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A scoping review on the nature and impact of gender based violence on women primary producers

Abstract

Background

Women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are primary producers of subsistence food and significant contributors to the agricultural economy. Gender Based Violence (GBV) adversely impacts their capacity to contribute and sustain their families and undermines social, economic, and human capital. Addressing GBV, therefore, is critical to creating safe and inclusive environments for women as primary producers to participate fully in rural communities. The aim of this scoping review is to explore the existing evidence on GBV in the context of women primary producers in LMICs to inform research gaps and priorities.

Methods

A scoping review was conducted using PubMed, Web of Science, Ebscohost and Google Scholar using keywords related to GBV and women producers in LMICs. Peer-reviewed journal articles published between January 2012 and June 2022 were included in the review. Duplicates were removed, titles and abstracts were screened, and characteristics and main results of included studies were recorded in a data charting form. A total of 579 records were identified, of which 49 studies were eligible for inclusion in this study.

Results

Five major themes were identified from our analysis: (1) extent and nature of GBV, (2) the impact of GBV on agricultural/primary production livelihood activities, (3) sociocultural beliefs, practices, and attitudes, (4) aggravating or protective factors, and (5) GBV interventions. Addressing GBV in agriculture requires inclusive research approaches and targeted interventions to empower women producers, promote gender equality, enhance agricultural productivity, and contribute to broader societal development. Despite attempts by researchers to delve into this issue, the pervasive under-reporting of GBV remains a challenge. The true extent and nature of GBV perpetrated against women is far from fully understood in this context.

Conclusion

Despite the significant challenges posed by GBV to the health, economy and livelihoods of women primary producers in LMICs, there is a paucity in the current state of knowledge. To make meaningful progress, more research is required to understand the relationship between GBV and agricultural settings, and to gain nuanced insight into the nature and impact of GBV on women primary producers in different regions and contexts.

Peer Review reports

Background

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a widespread public health issue that affects people of all genders, but disproportionately impacts women and girls [1]. GBV is deeply rooted in gender inequality, and is reinforced by patriarchal norms, discriminatory laws, and socio-cultural practice that violate women’s rights [2]. Although GBV can affect individuals from all backgrounds, women living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) experience a disproportionate burden due to a range of complex socio-economic and cultural factors [3].

Given women have a significant representation in the agricultural workforce in LMICs and substantial contributions to food and crop production, the impacts of GBV have far-reaching consequences on agricultural productivity and food security [4]. In the context of ongoing climate change, the urgency to address GBV within agricultural settings becomes even more pronounced as climate shocks create a strain on food production and exacerbate food insecurity [5]. Women and girls are often the first to be negatively impacted by increased food insecurity which tends to lead to an increased incidence of violence against women [5, 6]. While GBV is a highly concerning issue gaining increasing attention, particularly within the public health and humanitarian fields, the relationship between GBV and agriculture lacks focus and recognition.

GBV, as defined by UN Women, refers to “harmful acts directed at an individual or a group of individuals based on their gender” [7]. While there is debate over which forms of violence fall under the GBV umbrella [8], for the purposes of this review, we include physical, sexual, economic, and psychological violence. Gender is a product of social and cultural influences rather than an innate characteristic [9], and GBV is intricately linked to the social constructs of gender. Deeply ingrained patriarchy and harmful beliefs and stereotypes about masculinity and femininity shape the roles of men and women, exerting significant power dynamics that perpetuate oppression and gender inequalities [10, 11].

Cultural practices, attitudes and traditions that contribute to GBV in LMICs, such as forced marriage, bride price and female genital mutilation, originate from systemic gender inequality, coercive control, and harmful social norms [12,13,14]. Although GBV affects individuals of all genders, women experience heightened risks due to gender-based power inequalities and discriminatory laws perpetuated by social norms and practices [12]. Global perspectives on GBV recognize the phenomenon is not incidental or indicative of a woman’s vulnerability; rather it is “embedded in structural systems, norms and long-standing discrimination” [15].

According to the World Health Organization, around one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives [1]. Women in LMICs are disproportionately impacted by GBV, with prevalence rates of up to 50% in some countries. In LMICs, however, the true extent of GBV is difficult to quantify due to several reasons, including lack of reliable data and the often-hidden nature of this form of violence [2, 16]. Tools and methods to capture the prevalence of GBV are often inadequate [17, 18]; furthermore, cultural, historical, and legal understandings of GBV vary across regions and culture, compounding the risk of under reporting or double counting [19, 20]. The under reporting of GBV is a critical challenge in LMICs due to cultural and social norms that discourage women from reporting abuse [3]. Women may face various barriers, including fear of stigma and shame, financial constraints, lack of services, fear of revenge, limited law enforcement action, and societal attitudes that normalise violence [4, 21].

Women and girls play a vital role in the economic, social, and cultural life of rural communities in LMICs. Rural women make significant contributions to household income through their participation in agricultural and other economic activities, such as home-based enterprises and small-scale agricultural ventures [3]. Globally, 36% of women work in agrifood systems; however, women are more likely to be employed in less-profitable value chains and activities due to traditional social norms or poor access to assets and resources [22]. In LMICs, in addition to agricultural roles, women are traditionally assigned to household work, child and elder care responsibilities, and other unpaid care work due to existing gendered divisions of labor.

