Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is violence against a person based on their gender identity or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately. It is a human rights violation that is rooted in systemic inequality, harmful cultural norms and the abuse of power on the part of the privileged gender.
According to the United Nation’s Population Fund, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexualized violence (this does not account for other types of GBV) in their lifetime. It is due to these statistics that we can authoritatively say that women are the most affected by GBV. This is also why most organisations are focused more on ending violence against women, more than any other gender.
It is important to note that cases of GBV are extremely under-reported due to the stigma surrounding it and so, while women and girls are deemed the most at risk and the most affected by gender-based violence, boys, men, and sexual and gender minorities also experience gender-based violence.
It is something that affects anyone regardless of their gender identity, race, religion, socio-economic and educational background or geographical location.
Types of Gender-Based Violence
As a life-threatening and protection issue, GBV comes in many forms but can be grouped as follows:
Physical: this is anything that causes pain, physical harm or injury through physical force to limit someone’s self-determination. It includes restraining a person against their will or limiting their physical freedom.
Sexual: any sexual act enacted without express consent against a person, or forcing someone else to engage in non-consensual acts.
The Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe defines sexual harassment as, 'any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.'
Psychological: also known as mental and emotional violence. This is the most common form of intimate partner violence (IPV), but also the hardest to identify. Psychological aggression covers belittling, yelling, gaslighting and insults, to more severe abuse such as intensive coercion or coercive control, threats, blackmail, and isolation. This type of interpersonal trauma leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, anxiety, suicidality, and sleep disturbance.
Economic: because of things like access to education, the pay gap and so on, women are already economically vulnerable. This imbalance means that many women are economically dependent on their partners, leaving them defenceless against abusive partners.
In abusive situations, socio-economic violence can look like sabotaging or putting barriers that stop someone from earning money, controlling how someone earns e.g. making them work in a family business without a salary, or dictating that they do not work as all. This happens to some women who are forced into housewife roles. It can also involve making a person unfit for work through physical abuse or restraint.
Online violence: this is a catch-all phrase that describes harmful behaviour in online spaces only, or behaviours that start online and then spill over into real life. This could be inappropriate advances or unwanted attention, veiled or outright threats, lewd comments, offensive or sexually explicit messages, stalking, bullying, incitement to violence, body shaming and revenge porn.
Other forms of Gender-based violence
The above categories cover the bulk of GBV, but there are other forms that are on the fringes. For example, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is technically a type of physical violence. It has been singled out as its own kind of violence because of the sheer number of women it has affected. Globally, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. Forced marriage is another type of violence that is differentiated, and there are unfortunately many other subsets like these.
For GBV to end, all the dominant systems of power must be challenged and then changed.
Have you ever had to handle online or offline sexual harassment? How did you deal with?