The UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative

A flagship government programme to tackle sexual violence in conflict zones risked letting survivors down due to a lack of senior leadership, poor strategy, and cuts in funding.

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9 Jan 2020
ICAI amber/red score
Lead commissioner
Tamsyn Barton
Women and girls
Related documents
Government response
Literature review
Approach paper

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

  • Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality

Sexual violence is a common feature of most modern armed conflicts, with devastating and life-changing impact on survivors and their communities.

The UK government has been at the forefront of efforts to galvanise support for an international campaign to reduce and prevent conflict-related sexual violence. In 2012, it launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), championed by the then-Foreign Secretary, Lord Hague, and the Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie. In 2014, as part of the initiative, the UK hosted the high-profile – and first ever – Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The aim of this ICAI review is to assess PSVI activities since the 2014 Global Summit, and to investigate how the UK government has followed up on its commitments and ambitions on preventing sexual violence, supporting survivors and promoting justice and accountability. The cross-departmental initiative is led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with contributions from the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.

This review assesses the relevance and effectiveness of the PSVI portfolio, focusing on global as well as country-specific programming, along with the initiative’s approach to learning. It explores what progress has been made on the commitments to reduce stigma for survivors, to increase justice and accountability, and to increase preventative efforts since the 2014 Global Summit.

A separate, smaller review of the government’s efforts to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in peacekeeping, which is addressed through a different set of teams and policies, will be published in due course.


  • The PSVI has contributed to making the UK a leading voice in the international effort to address conflict-related sexual violence, especially through its influencing work – but the government’s level of effort and activities are not commensurate with the objectives and pledges set out at the 2014 Global Summit.
  • Interventions centred on the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict – the main achievement of the initiative – have created a lasting impact, and the initiative has funded partners with strong local ties who are meeting their stated output objectives.
  • The initiative lacks a clear strategy and overall vision to guide its activities, and the lack of a shared understanding of the problem has inhibited cross-departmental collaboration on addressing conflict-related sexual violence.
  • There is little monitoring and reporting on how outputs translate into lasting outcomes, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of interventions.
  • The FCO’s one-year funding cycle has restricted the initiative’s ability to address deep-rooted issues and has negatively impacted programme effectiveness.
  • The Initiative lacks robust mechanisms to ensure that survivors are meaningfully included in the choice, design, and implementation of projects and that the principle of ‘survivor wellbeing’ guides all activities. The PSVI team has no oversight of funding and weak staff capacity is undermining the impact of the Initiative.
  • Little attempt has been made to generate evidence despite a global lack of it, and there is no learning strategy for the Initiative. PSVI funding does not demand that evidence is applied in the design of projects, or that projects should have a learning or evidence-gathering component.
  • The PSVI teams in country and in London could play a stronger convening role: there is a clear demand for learning and sharing between implementing partners, across country teams, and with other donors.


  1. The UK government should ensure that the important issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict is given an institutional home which enables both full oversight and direction, while also maximising the particular strengths and contributions of each participating department.
  2. The UK government should ensure that its programming activities on preventing sexual violence in conflict are embedded within a structure which supports effective design, monitoring and evaluation, and enables long-term impact.
  3. The UK government should ensure that its work on preventing conflict-related sexual violence is founded on survivor-led design, which has clear protocols in place founded in ‘do no harm’ principles.
  4. The UK government should build a systematic learning process into its programming to support the generation of evidence of what works in addressing conflict-related sexual violence and ensure effective dissemination and uptake across its portfolio of activities.

Watch ICAI’s chief commissioner introducing the review:

Government response

The government publishes a response to all ICAI reviews. The government response is available to read online.

International Development Committee

Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), or its ICAI sub-committee, hold hearings on all ICAI reviews. The IDC hearing for this review is available to watch online.