Feminist economists refer to the concept of a “care economy” to describe the invisible and unpaid work undertaken by women globally [23]. While the valuable contributions of rural women are often overlooked and undervalued, their work is fundamental to the functioning of families, communities, and societies [24]. Rural women can also act as community leaders, change agents and decision makers, serving as role models for women and girls and breaking down barriers that hinder their full participation in society [25]. In LMICs, where rural women play a significant role in the social system and family economy, GBV limits their potential and has negative impacts on their well-being [16, 26]. Addressing GBV, therefore, is critical to creating safe and inclusive environments for women to participate fully in rural communities and contribute to economic, social, and cultural development.

While women’s contributions are central to the food and nutrition security of households and communities, the gendered nature of food systems is well established [16]. Women producers face unique challenges which limit their ability to fully participate in and benefit from agricultural activities [6]. Challenges include limited access to land, credit, and other resources necessary for agricultural production, as well as gender-based discrimination and limited participation in decision-making processes [5, 25]. Women producers frequently lack access to education and training opportunities, which can hinder their ability to adopt new technologies and practices to improve productivity and profitability [27]. Additionally, women may face discrimination and harassment in their work, as well as limited access to markets and other economic opportunities [28].

While there are some programs and strategies that have been implemented to address GBV in agricultural settings, such as microfinance programs, advocacy for equal land rights and the promotion of gender-sensitive training [25, 29], GBV remains an under-recognised reality, compounding the existing challenges faced by women producers in LMICs. As noted by Okpara and Anugwa, “GBV is not only a human rights violation, but also a catalyst to social degradation and food insecurity” [28] (p.12). The significance of addressing GBV, particularly in the context of women producers in LMICs, cannot be overstated. While research on GBV in agricultural settings is growing, it remains relatively underexplored [16, 30]. To make meaningful progress, more research is needed to understand the relationship between GBV and agriculture and gain insight into the impact of GBV on women producers in different regions and contexts. By undertaking a comprehensive review of the existing literature on GBV in the context of women primary producers in LMICs, this study aims to identify research gaps and priorities, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in this field.

Method

Scoping reviews serve as valuable tools in health research, enabling researchers to map essential concepts and identify gaps in the existing literature. As the impact of GBV on women producers remains poorly understood, a scoping review was deemed appropriate as it provides a comprehensive overview of the available literature, including its volume, nature, and characteristics, while also revealing areas where research gaps exist. To conduct the scoping review, the frameworks developed by Arksey and O’Malley [31] and Levac, Colquhoun, and O’Brien [32] were employed. These frameworks include, in broad terms, the following stages: [1] identification of research questions, [2] a search of the relevant databases, [3] selection of articles, [4] making a chart of findings from reading the articles and extracting relevant information, and [5] collection, summary, and report of the results.

Research questions and study purpose

The scoping review process was guided by the following research question:

What is the current state of knowledge regarding GBV in the context of women primary producers in LMICs?

For the purposes of this scoping review, “women primary producers” were defined as women involved in agriculture and food production; this included plant production, livestock production, fisheries and aquaculture. In addition to this, the definition of food systems used by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and defined by the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security (HLPE) was utilised [33, 34]. There was no threshold of involvement in primary production applied to inclusion; papers that discussed women involved in primary production whether as a full-time occupation or as one part of their livelihood activities, were included. If women had been involved in primary production but this involvement was curtailed because of GBV or GBV-associated factors, these studies were also included.

Article search and selection

The project team consisted of three investigators with expertise on subject matter relevant to the scoping study. A librarian also assisted in performing the initial search and in refining search terms relevant to the research question. The search was conducted using PubMed, Web of Science and Ebscohost. Search terms relevant to gender-based violence, such as “Violence against Women”, “Domestic Violence”, “Intimate Partner Violence” and “Gender-Based Violence”, together with relevant acronyms were used. Search terms relevant to primary production, such as “farming”, “food production”. “agriculture”, “aquaculture”, “food systems” and “agribusiness” were also included. Only peer-reviewed journal articles published between January 2012 and June 2022 were included in the review. Through this initial search of three databases, 579 articles were found. Removal of duplicates using EndNote (a reference management software package) resulted in 452 remaining articles.

To be included in the review, papers had to meet the following inclusion criteria; (a) based on research in LMICs, as defined by the World Bank, (b) peer-reviewed journal articles, including systematic reviews, mixed methods, qualitative and quantitative papers, (c) published between 2012 and 2022, (d) considered food systems as per our definition, (e) considered GBV as per our definition, (f) and considered women and girls 15 and over (economically active) were included. Exclusion criteria included (a) men of any age, (b) grey literature, (c) research in High Income Countries (HIC), as defined by the World Bank and (d) articles not published in English. The team had initially planned to limit the scoping review to Melanesia but found only six suitable peer reviewed articles since 2012. The search was, therefore, expanded to all LMICs.

