Gender-based violence (GBV) is a horrifying reality and human rights violation for women and girls globally. During emergencies, the risk of violence, exploitation and abuse is heightened. At the same time, national systems, including health and legal systems, and community and social support networks weaken. This breakdown of systems can reduce access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and legal services, leading to an environment of impunity in which perpetrators are not held to account. When systems and services are disrupted or destroyed, women and girls face even higher risk of human rights violations such as sexual violence, intimate partner violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriage, denial of resources and harmful traditional practices. GBV has significant and long-lasting impacts on the health, and psychosocial and economic well-being of women and girls, and their families and communities.
“Gender-based violence” is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e., gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or in private. The term “GBV” is most commonly used to underscore how systemic inequality between males and females, which exists in every society in the world, acts as a unifying and foundational characteristic of most forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls. The term “gender-based violence” also includes sexual violence committed with the explicit purpose of reinforcing gender inequitable norms of masculinity and femininity.
Under international human rights law, acts of GBV are considered violations, as articulated in international conventions, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women”. The Declaration emphasizes that violence is “a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to the domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women”.