What is GBV?

There are many different definitions that attempt to capture the broad concept of gender based violence (GBV). Some definitions of GBV include:

Violence, sexual or otherwise, which plays on gender norms and gender exclusions to break people down both physically and emotionally (El Jack, A., 2003)

Definitions of violence against women capture only an aspect of GBV, but can provide some useful insight into the concept:

The term violence against women means any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (Article 1, U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of violence Against Women)

A Few Facts about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (UNHCR, Sexual and Gender Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons, Guidelines for Prevention and Response, 2003.)

  • 94% of displaced households surveyed in Sierra Leone reported incidents of sexual assault
  • Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda
  • Worldwide, an estimated 40-70% of homicides of women are committed by intimate partners
  • A commonly accepted estimate is that one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime
  • International Organisation for Migration estimates that up to 2 million women are trafficked across borders each year
  • More than 90 million African women and girls have undergone female genital cutting
  • At least 60 million girls are ‘missing’ worldwide as a result of sex selective abortions, infanticide or neglect

As well as the many women and girls who suffer GBV, men worldwide are subjected to violence because of their gender. There is a serious lack of data available on the GBV experienced by men. This gap needs to be addressed, in much the same way as the lack of data on the prevalence of GBV for women is only now beginning to be addressed.

Class, ethnicity and nationality may be significant factors in the incidence or experience of gender based violence. For example, in situations of war and conflict women of a particular nationality or ethnic background may be at high risk of rape or other forms of gender based violence.

In recent years, recognition of gender based violence as a weapon of war has been increasing. In this context, it has been noted that “patterns of violence against women in conflict do not arise naturally, but are ordered, condoned or tolerated as a result of political calculations” and that “stereotypical or violent attitudes to women already prevalent in society are consciously inflamed or manipulated by those forces…which consider that such a strategy of war will be to their advantage”. (Amnesty International, 2004)

Some of the ways in which gender based violence may be used as a weapon of war include:

  • Group rape against ‘enemy women’ carried out in systematic form as a part of ethnic cleansing
  • Rape used as an instrument to suppress dissent and terrorise populations while being condoned by civil authorities
  • Large scale abduction of women, girls and sometimes also boys for sexual exploitation and labour
  • Use of women and girls as “temporary wives” to provide sexual and other services
  • Female recruits to military forces being forced to provide sexual services
  • “Checkpoint Rape” or the extraction of sexual services as tolls from civilian women (John Snow International, 2004)

The Gender Based Violence Study goes into some detail on the nature and extent of the problem. Some ways in which it can be tackled are included in the consortium’s report Gender Based Violence: a Failure to Protect; a Challenge to Action.

If you have been affected by gender based violence, there may be organisations locally that can offer information and support. In Ireland, Women’s Aid is one of the organisations that provides support and information to women and their children who are being physically, emotionally and sexually abused in their own homes.