Gender Based Violence Around the World

by Philine van Karnebeek (Denmark)  

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One in three women are sexually abused in their lifetime. In times of conflict, nine in every ten women will be sexually abused or violated. So what is the relationship between gender-based violence (GBV) and conflict?

Gender based violence is defined 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, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” by the UN. Gender based violence is perpetuated by many societal factors. The main factor is the long historical inequality between the genders. Men have dominated women since the beginning of time and the idea that men should own women is rooted deeply in our society. Because of this, men sometimes feel a sense of ownership and protectiveness over their female counterparts, and this feeling easily translates into physical violence or sexual abuse.

Gender based violence is often embedded into a society as a part of the culture and/or religion. When this violence is not stopped, it usually results in murder of the women. Most of the gender-based violence is inflicted by an intimate partner or a family member of the victim. 47% of all female homicide victims were killed by violence inflicted by a intimate partner or a family member compared to the 6% of males who were murdered in the same way. Gender based violence perpetrated by a man onto a woman is leading to activists calling on men to change this culture. One of these activists in Ban Ki-Moon, former United Nations Secretary-General: “I call on men and boys everywhere to join us. Violence against women and girls will not be eradicated until all of us- men and boys- refuse to tolerate it.” Eradicating gender-based violence is a key part of accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals, most significantly STG 3 and STG 5; “good health and well-being” and “gender equality”.

The already high rate of gender based violence spikes even higher in a time of conflict. In modern insurgency warfare, civilians are killed at a higher rate than soldiers. The civilians most susceptible to this are women and children. This is because sexual violence has become integrated in modern warfare. Armies use violence against the most vulnerable parts of a society. There are different goals that this kind of violence targets, including humiliation, terrorization, information gathering, power enforcement and ethnic cleansing. Often, this tactic is used against minorities to enforce their control over them. Gita Sahgal of Amnesty International said to BBC in an interview, “If one group wants to control another, they often do it by impregnating women of the other community because they see it as a way of destroying the opposing community.” This is because of the identity issue that is created if a woman of minority carries a child whose father is part of the oppressing majority. These mothers and their children are often exiled from the communities as they are culturally seen as tarnished. These social prejudices are also a form of gender-based violence as they are only enforced because these women have to uphold an image of being the untouched. Rape is now being called a weapon of war. Rape is used to break down the fundamental strengths of the opposing communities and to spread fear to lower the moral of the opponents.

However, sexual violence is not only inflicted by the hostile forces but often also by the host forces. This form of sexual violence has very different targets. A report published by the UN about sexual violence in peacekeeping missions inflicted by the blue hats showed that there were 480 reports of sexual abuse between 2008 and 2013, the majority of which happened in the DRC, Congo, Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan. Jane Holl-Lute. The special envoy of the Secretary General expressed there are four things the SG is trying to tackle. Firstly, the restoration of the respect, needs and dignities of the victims. Secondly, the impunity of the soldiers who committed these crimes. Thirdly, to engage civil society more in the issue and the peacekeeping missions, and lastly. to strengthen the communication between all parties of the peacekeeping initiatives to ensure that all concerns are heard. Sexual violence in the peacekeeping missions has been extremely controversial because the UN claims to be the enforcer of human rights, gender equality and peace. By inflicting gender-based violence they are undermining all three of those goals.

In conclusion, the violence used against specifically women is heavily influenced by the political situation of the country. Aside from the obvious damage caused by gender-based violence, and the physical and psychological effects, such as loss of reproductive abilities and increase of suicide attempts, there are other lesser known community based effects of gender-based violence. This violence often is linked to restricting education and results in detachment of the women from society and from the political atmosphere. This causes the economy to suffer because on a large scale these women cannot participate in the economy, as without education they could not reach their full job potential. Gender-based violence is not only an infringement on the ability of the women to prosper but also the ability for the community to prosper.