger management, and how to communicate and negotiate respectfully with others. They also provide comprehensive sexuality education, including how to access health services and prevent HIV transmission. These lessons have proved to be eye-opening to many participants.

The information sessions have introduced the herd boys to ideas about human rights – including women’s and girls’ right to live free from abuse and violence. They have learned about the importance of respect and communication. One said he used to abuse girls, intercepting them on their way home from school, even forcing them to have sex. He now says he has changed.

More than 600 herder boys and young men had been reached at the time of writing and in evaluations, chiefs, parents and other community members said that the young men’s behaviour and attitudes had indeed changed.
Source: Relief Web January 2018


Provision involves best practice programmes that provide support, care, empowerment and safety to victims of VAWG. Provision takes many forms, depending on the needs of the victim and capacity to support.

Example of Provision: Safe shelters for survivors of domestic violence in Malaysia

In 2014, of the 51 women who sought medical treatment for physical injuries as a result of domestic violence, 14 women were referred to Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) for safe shelter after survivor protection needs were identified. Three domestic violence survivors went to a hospital to receive medical treatment and the hospital staff referred them to the WAO shelter. One woman was advised to contact the Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) after the hospital identified the risk of repeated violence, and another woman was advised to lodge a police report after the hospital recognised the severity of her injuries.

Source: Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysia 2015


A state or constitutive element might have a robust infrastructure to combat violence against women. If the relevant protection and judicial frameworks are not in place nor co-ordinated to all sectors of society, it will be ineffective. Protection of the victim and family are at the centre of the work.

Example of Protection: Enabling Rights Project to end VAWG in Kiribati

Kiribati’s judiciary has been working to build the capacity of lay magistrates to ensure that the justice system is responding efficiently, fairly and comprehensively in cases involving violence against women and children. They are reaching out to some of the most remote communities in the country to raises awareness on issues of procedural fairness in domestic violence cases and access to justice for women and children who have experienced violence. Magistrates’ courts deal with the majority of cases involving violence against women and include more than 150 lay magistrates. They have important decision-making responsibilities in their communities, with the support of court clerks, despite receiving no formal legal training.

The ‘Enabling Rights Project’ has included interactive training to give lay magistrates a better understanding of relevant laws and court procedures that exist in Kiribati. The project uses case studies, role plays and reflections in face-to-face consultations. As well as working with lay magistrates, the project engaged with the public to allow them ‘to see, feel and understand positively’ their roles in ending violence against women, particularly with respect to legal responses to the violence and how to access and use the justice system.

Source: Pacific Women Annual Progress Report, 2015-2016, p.63


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