Gender-based violence (GBV) is a term used to describe any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed differences between males and females. While men and boys can be victims/survivors of some types of GBV (particularly sexual violence) around the world, GBV has a greater impact on women and girls. Examples of GBV throughout the lifecycle include (but are not limited to): sex-selective abortion, differential access to food and services, sexual exploitation and abuse, including trafficking, child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, sexual harassment, dowry/bride price abuse, honour killing, domestic or intimate partner violence, deprivation of inheritance or property, and elder abuse.
Gender-based violence is pervasive in times of peace. In times of crisis, GBV may become more extreme. In armed conflict, one form of GBV, sexual violence, can become so widespread and systematic that it is considered a method of war and can escalate into a crime against humanity, a war crime or an act of genocide.
Civilian protection is founded on government and non-state actor engagement and the involvement of civil society in upholding basic human rights. During armed conflict, this protection all too frequently fails. During a natural disaster, emergency response that does not take into account gender-specific vulnerabilities and capacities can further expose individuals to GBV. Programming to address GBV involves coordination, prevention and response with a multi-sectoral approach (eg. health and community services, shelter and site planning, water/sanitation, food security and nutrition, non-food item procurement and distribution, education and schools and community education, safety and security/rule of law).
Programming should be survivor-centered, ensuring the safety of the survivor, confidentiality, and respect for the survivor and her/his right to informed choice. Ensuring women’s and adolescent girl’s full participation, as well as engaging men and young people, is fundamental to promoting civilian protection from GBV. Information campaigns and advocacy can help to raise awareness of the issue, initiate discussions in the community, reduce stigma, and encourage survivors to report incidents and seek care.
Effective campaigns involve men and promote reflection about cultural attitudes and gender inequities that perpetuate violence against women. Cultural taboos and fear of reprisal may prevent survivors of sexual violence from talking about it outside their own families, even to doctors and nurses. Laws and protocols ensuring the protection of survivors are an important foundation for encouraging survivors to come forward to receive the care they need and to reinforce accountability frameworks. Training for health workers, police and judges is critical to help them respond sensitively and appropriately to GBV survivors.