What do we mean by gender-based violence?

The United Nations defines violence against women as 'any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.'

Intimate partner violence refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

Sexual violence is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.

The term gender-based violence is used as a way to situate abuse within unequal relationships between men and women.

However, while women are in the majority of those affected by gender-based violence, men may also be victims of sexual or physical violence – usually at the hands of other men, but in some cases by women. Men may be subjected to violence because of their sexuality or ethnicity, or because they simply do not conform to dominant male stereotypes, but less is known about male experiences of GBV as cases are far more likely to go unreported for men than for women.

Gender-based violence in conflict situations

Sexual violence is increasingly being used as a systematic weapon of war in conflict situations. An estimated half a million women were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As many as 50 per cent of all women in Sierra Leone were subjected to sexual violence, including rape, torture and sexual slavery, according to a 2002 report by Physicians for Human Rights. In Liberia, an estimated 40 per cent of all girls and women have fallen victim to abuse. During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped (Read more at: http://www.irinnews.org/IndepthMain.aspx?IndepthId=20&ReportId=62814)

UN Security Council’s Resolution 1820, unanimously adopted in 2008, recognise these atrocities and commit the Security Council to take steps to end them, and to punish their perpetrators. (Read more at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/)

Recent GBV figures from the World Health Organisation

  • A WHO multi-country study found that between 15-71 per cent of women aged 15-49 years reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
  • These forms of violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.
  • Risk factors for being a perpetrator also include low education, past exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.
  • Risk factors for being a victim of intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.
  • In high-income settings, school-based programmes to prevent relationship violence among young people (or dating violence) are supported by some evidence of effectiveness.
  • In low-income settings, other primary prevention strategies, such as microfinance combined with gender equality training and community-based initiatives that address gender inequality and communication and relationship skills, hold promise.
  • Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence and present new forms of violence against women.