Gender-based violence: Let’s end the silence about this global epidemic

by 03rd May 2016
What next? A timeline of incidents that have inspired global activism against GBV (taken from CARE's global GBV strategy) What next? A timeline of incidents that have inspired global activism against GBV (taken from CARE's global GBV strategy)

Why is violence against women so prevalent? What is perpetuating and fuelling this trend of misogyny? Is society to blame? And, most importantly, how can we prevent gender-based violence? Advocacy intern Miski Abdi argues that GBV should have no place in a modern, egalitarian, democratic society.

GBV is a global problem

Gender-based violence (GBV) – including intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a universal issue affecting both the developed and the developing world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) define IPV as “any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship”. This violence – which is overwhelmingly suffered by women – is a major public health problem, a violation of women’s human rights and in direct opposition to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 – ‘gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’.

Let’s be clear: GBV is a global epidemic. One in three women worldwide will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

GBV can affect men too, since it is broadly defined as “violence directed at an individual level based on biological sex, gender identity or socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity”. Furthermore, in the last decade, sexual violence against men and boys has been reported in over 25 conflict-affected countries. However, women are far and away the main victims of GBV and IPV. According to the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, 22% of women in Europe have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner. Furthermore, 78% of women in the EU think that violence against women is very common or fairly common in their country. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime, and 38% of murdered women were killed by their partner.

What are the drivers of GBV?

Writing in 1998, Lori Heise argued that GBV is caused by multiple risk factors across an ‘ecological framework’ spanning the individual’s personal sphere to wider societal factors. The ecological framework coined by Heise differentiates risk factors at four levels: the individual, the relationship, the community and the structural level. The model provides a platform to identify risk factors and their interplay. In 2015, UN Women in a joint venture with ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, OHCHR and WHO published a report outlying their framework to underpin action to prevent violence against women. The report identified gender inequality as the root cause of violence against women, stating “discrimination against women and inequality in the distribution of power and resources between men and women are the main root causes of violence against women”.

However, I believe that socially and culturally constructed gender norms are equally to blame for the sheer scale of GBV globally. Furthermore, the available statistical data on GBV and IPV are not true reflections of this silent global epidemic, as too often GBV incidents go unreported. The United Nations discloses that in most countries less than 40% of women who experienced violence sought help of any sort, and of those less than 10% sought help from the police.

Tackling the problem

A thorough examination into the relationship between gender inequality and violence is required but also, the social and cultural norms that silence victims must be tackled. At a national level, countries must address gender ideals of power that perpetuate and fuel a culture of violence in which discrimination and suppression of women can flourish. Therefore, a GBV preventative strategy must focus on subverting the cultures and systems that reinforce gender power inequalities.

A holistic solution

In CARE’s recently published GBV strategy, the overarching goal is to implement a ‘Life Free from Violence’ for women and girls across the communities CARE serves. This goal requires the transformation of social, cultural and institutional systems that enable and perpetuate unequal power relations between men and women. CARE places greater emphasis on GBV prevention rather than response, and seeks to influence social norm change through community-based discussions and debates. This means a holistic and integrated approach.

Violence against women is not merely an obstacle to gender equality and women’s empowerment, GBV is frequently cited as a core component or contributing factor in a number of global political, economic, development and health-related problems. Ending violence against women is not just crucial in achieving the key cross-cutting goal of empowering women which underpins all 17 Sustainable Development Goals; it is also a crucial part of achieving the poverty-reduction and development goals themselves.

Miski Abdi

Miski Abdi was formerly a Policy and Advocacy intern at CARE International UK. She worked on CARE’s Financial Inclusion and Women’s Economic Empowerment programmes. She previously worked as a fundraising assistant on Liz Kendall’s Labour Leadership Campaign, and as a rapporteur on the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s high-profile 9th African Development Forum. She has an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford.