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Protesters, mainly women, gather outside parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Sept. 4, 2019. Crowds gathered to demand that the government crack down on gender-based violence, following a week of brutal murders of young South African women that has shaken the nation. Placard shows one of the latest fatalities.
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Global Citizen ExplainsDemand Equity

Gender-Based Violence: Everything to Know


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Gender-based violence has lasting impacts on survivors, their families, and their communities. The world must join together to protect women and girls, to ensure they can fully participate in society, and to have any hope of ending extreme poverty. You can join us and take action on this issue here.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious historical and global problem that has been described by the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) as “the most pervasive yet least visible human rights violation in the world.”

It is a social issue that cuts across all people of all groups and one that is prevalent in all levels of social and economic standing in human society. 

Effectively, we cannot end extreme poverty or achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals if GBV remains such a prominent challenge.

What is gender-based violence?

GBV is defined by the UN as an umbrella term “for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between females and males.” 

In other words, GBV is usually characterized by physical, sexual, mental, or economic harm forced on a person, usually a woman or girl, and includes sexual harrasment and violence, female genital mutilation, child marriage, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviors.

It goes against gender equality for women and girls but rather encourages income inequality and significantly holds back the global fight to reduce poverty and achieve the UN’s Global Goals.

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How many people are affected by GBV? 

The numbers are staggering: 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation; while 33% - 51% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Oceania, Southern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa have experienced some form of violence from an intimate partner. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “an estimated 37% of women living in the poorest countries have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their life, with some of these countries having a prevalence as high as 1 in 2.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic has also made the situation worse by further highlighting inequalities and increasing women’s exposure to violence. 

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in March.

Who is most affected by GBV and why?

Women living in low- and lower-middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by this issue, but other factors that encourage GBV can include cultural norms, lower levels of education, low levels of gender equality, and harmful masculine behaviors

GBV can also limit women’s capacity to work, cause them to suffer social isolation, loss of wages, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

Although, gender-based violence disproportionately affects women and girls, it is not exclusive; LGBTQ+ communities, particularly people who are trans, and other communities, are also affected by GBV. 

How does GBV impact the mission to end extreme poverty?

Ending GBV has been linked to better health for women and children, increased economic activity and inclusion, and helps the world get closer to achieving the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty and its systemic causes. 

Studies have also shown that programs and policies that help reduce GBV can further the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

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Who are the key players tackling GBV? 

In every country, region, and community across the world there are many organizations and individuals working to put an end to gender-based violence. 

Since adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993, the UN has adopted several GBV-related resolutions and has notably campaigned to end violence against women through the Global Goals, specifically Global Goal 5 which advocates for gender equality.  

Sister UN agencies such as UN Women, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and other world bodies like WHO and World Bank have created international guidelines and best practices all targeted towards ending GBV. 

What action can we take against GBV? 

You can join Global Citizen to take action by learning more about GBV and how it’s on the rise during COVID-19, here. You can then sign our petition here, calling on world leaders to fulfill the promises of the Beijing Declaration and drive forward progress on gender equality, and ensure that women can live lives free of violence.

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Governments and institutions can also encourage diversity and inclusion of women in positions of power, as well as implement policies and programs that tackle GBV at source — the perpetrators.

Community leaders, influencers, and religious leaders can also educate their audiences and help address societal and cultural norms that encourage gender-based violence. Action against gender-based violence must be collective, decisive, and inclusive on a global scale if we are to get closer to a more equal world. 

WHO’s Dr. Tedros sums it up well: “Unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts — by governments, communities, and individuals — to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.”