In the title and abstract round of reviews two investigators (CO & SS) independently reviewed paper titles and abstracts. This process yielded a total of 72 articles between both reviewers. Both investigators were in complete agreement on 35 of these articles for inclusion. Both investigators met to discuss discrepancies between their included/excluded articles. After considering the inclusion and exclusion criteria, together with the research question, both investigators reached a consensus on the inclusion of 49 papers. A Google Scholar search for any additional peer-reviewed journal articles not included in the initial database search was then completed using the terms: ‘“Gender Based Violence” “Women Farmers”. We included only the first 100 search results from Google Scholar for further rounds of title and abstract filtration. This process yielded a further 11 papers based on the inclusion criteria. One of these papers was already captured in the list of papers from the database searches and was therefore excluded. The combined 59 papers (49 from databases, 10 from Google Scholar) were then distributed among both investigators for a full text review, after which a total of 49 articles were deemed suitable for data extraction (See Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Article selection process conducted in this scoping review (adapted from the PRISMA flow diagram)

Data extraction and analysis

The investigators collaborated to develop a data-charting form for tabulating relevant aspects of each reviewed article. In addition to author(s), year, title and journal, these data-chart categories were: country; aims of study; study population/sample size; methodology/methods; intervention type and duration (if applicable); outcomes; and key findings relating to the research question. Because of the volume of articles under review, two authors (CO and SS) divided the papers into two groups for data extraction. The authors met regularly to discuss progress and ensure that data extraction remained aligned with the research question (Levac et al., 2010). Data charts from both authors were combined and discussed jointly. During the data extraction process, broad themes were identified among the body of included studies. Five overarching themes (discussed below) were then identified; included articles were mapped against these themes. Many articles were assigned to more than one theme (See Table 1).

Table 1 Summary of studies

Findings/results

Description of studies: populations, research designs

While the included 49 studies varied in their aims, all considered GBV within agricultural or rural settings. All studies that drew on primary data sought contributions from the economically active workforce (women or girls over 15 years). Often these were women primary producers, as defined above, or the study identified a subpopulation of women primary producers within the broader sample population. At times, male partners or other male household members were also included in the study. Other relevant stakeholders, such as educators, were at times included. The studies included in our scoping review employed a range of methods. While many were based on mixed methods, commonly interviews together with surveys and/or focus groups, studies utilizing only interviews or surveys/questionnaires were also common. Six studies drew on secondary data, particularly data from the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) [36]. Literature reviews, standalone focus groups, and observation-based studies were also included but not to the extent of other research approaches.

Using the World Health Organization (WHO) six regional groupings [37], geographical classifications were assigned to the articles in this scoping review. These groupings are the Africa Region; Region of the Americas; South-East Asia Region; European Region; Eastern Mediterranean Region; and Western Pacific Region. While forty-four of the included papers could be placed in one of these regions, five articles, all literature reviews or studies involving secondary data, were based in more than one country and across two or more of these groupings. Twenty-two papers (44.9%) were based on research in the Africa Region, two articles (4.1%) were based on research conducted in the Region of the Americas; 10 articles (20.4%) in the South-East Asia Region; three (6.1%) in the European Region; two (4.1%) in the Eastern Mediterranean; and five (10.2%) in the Western Pacific Region. The African Region was by far the most represented across the articles in the scoping study (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Number of peer-reviewed journal articles selected from each WHO region

The 5 major themes identified from our analysis are discussed below: [1] extent and nature of GBV, [2] the impact of GBV on agricultural/primary production livelihood activities, [3] sociocultural beliefs, practices, and attitudes, [4] aggravating or protective factors, and [5] GBV interventions. These themes are explained using a narrative approach.

Extent and nature of GBV

The first theme, extent and nature of GBV, was assigned to papers that explored or highlighted the prevalence of GBV and/or the extent to which data on GBV is collected, and manifestations of GBV in the settings concerned. Papers that explored under-reporting or inadequate tools for capturing data were also included here. Our review categorized fifteen (31.25%) articles under this theme. In terms of extent, the literature revealed that GBV is prevalent in many primary production-based communities in LMICs, with numerous women reporting they had experienced or are currently experiencing GBV [38, 39]. However, due to the limitations in adequately capturing data on GBV in these settings, the true extent of GBV is likely underestimated. Of note, some papers discussing GBV in primary production settings in LMICs, specifically highlighted how poor screening methods or research approaches inadequately captured or ignored women’s experiences, therefore affecting the reliability of data [35, 40,41,42]. Under reporting of GBV is a critical challenge; several papers explored the use and efficacy of methods to capture data on GBV, including through surveys, interviews, focus group discussions and tools such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) [11, 18, 38, 42]. These studies also explored inadequacies in fully capturing the true extent of GBV, indicating the actual prevalence is underestimated.

The nature of GBV encompassed various forms in the context of LMIC-primary production settings and included physical violence [38, 43,44,45] sexual violence [38, 43, 44], economic violence [44, 46,47,48] and psychological violence [38, 45]. In the realm of GBV reporting and monitoring, however, certain types of violence, such as physical violence and sexual violence received more attention and focus compared to other forms of violence. Psychological violence, for example, can be challenging to recognise, monitor and report and therefore hindered our understanding of the full scope of GBV in this setting.

