Reliable data about violence in humanitarian settings is urgently needed.
Now, for the first time, the Baobab Research Program Consortium is implementing a Humanitarian Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS) in Uganda, in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR Uganda, and UNHCR implementing partners.
In 2020, Together for Girls, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the International Rescue Committee developed guidance for implementing Humanitarian Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS).
In 2022, the Baobab Research Program Consortium is leading the implementation of the first-ever Humanitarian Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS) in Uganda. Baobab is a collaboration between Population Council, the African Population and Health Research Center, and Well Made Strategy. With funding from Global Affairs Canada, Together for Girls and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also engaged in the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS) and Data-to-Action process.
As part of the Rooted Reflections blog series, guest author Chi-Chi Undie, Senior Associate for Population Council and Together for Girls board member, shares her experience of implementing the first-ever Humanitarian Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS), gathering vital data about violence against refugee children.
It was the beginning of March 2022, and our research team was in Kampala for a three-week training session that brought together trainees — a mix of refugees and host community members — from every settlement in the country and/or the surrounding areas.
This was our first week of training, during which we focused solely on training Team Leaders to facilitate the implementation of the first-ever Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in a humanitarian setting. As part of the training process, interviewers and gender-based violence (GBV) caseworkers would join in the following week, expanding our pool of trainees dramatically.
We were representatives of the Baobab Research Program Consortium (RPC) — an African-led, Africa-based, FCDO-funded partnership dedicated to changing the narrative around the kinds of research that can be conducted in refugee settings, despite the very real challenges that such settings present.
Over a five-year period, in collaboration with national governments (specifically, in Uganda, the Office of the Prime Minister’s Department of Refugees), the UNHCR Regional Bureau for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region, and with UNHCR country operations, Baobab is introducing robust, well-regarded cross-sectional and/or longitudinal surveys, such as the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS), into refugee contexts for the very first time.
The Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) are nationally representative household surveys measuring violence in childhood and young adulthood among 13- to 24-year-old females and males.
A bespectacled young man sat across from me during a lunch break in Kampala, Uganda, and proactively told me a little bit about himself in these words: “I’ve lived in BidiBidi Settlement for the last 20 years with my mom. We fled to Uganda from South Sudan when I was 6 years old. My mom is still there.”
I don’t think he realized just how significant his statements were. In sharing vignettes from his life using these words, he validated our very reason for being in Uganda in the first place.
The articulate, confident young man sitting across from me was among the Team Leaders being trained for the VACS implementation. Like him, at least a third of the Team Leaders and Interviewers were refugees, too. Like him, many had barely known any other home beyond the Ugandan settlements they had grown up in.
As he sat across from me and I listened to what he had to say, it dawned on me that he was a veritable symbol of the possibilities in refugee settings. His lived experience of growing up in an Ugandan settlement over the past 20 years gave more than a glimmer of hope that large-scale, rigorous surveys that had hitherto not included refugees, could now be implemented, at least in some contexts.
Twenty-three countries across sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe have implemented the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS), with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other partners that comprise the Together for Girls partnership.
However, none of these surveys have been carried out in a humanitarian setting, until now. This humanitarian setting version of the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) is being implemented through the Baobab RPC, in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR Uganda, and UNHCR implementing partners, who are collectively providing technical support for the process.
There is good reason why humanitarian contexts have historically been side-stepped when it comes to the implementation of well-utilized surveys such as the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS). Issues such as high population mobility and acute vulnerability must be taken into account and properly addressed in advance. Understandably, researchers have often shied away from tackling these challenges.
In 2020, however, in collaboration with the CDC and the International Rescue Committee, Together for Girls produced implementation guidance for carrying out the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in humanitarian settings, as a first step toward ensuring measurement, logistical, and ethical issues unique to these contexts are appropriately attended to.
Furthermore, as complex as average durations of stay can be, emerging evidence indicates that, as at the end of 2018, the average duration of a refugee’s time in exile stands at 10.3 years. This suggests that, at least in some contexts, refugee populations are ‘settled’ enough to enable their meaningful participation in surveys such as the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS).
This blog is one of three in the ‘Rooted Reflections’ series. They are part of the Baobab Research Programme Consortium blog series for documenting reflections, experiences, and learnings that are often left uncaptured by researchers in their implementation of research studies, and by the peer-reviewed literature. The Baobab RPC is an Africa-based, African-led collaboration that is working to change the narrative about the possibilities for sexual and reproductive health and rights research in refugee settings.
Funded by FCDO from 2021 to 2026, Baobab is bringing rigorous, globally-known sexual and reproductive health and rights surveys into refugee settings in the East and Horn of Africa (EHA) for the first time ever, and coupling these with operations research and evidence-informed interventions. Evidence from Baobab will be used to inform the programming and policies of UNHCR and its partners working to respond to the sexual and reproductive health and rights needs of refugees. Baobab is led out of Kenya by the Population Council, Inc., in collaboration with three other Kenya-based institutions: Population Council, Kenya; the African Population and Health Research Center; and Well Made Strategy.
Technical Director and Senior Associate, Population Council
This resource provides evidence that VACS data and associated processes contribute to meaningful policy change and action to end violence against children and adolescents and gender-based violence.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Uganda.
Explore the research and findings from the Uganda Violence Against Children and Youth Survey.
Guidance for measuring violence against children in humanitarian settings.
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Together for Girls, in partnership with The Equality Institute and the Oak Foundation, undertook a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and young people.
Explore the data in Uganda's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
While school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is prevalent, it is also preventable, and there are evidence-based solutions that show that teachers and school personnel can be significant changemakers when they take active roles in preventing, addressing, and responding to violence.
This essay is guest authored by Peter Kisaakye, Francis Obare, George Odwe, Yohannes Wado, and Chi-Chi Undie. Part of Population Council’s Rooted Reflections series, the team share their experiences implementing the first-ever Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS), gathering vital data about violence against refugee children.
This essay is guest authored by Chi-Chi Undie, Senior Associate, Population Council and Together for Girls board member. Part of Population Council’s Rooted Reflections series, Chi-Chi shares her experience of implementing the first-ever Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS), gathering vital data about violence against refugee children.
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