Welcome to Part 1 of our April 2023 Inspirational Interview with Elizabeth Dartnall, Executive Director of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) in South Africa.

Liz is a health specialist with over 20 years’ research and policy-making experience on health systems, mental health, violence against women, and violence against children. Having worked in several countries, in both government and research positions, Liz has a deep understanding of the policy process and the use of research to inform policy and practice. Since 2006, Liz has managed the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) and recently, with the support of multiple partners, launched SVRI as an independent NGO. Liz is committed to research and policy-making that is feminist, ethical, equitable, and partnership-based.

Part two of this interview will be published April 3, 2023.

All photos are courtesy of SVRI.

1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)? 

By chance.


2. Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) was established in 2003 by the Global Forum for Health Research as a result of “recognising the need for more research on sexual violence, especially in resource poor settings”.   How did SVRI come to be founded? 

The SVRI was established in 2003 in response to a recognition by passionate researchers of the deep inequity in how research about VAW was funded. Most research resources sat in high-income countries (HICs) whilst very limited research on VAW and violence against children (VAC) was being done in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs) and led by researchers in LMICs. 

The SVRI is committed to advancing, strengthening, and increasing research and resources allocated to research on violence against women and violence against children in low- and middle-income countries.


3. Can you tell us about SVRI’s approach to stopping VAW and how has it developed over two decades?

The SVRI envisages a world free of violence against women, children, and other forms of violence stemming from gender inequality. By working across four strategic pillars–building evidence, strengthening research capacity, promoting partnerships, and influencing change–the SVRI is building a stronger and kinder field that collectively works to deliver more and better evidence for improved programming and prevention programmes. We strive to decolonise knowledge and research practices through investing in research, strengthening research capacity, and promoting partnership and collaborations led by people in the countries where they are trying to institutionalise change. Better, more effective, and sustainable VAW response and prevention programmes are the result.

Through our four linked strategic pillars, our work leads to:

  • an increase in innovations tested by strong research designs for improved VAW and VAC responses and prevention;
  • an increase in the number of LMIC-based researchers leading rigorous, impactful, and innovative research on VAW and VAC in LMICs;
  • a co-operative and nurturing field where knowledge is shared, and people collaborate and support each other;
  • more resources mobilised and used effectively for VAW and VAC research and evidence-based practice in LMICs.


4. Could you give us an overview of the services and programmes that SVRI provides for the victims and survivors of VAW in South Africa and around the world?

With over 8,500 members, the SVRI is the world’s largest network working to advance knowledge building and research on VAW and VAC in low- and middle-income countries. 

We fund research through competitive open calls for proposals and provide technical assistance to SVRI partners and grantees. We recently launched three online open access courses on measuring violence against children, pathways to research impact, and collective care and kindness. We share research on VAC and VAW and other related matters weekly through the SVRI Update, and more frequently through our website and social media networking platforms. We regularly respond to and share SVRI partners’ and members’ information requests, broker partnerships between researchers and other actors in the field, and publish and disseminate research priorities, evidence reviews, and briefs.

We also regularly host virtual and face-to-face workshops and events, including the biennial SVRI Forum. In fact, we just completed our biggest SVRI Forum ever, held in Mexico and attended by more than 1000 people from 99 countries. We are already planning our next Forum in 2024–which will be in South Africa–and working on new ways to amplify the critical findings and discussions that are derived from this event. 

We do all of this to strengthen responses and build evidence-informed prevention programmes that lead to better outcomes for women and children.


5.One of SVRI’s most recent initiatives is the Sexual Violence Research Podcast, a podcast co-hosted by yourself and Angelica Pino. The podcast examines issues of violence driven by gender inequality.  What impact has the podcast made so far on educating communities about violence against women and girls?

The SVRI podcast has been downloaded more than 2,500 times. We have had great feedback but have not yet evaluated it.