Men perpetrate violence against women for various reasons, influenced by a combination of individual, social, economic and cultural factors. Our review highlighted some common underlying factors including refusal of partners to engage in sexual intercourse, to achieve a self-image of masculinity, and transgression of cultural norms related to women’s roles in society and primary production-related work [43,44,45]. In the study conducted by Simsek et al. [46] on seasonal agricultural workers in Turkey, husbands and/or fathers denied women the ability to make decisions about their earnings, which was identified as a form of economic violence. Similarly, in Papua New Guinea, Eves [44] highlighted the prevention of economic decision-making as a feature of GBV. This form of economic violence frequently affected women’s participation in agricultural livelihoods [48].

The impact of GBV on agricultural/primary production livelihood activities

The second theme, the impact of GBV on agricultural/primary production livelihood activities focused on the impact of GBV on women’s engagement and participation. Within the scoping review, thirteen (27.08%) articles were identified. These articles revealed that GBV negatively impacted on women’s benefits from and engagement with agricultural and other primary production livelihood activities [49]. Furthermore, the articles discussed how GBV, and the associated power dynamics restricted women’s decision-making abilities, limited their access to resources, impeded their skills development, and hindered their agency. Within this context, several interrelated themes emerged, highlighting the complex way in which GBV affects women primary producers. One recurring theme was the physical and mental toll of GBV on women’s health, directly impacting their ability to work and engage in agricultural activities. Instances of morbidity resulting from GBV created barriers that limited women’s productivity and hampered their active participation in the agricultural sector [26].

Furthermore, women producers working in isolated settings faced an increased risk of sexual violence and other forms of GBV [26, 40]. The inherent vulnerability of their surroundings exposed them to heightened dangers, undermining their sense of safety and well-being [40, 45, 50]. Not surprisingly, the demands and pressures associated with primary production and household responsibilities, including food scarcity, exacerbated GBV. Women producers facing economic and emotional strain, were more vulnerable to GBV, further undermining their well-being, and hindering their productive contributions [26, 40]. In the context of GBV in agricultural settings, these interlinkages were particularly evident and created a vicious cycle that exacerbated the negative effects of violence on women producers.

Land rights, as a cultural phenomenon and a barrier, played a significant role in limiting women’s engagement in livelihood activities [25, 40, 51]. While land rights may not be inherently classified as GBV, the denial or restriction of women’s land rights can contribute to and perpetuate GBV. Cultural norms, traditions, and patriarchal systems often intersected with land ownership and inheritance, creating obstacles for women’s access to and control over land resources [40, 44, 51]. The theme of land rights and land ownership featured prominently in the literature and will be discussed again later in this paper.

Economic control, a recognised and insidious form of GBV, was also a recurring theme in the literature. Lack of economic agency, for example, withholding women’s farm income restricted their decision-making abilities, curtailed their economic mobility, and had the potential to stifle entrepreneurial and innovative potential [40, 44, 45, 47, 52]. Additionally, women faced limitations on the type of livelihood activities they could engage in due to gender norms and expectations; such limitations further perpetuated gender inequalities [47, 48, 52, 53]. Male producers, for example, were typically given control over cash crops or high-value agricultural activities; in contrast, women were often assigned tasks related to subsistence farming or low-value crops [47, 52]. This gendered division of labour reinforced gender disparities in agricultural productivity.

Coping strategies used by women to mitigate these impacts on agricultural livelihoods were also discussed. These strategies included fighting back against GBV and asserting rights, appeasing the perpetrator to minimise the occurrence of GBV and seeking social support from family and friends [54]. In some instances, women producers sought the intervention of law enforcement, resorting to police intervention, seeking counsel, and instituting legal action [53, 54]. Several articles highlighted strategies to mitigate the impact of GBV on livelihoods; these articles will be discussed later in this paper under the theme GBV interventions.

Sociocultural beliefs, practices, and attitudes

The issue of GBV is multifaceted, and the third theme, sociocultural beliefs, practices, and attitudes, provided valuable insights into the underlying factors that contribute to GBV. Nineteen articles (39.6%) grouped under this theme highlighted how gender inequality underpinned GBV through factors such as culturally sustained gender norms and schemas, historical factors, traditional inheritance practices, policy and customary norms.

Research revealed that GBV is sometimes approved or tolerated by both women and men in certain contexts. Several studies, including those by Eves [44], Simsek et al. [46], Sandberg et al. [55], and Crookston et al. [56], highlighted this acceptance of GBV. Studies also highlighted the acceptance of GBV in response to specific behaviors, such as the refusal of sex [44]. Not surprisingly, sociocultural beliefs, practices, and attitudes were identified as influential in shaping the occurrence and acceptability of GBV. For example, households where wealth is derived from agricultural production were found to be more likely to exhibit attitudes that sustained GBV [55].

As highlighted by Maduekwe et al. [57], in research from Malawi, women who work in agriculture, are more likely to be “human recognition deprived’; that is, undervalued and under-recognised by society. Cultural norms and attitudes, in this context, were seen to support male dominance, foster conservative perspectives on women’s societal value, and potentially facilitate a more accepting environment for GBV. While one study from South Sulawesi reported strong disapproval of GBV, other studies highlighted the influence of social norms and the networks through which they were disseminated [11, 38, 55, 58,59,60]. These social norms created conditions that enabled GBV to persist not only in primary-producer settings but also throughout agricultural value chains.

