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Samantha Willan
GBV Researcher & Capacity Development Specialist
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PhD in Public Health from the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Samantha has over 20 years’ experience working on preventing violence against women and girls, gender equality, sexuality, and HIV, from a women’s rights perspective. Her work has spanned providing technical support and capacity development, training, intervention development and implementation, global research and policy influencing. While being based in South Africa her focus has been across southern and eastern Africa and South Asia, with a global outlook in relation to research and policy developments.  From 2015-2019 she was the Capacity Development Manager for the global What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls team. Prior to that she was the Programme Lead for the Gender Equality and Health Programme at HEARD, UKZN a programme which she co-founded in 2009. Her work has focussed on research to improve the evidence base around what works to prevent violence against women and reduce women’s HIV risk. She focuses on generating evidence to improve interventions and our understanding of VAW and improving the realisation of women and girls sexual and reproductive health and rights. Alongside generating evidence, she supports capacity development of researchers and implementers globally. She was recently involved in a flagship programme around the development of an intervention that utilised a gender consciousness raising and livelihoods approach, she explores whether and how this increased young women’s sexual and personal agency. She has also undertaken pioneering policy work on ensuring that National Strategic Plans on HIV & AIDS in east and southern Africa include women, girls and gender equality.  Previously she worked as the Policy Adviser: HIV&AIDS and Gender at VSO (2004-2006), in London; Project Director at HEARD (2000-2004) and as Information Manager at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996-1998). Her professional expertise is complemented by her activism for over 25 years around social injustices, women’s rights, sexuality and HIV. She obtained her PhD in Public Health in 2021 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.