Gender-based violence (GBV) is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of their gender. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls.
Gender-based violence and violence against women are terms that are often used interchangeably as it has been widely acknowledged that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. However, using the ‘gender-based’ aspect is important as it highlights the fact that many forms of violence against women are rooted in power inequalities between women and men. The terms are used interchangeably reflecting the disproportionate number of these particular crimes against women.
The Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe, Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence), as the benchmark for international legislation on tackling gender-based violence, frames gender-based violence and violence against women as a gendered act which is ‘a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women’. Under the Istanbul Convention acts of gender-based violence are emphasised as resulting in ‘physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’
One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating, including death.
Violence negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in society. It impacts their families, their community, and the country at large. It has tremendous costs, from greater strains on health care to legal expenses and losses in productivity.
At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace (World Bank 2020). But challenges remain in enforcing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished.
Types of GBV
Gender-based violence is enacted under many different manifestations, from its most widespread form, intimate partner violence, to acts of violence carried out in online spaces. These different forms are not mutually exclusive and multiple incidences of violence can be happening at once and reinforcing each other. Inequalities experienced by a person related to their race, (dis)ability, age, social class, religion, sexuality can also drive acts of violence. This means that while women face violence and discrimination based on gender, some women experience multiple and interlocking forms of violence.
The Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe, Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence), defines violence against women as falling under four key forms: physical, sexual, psychological and economic.
Any act which causes physical harm as a result of unlawful physical force. Physical violence can take the form of, among others, serious and minor assault, deprivation of liberty and manslaughter.
Any sexual act performed on an individual without their consent. Sexual violence can take the form of rape or sexual assault.
Any act which causes psychological harm to an individual. Pyschological violence can take the form of, for example, coercion, defamation, verbal insult or harassment.
Any act or behaviour which causes economic harm to an individual. Economic violence can take the form of, for example, property damage, restricting access to financial resources, education or the labour market, or not complying with economic responsibilities, such as alimony.
It is also important to recognise that gender-based violence may be normalised and reproduced due to structural inequalities, such as societal norms, attitudes and stereotypes around gender generally and violence against women specifically. Therefore it is important to acknowledge structural or institutional violence, which can be defined as the subordination of women in economic, social and political life, when attempting to explain the prevalence of violence against women within our societies.
Combating Gender-based Violence.
Every year, the Gender Issues Programme participates in the global campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence to encourage participating States to step up efforts to combat the after-effects of sexual violence and to prevent it from happening in the first place.
A woman’s right to live free from violence is upheld by international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Only 40 per cent of women seek help of any sort after experiencing violence, and so we advocate for, and support, women and girls’ access to quality, multi-sectoral services essential for their safety, protection and recovery, especially for those who already suffer multiple forms of discrimination.
Partnerships are being established with governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations and other institutions to find ways to prevent violence against women and girls, focusing on early education, respectful relationships, and working with men and boys. Prevention is still the most cost-effective, long-term way to stop violence.
The UN Women’s comprehensive approach work with partners to enhance data collection and analysis to provide a better understanding of the nature, magnitude, and consequences of violence against women and girls. Data collection and analysis also helps UN Women and our partners understand what works and doesn’t work to address this violence.
For more than 10 years, UN Women’s global initiative, Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces, has worked to prevent and respond to sexual harassment against women and girls in public spaces, and since 2017 we have also been a key member of the EUR 500 million Spotlight Initiative that deploys targeted, large-scale investments in ending violence in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific
In order to inform policy makers and assist the design and implementation of effective policies to combat gender-based violence, it is first necessary to understand the nature and prevalence of the phenomenon.
Poverty Reduction as means of combating GVB:
Poor women are more vulnerable to all forms of violence because they typically live in uncertain and dangerous environments. Violence against women is the main outcome of gender-based inequalities, creating far greater consequences for women’s well-being and empowerment than previously thought.
Millennium Development Goal 3 calls for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. The target for measuring this goal’s progress is to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education no later that 2015.
Promote Women Reproductive Rights a means of combating GBV
Gender-based violence has long lasting adverse consequences for women’s reproductive health. These include unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy complications, maternal death, miscarriage, injury and sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS. Intimidation and male dominance within the family exacerbated by gender-based violence hinders women from seeking out reproductive health services and lessens women’s ability to negotiate safe sexual intercourse, as well as the number and spacing of their children.
Female infanticide, incest, rape, child abuse and prostitution, early marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, are among the gender-based violent actions accepted as cultural norms in many countries.
Any serious attempt to combat gender-based violence must espouse a cultural and human rights approach. Whilst promoting women’s reproductive rights, collaboration with religious and traditional leaders should be ensured, so as to anchor these universal principles in the local context and ensure community ownership of these human rights.
Women Empowerment on HIV/AID Prevention as means of combating GBV
Ensure women’s right to self-protection and to be protected against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS is respected and promoted. Advocate for stronger national policies and strategies with clear budget support for programmes and interventions dealing with the transformation of culture, tradition and belief systems fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Focus on treatment and care, as well as prevention of HIV/AIDS. Lobby for sufficient funding to make affordable, testing and treatment and counselling centres, as well as anti-retroviral therapy drugs (ARVTs), available to victims of rape.
Challenge policies, legislation and practices undermining women’s social, legal, political, economic, and sexual status, particularly focused on young women who are especially vulnerable.
Pressure for the enactment, strengthening and enforcement of legal measures against sexual contact with young girls and boys less than 18 years of age, and recognize marital rape as a criminal offence.
Social Education in handling conflict situations as means of combating GBV
Violence against women in conflict situations has reached epidemic levels and is a continuation of what happens in the lives of women during peacetime. Women and girls of all ages are raped and abducted to serve as sexual slaves; pregnant women are physically assaulted; and many women have been murdered or infected with HIV/AIDS.
Violence against women during conflict situations becomes multiplied and intensified many times over, as women’s bodies become “battle grounds” where opposing forces fight to gain control. Since women do not have the same rights as men, they remain victims of gender-based violence and discrimination. Countries are challenged to;
- actively promote peace education through curricula and social communication in order to eradicate elements in traditional and cultural belief, practices and stereotypes, which legitimize and exacerbate the persistence and tolerance of violence against women;
- punish perpetrators of violence against women and implement programmes for the rehabilitation of women victims;
- establish mechanisms and accessible services for effective information, rehabilitation and reparation of victims of violence;
The difference between actual prevalence and incidence of violence on one hand, and disclosed violence recorded by sample surveys on the other can be known as the ‘grey zone’. Despite its inability to capture the full prevalence of violence, administrative data are important for assessing how public services respond to the needs of women who have experienced violence, and to monitor trends over time.
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa raised concerns about how much it cost the state to try to respond to the needs of those who were suffering the emotional and physical trauma. Gender violence researcher at the University of Johannesburg Lisa Vetten told Eyewitness News on Wednesday that it was difficult to put an accurate price tag on gender-based violence.
“There were no thoughts given on impact when women can’t go to work. The most concerning thing is government is relying on the labour of women in [non-governmental organisations who are not getting paid. Is what government is spending enough? Not at all,” she said.
Many have raised concerns about how women find it difficult to leave an abusive relationship in an extremely unequal society, feeling forced to stay for financial reasons.
This week, Oxfam South Africa released a new inequality report, which found that South Africa ranks among the most unequal countries in the world. It found that an average white male CEO earns as much as 149 average black women put together.
The report has blamed existing government policies for failing to reduce inequality.
Mia Lindeque , Eye Witness News
European Institute for Gender Equality
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)