The connection between agricultural livelihoods, history and tradition contributed to attitudes that sustained gender inequality and GBV [38, 59, 61]. Research demonstrates that in certain contexts, sociocultural factors shaped gender roles centered around responsibilities related to primary production [49, 59, 62]. These gender roles reinforced power inequalities, and further perpetuated GBV [38, 52, 60, 61, 63]. Of note, women’s engagement in primary production activities was, at times, perceived by men as a threat to their traditional masculine identities [53, 59]. A particularly notable association between sociocultural norms related to agriculture and GBV was observed by Alesina et al. [59]. This research, utilising the Demographic Health Survey [36] and Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas [64] linked present-day GBV occurrences to historical forms of agriculture in Africa. Societies with historical forms of production such as plough agriculture, fishing, and husbandry (primarily male dominated) were found to have higher rates of GBV, even when present-day descendants were no longer engaged in primary production. Conversely, societies in Africa with non-plough-based agriculture, where agricultural tasks were historically more equally shared between women and men, exhibited lower rates of GBV [59].

Research revealed that land ownership is connected to agency and a woman’s economic independence; several articles explored the connection between traditional modes of land rights or land inheritance/ownership and GBV [25, 40, 44]. The association between traditional modes of inheritance or land rights and GBV, revealed two distinct outcomes for women producers. In cases where cultural practices provide women with land, these traditional practices contributed to increased agency and decision-making power for women [25]. Conversely, when women were excluded from inheriting land, this limited autonomy and had a detrimental effect on women producers. The exclusion of women from inheriting land may lead to a dependency on marriage as the primary means of acquiring a livelihood [40, 44] (Chipuriro, 2018; Eves, 2021). Of note, Mienzen-Dick et al. [25] (p77) described the relationship between women’s land rights and GBV as “one of the clearest indicators of disempowerment”. In their review of the literature on women’s land rights and poverty reduction, Mienzen-Dick and colleagues [25] revealed that women’s property (land or house) ownership is “significantly and negatively associated with both long-term and current physical and psychological violence.” In summary, the literature suggested that land ownership has the potential to protect against GBV.

The topics of bride price and marital customs also emerged within the literature. Three papers examined how these customs intersect with GBV in such communities [40, 44, 59]. Bride price, sometimes paid through the provision of livestock and agricultural goods, was associated with a sense of ‘ownership’ by men over their wives, including control over their bodies, time, labour and assets [40, 44, 59]. Chipuriro [40] described one case from Zimbabwe in which the husband of a woman who had harvested crops together with her children, took her harvest to the market himself and withheld the money from its sale from his wife. He then used this money to purchase cattle for “lobola” (payment in cattle or cash to a bride’s family shortly before the marriage) for new wives. Customs such as bride price reinforced attitudes regarding women as the ‘property’ of their husbands; furthermore, the requirement to repay bride price created further barriers for women seeking to leave abusive relationships [59].

Aggravating or protective factors

The fourth theme, “aggravating or protective factors,” focused on examining individual and environmental factors that either aggravated or mitigated GBV. Unlike the third theme, which explored social and cultural norms, this theme delved into additional aspects that influence GBV. In this context, aggravating factors referred to any factor or condition that exacerbated or worsened the severity, frequency, or impact of GBV. Protective factors referred to any factor or condition that reduced the risk or impact of GBV. These protective factors differed from prevention strategies as they were not interventions designed to reduce the incidence or prevalence of GBV. Twenty-one papers (43.75%) were grouped under this theme.

We identified several aggravating factors that exacerbated the risk of GBV. One notable aggravating factor related to the historical forms of agriculture practiced in certain societies and discussed earlier in this paper [59]. In African societies, where plough agriculture, fishing, and husbandry have traditionally held prominence, there was a strong association between masculinity and these occupations. The pressure to conform to these masculine ideals may have contributed to the aggravation of GBV in this context [59]. Work in the agricultural sector, as opposed to the non-agricultural sector, was also identified as an aggravating factor. The challenging and hazardous nature of agricultural work, coupled with unequal gender roles, increased the vulnerability of women producers in such settings [55, 62]. In the context of primary production, alcohol abuse by intimate partners was a common aggravating factor in GBV situations. Several studies discussed how high levels of alcohol consumption, primarily among men, contributed to an environment of coercion, control, and physical harm [53, 58, 60, 61, 65,66,67]; all primarily among men authors advocated for interventions to address substance misuse.

Not surprisingly, challenging traditional gender roles and norms was recognised as an aggravating factor for GBV. Women who challenged gender roles or asserted their rights to land, for example, were more likely to trigger a backlash and increase the risk of GBV. Even small acts of defiance by women producers threatened existing power relationships and led to heightened tensions and escalating violence [53, 60, 67, 68]. Weak law enforcement and inadequate responses further aggravated GBV in such settings [26]. Concerningly, women who did report GBV, faced significant barriers to justice [26]. Other aggravating factors included household economic instability, extreme shocks and reductions in farm income, water scarcity, and the concentration of household wealth in agriculture [26, 55, 65,66,67, 69,70,71]. These factors created additional stresses, exacerbated existing power imbalances, and contributed to the increased prevalence of GBV.

Some of these reported aggravating factors were disputed by other papers included in the review. Cooper et al. [72], for example, explored the association between intimate partner violence and drought and found no significant relationship. However, it is important to note that this research focused on regions such as Africa, the Americas, and Asia, leaving room for further investigation in other LMICs. Additionally, the work status of women was examined in relation to protection from GBV. Zafar et al. [73] conducted a study comparing an association between a woman’s work status in agriculture versus blue-collar or white-collar work and protection from GBV. Interestingly, their findings did not show a significant association between work status and protection from GBV. These results challenged the notion that a woman’s occupation alone can serve as a protective factor against GBV. These discrepancies highlight the complexity of aggravating factors influencing GBV, and the importance of conducting further research.

Protective factors that contributed to mitigating GBV merit further attention. These factors encompassed various aspects, including socioeconomic characteristics, household income, and some features of development programs. Examples of such factors include women’s ownership of land and homes, independent income, access to production-related natural resources, involvement in agricultural projects, and higher levels of education [25, 46, 53, 62, 65]. Additionally, women themselves adopted protective measures, such as working away from abusive partners [53]. The influence of culturally appropriate and context specific development programs, training initiatives, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also played a protective role. For instance, in Papua New Guinea, men showed more support for women’s involvement in beekeeping when they were engaged from the start of the program [52]. In Brazil, however, women revealed resistance to the presence of men in agricultural training, as it hindered willingness to share their perspectives and experiences, including those related to GBV [39]. Women-only spaces were viewed as opportunities for shaping an “agroecological popular feminist identity” and emancipation from oppressive social structures (38). These discrepancies highlight the need for interventions that are tailored to the specific cultural context.

GBV interventions

Our review identified seventeen (35.42%) peer-reviewed journal articles that discussed primary and secondary prevention interventions. Primary prevention interventions focused on addressing the root causes of GBV to prevent violence from occurring; secondary interventions involved early intervention and measures to identify and respond to GBV incidents promptly [74].

Various primary prevention interventions were implemented to address GBV in agricultural settings. These diverse interventions aimed to create safer environments and promote gender equality in farming communities. Examples of interventions included: the prevention of GBV as a key demand in the collective bargaining agreements of agricultural workers to create supportive and respectful work environments [50]; poverty alleviation programs to address economic disparities and vulnerabilities that can contribute to violence [75]; to include gender mainstreaming within food security programs [76]; and interventions such as cash transfers, provision of supplies and targeted income support to address the underlying stressors that can fuel GBV [18, 70]. Engaging women in agricultural programs that increase food access, improve natural resource management and reduce family stress was also identified as an effective intervention [66, 69, 70, 77]. By empowering women and promoting their active participation in agricultural activities, these programs enhanced their economic independence and contributed to more equitable and harmonious family dynamics.

Integrated community-based education and economic empowerment programs were identified as potentially effective primary prevention approaches to addressing GBV. By addressing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that perpetuate violence, these programs focused on transforming social norms and promoting positive masculinity [66, 78]. Simultaneously, such programs provided opportunities for economic empowerment, giving individuals the means to thrive and reducing their vulnerability to GBV [18]. Gender dialogue groups involving women and their male partners were also implemented as part of economic empowerment programs. These groups provided a platform for open discussions on gender roles, norms and power dynamics, facilitating a deeper understanding and encouraging joint efforts to challenge and overcome GBV [78].

Research in Cambodia, for example, highlighted the role of economic development and primary production training programs in fostering increased recognition of gender equality [61]. Agricultural colleges also played a role in addressing GBV by delivering interventions and staff training to address GBV issues [79, 80]. By incorporating GBV education and awareness into the curriculum, and by using innovative approaches to address GBV, for example through “serious games” which included digital storytelling involving action characters and avatars, colleges were able to shape the attitudes and behaviours of future agricultural professionals and foster a culture of respect and equality [79, 80]. Finally, the promotion of ‘agrofeminist’ movements which sought to address gender inequality and promote women’s rights and agency, contributed to raising awareness of the unique challenges faced by women producers [81].

While primary prevention strategies focus on preventing GBV before it occurs, secondary prevention strategies are equally crucial to respond to the experiences and impacts of violence. Integrated approaches that addressed GBV in agricultural communities were crucial for fostering safer and more equitable environments [18, 50, 66, 69, 70, 75, 79, 80, 82]. In the context of addressing GBV in the agricultural sector, the emphasis on secondary prevention measures was relatively limited. However, interventions such as couple mediation, conflict resolution, and programs targeting husbands and fathers did demonstrate positive impacts on promoting healthier relationships [66, 79, 82]. These initiatives sought to engage men as allies in the fight against GBV and encouraged them to become active participants in fostering gender equality [78]. To ensure the effectiveness of interventions, a case-by-case approach to the interaction and engagement of both men and women was highlighted [63, 83]. Authors also highlighted the importance of developing context specific programs that address the social norms perpetuating GBV and aim to dispel the stigma associated with this issue [18, 66, 73, 80]. The importance of thoroughly evaluating prevention strategies, both within and beyond the intervention period, was also highlighted [18, 55].

Discussion

As this scoping review reveals, there is a paucity in current state of knowledge regarding GBV in the context of women primary producers in LMICs. With just 49 relevant published research studies in the period from 2012 to June 2022, the body of research is not commensurate with the magnitude of the issue of GBV. Several authors have attempted to address the knowledge gap on GBV in agriculture, however, they face challenges due to under-reporting of GBV among women primary producers. Under reporting of GBV occurs worldwide and is not limited to LMICs [84, 85]. As such, the true extent of GBV perpetrated against women globally is far from fully understood. To gain sufficient insights into the extent of the challenge of GBV faced by women primary producers in LMICs, strategies for capturing data on GBV must be improved. Contextual research to better understand the reasons for under reporting is being undertaken [86, 87]. Furthermore, novel data collection approaches to capture prevalence data, including methods that increase respondent privacy and anonymity, are being trialed worldwide [84, 88]. Recent research from HICs underscores the crucial role of healthcare professionals in recognising and responding to GBV [89, 90]. These studies show promising outcomes, and highlight the importance of creating private, secure, and supportive settings where women can feel at ease to disclose and possibly report such incidents. Scant as the body of research may be, our scoping review did reveal that the forms and nature of GBV in agricultural settings is varied and complex. Our scoping review was, therefore, able to identify several research gaps and recommendations for future investigation.

Our findings highlight the limited focus on exploring and reporting women’s experiences of violence. The issue of under-reporting of GBV experiences among women is significant, contributing to a limited understanding of the nature of experiences and the likelihood of its impacts on women’s everyday life [2]. Efforts to capture the nature and extent of GBV have been made, employing quantitative survey approaches and tools like the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) [91]. However, these approaches sit uneasily alongside feminist critiques of quantitative approaches in adequately capturing women’s lived experiences [92]. Our findings support the use of qualitative approaches to better understand the unique experiences of women, and the complexities of violence within specific cultural and contextual settings [16, 92]. By centering the voices and experiences of women producers who have lived through GBV, lived experience research empowers women to share their stories and ensures their perspectives are heard.

Our findings also draw attention to the limited scholarship on psychological forms of GBV in this setting. Women who are exposed to ongoing psychological abuse often suffer from long-term chronic mental health issues [93]. Unfortunately, most cases are treated without recognising GBV as a factor influencing mental health and overall well-being [94]. The limited data on this issue may be attributed to local understandings of what constitutes GBV; research that explores the cultural context and local understandings of GBV is warranted. Future research could also focus on psychological forms of GBV and how this intersects with other social and environmental factors that come into play in production settings. More specifically, survivor-led, trauma informed research approaches which draw upon women’s diverse and intersectional lived experiences [95, 96] are suggested to explore the complex and lasting impacts of GBV on women producers.

The influence of underlying social, cultural, economic and political factors leading to various forms of GBV have also been highlighted. In line with research undertaken by Hatcher et al. [6], we argue that more context specific research is required to better understand the extent and impact of GBV on women producers in LMICs. Power inequalities have historically been a significant feature of research in LMICs [97]. As noted by Thomas et al. [98], the power differentials are amplified further in the context of GBV research, with gender-based structural and cultural inequalities perpetuating the conditions in which violence can occur.

Participatory research approaches in tandem with meaningful research partnerships, offer a potential route to explore the issue of GBV in agricultural settings. Approaches such as Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) [99], enable local research capacity and seek to redress the power imbalance that underpin violence and gender inequalities [95, 98]. We also argue for inclusive research approaches that incorporate the voices and lived experiences of women and men from diverse social groups. Research undertaken by CGIAR [100] to explore how gender norms affect, access and benefit from agricultural innovation, also notes the importance of participatory research approaches which gather contextually grounded evidence from “locals who crosscut society groupings”.

Our findings highlight the influence of deeply rooted patriarchy within many LMICs, where prevailing models of masculinity typically normalize violence as a legitimate means of resolving conflict or expressing anger, and where GBV is often dismissed [101]. In many LMICs, women producers face limited power in decisions about production, lack access to resources, and experience a lack of control over household incomes derived from agricultural activities [102]. Despite the submissive status of women in most LMICs, women bear responsibility for feeding their families and ensuring household food security [103]. This creates a critical paradox where women with limited access to decision-making, resources, and finances face the highest pressure to increase productivity to sustain the income required to manage the everyday essentials for their families.

In LMICS, women’s marginalised status is intensified by the consistent threat of violence if they fail to fulfill their sanctioned roles in the family and society. With the direct link between experiences of GBV, women’s capacity to participate in social and economic activities, and their sense of wellbeing, it remains critical to highlight the influence of patriarchal systems that further restrict women’s agency [104]. Future qualitative research could explore how deeply rooted patriarchy and rights to inheritance, such as land rights, contribute to gender-based violence in agriculture in LMICs. Research could also explore how cultural norms, traditions, and patriarchal systems restrict women producers from having ownership and control of their lives in LMICs. Importantly, men’s involvement in research is critical in addressing the gendered dynamics around GBV; men’s involvement demonstrates solidarity and shared responsibility in addressing GBV [16, 105]. Identifying ways in which men as well as women in LMICs can be safely engaged in future research, is an important step.

Our review also notes that, to identify effective interventions, an understanding of the context in which GBV occurs is needed. A blanket approach to developing interventions risks being ineffective, or worse, exacerbating the risks for women and girls [16, 92]; so context specific and culturally responsive approaches are necessary to address GBV in LMICs. Just as the factors that lead to GBV are complex, so too are the measures needed to devise culturally effective interventions for reducing GBV [4, 5]. A range of intersecting factors, such as coping strategies used by women primary producers, historical or traditional foundations of gender norms, government policy, the efficacy of the justice system, education, economic situation, resource availability, marital customs, and land inheritance customs, contribute to the complexity of developing effective GBV interventions. There is a need, therefore, to approach these intersecting factors at a fundamental level. Future research should focus on how to develop a comprehensive framework to guide the design and implementation of GBV interventions in agriculture, considering the intersecting factors and complexities involved. Culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive monitoring indicators of interventions on men and women are also an important area for future research.

Finally, the interaction between climate change and GBV in agricultural settings in LMICs is a significant gap in the literature. While some studies have highlighted the link between climate change and GBV risk [67, 71, 72, 77], the impact of climate change on primary production and its potential to exacerbate GBV risk remains unclear in the peer-reviewed literature. Although, there is increasing recognition that in some contexts, women in agriculture and food systems are more impacted by the adverse effects of climate change compared to men [106], further investigation into the complex interplay between climate change and GBV is warranted.

Limitations.

Although this scoping reviewed 49 articles and provides a baseline understanding regarding GBV in the context of women primary producers in LMICs, the review had several limitations. Firstly, the inclusion criteria were restricted to studies published in English in a peer-reviewed journal. We may have missed critical points published in the grey literature or presented in another language, however, given the wide range of results from quality studies, it is unlikely that significant findings were missed. The use of scoping review methodology is a comprehensive, rigorous, and a well-applied method of searching evidence [31], however, the review did not include a critical appraisal of the studies included, which may have limited the ability to assess the validity and reliability of the findings. Using multiple reviewers at each stage of review, and inclusion criteria forms added strength to the review.

The effectiveness of search terms in scoping reviews is crucial for ensuring a comprehensive range of relevant studies is included in the analysis. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge the inherent limitations of relying solely on specific keywords to capture the breadth of a particular field, especially in a context where culturally aligned terms exist. In regions such as Melanesia, for example, small area vegetable and fruit gardening systems, may constitute a predominant form of agriculture, but may not be referred to as such. The narrow scope of search terms such as “agriculture” or “farming”, for example, may have inadvertently excluded such studies from the review. Moreover, the scoping review was also challenged by different meanings and definitions of GBV. Depending on the specific definition used, certain studies or aspects of GBV may have been excluded, leading to a narrower scope. While the authors considered various terms and synonyms associated with GBV as part of the search strategy, the different meanings and definitions posed challenges in terms of the scope, comparability, and interpretation of findings.

Conclusion

Many articles in our scoping review were able to articulate the often-unique challenges faced by women primary producers or women who live in agricultural/rural settings with regards to GBV. While studies varied in their findings on some of the interactions between GBV and agricultural settings, like the role of climate change and the impact of involving men in interventions, common threads bound the body of research together. These included the role of sociocultural factors in GBV, the impact of GBV on women’s agricultural livelihood activities and contemporary or historical aspects of primary production that shape attitudes toward GBV. The links between patterns or attitudes of GBV and the agricultural context was a common feature of study findings and informed recommendations for future research or interventions.

Our findings call for more qualitative and participatory research approaches to better understand the unique experiences of women and the complexities of violence within specific cultural and contextual settings. Our findings also highlight the limited scholarship on psychological forms of GBV in this setting, and the need for survivor-led, trauma-informed research approaches which draw upon women’s diverse and intersectional lived experiences. The importance of understanding the sociocultural and economic context in which GBV occurs to identify effective interventions, and the need for culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive indicators that can monitor the impact of interventions on men and women is required. Finally, our findings highlight the influence of deeply rooted patriarchy within many LMICs, where prevailing models of masculinity typically normalize violence as a legitimate means of resolving conflict or expressing anger, and where GBV is often dismissed. Future research needs to explore how deeply rooted patriarchy contributes to gender-based violence in agriculture in LMICs, and importantly involve both men and women in the dialogue.

Data availability

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Funding

Research was funded through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). SSS-2022-116.

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C.O. and S.S were both involved in the entire scoping review process, from conceptualization to writing of this manuscript. S.K. SB provided senior technical input throughout the process. All authors reviewed and contributed to the final manuscript. All authors read and approved final manuscript.Acknowledgements: The authors would like to acknowledge Ms Rebecca Pepame Robinson for her constructive feedback on the final draft of the manuscript. The authors would also like to thank the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), for funding this reserach.

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Correspondence to Cathy O’Mullan.

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O’Mullan, C., Sinai, S. & Kaphle, S. A scoping review on the nature and impact of gender based violence on women primary producers. BMC Women's Health 24, 395 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-024-03228-3

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