Applied Psychology

What is Gender Based Violence (GBV)?

Nov 18, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
What is Gender Based Violence (GBV)?

Gender Based Violence is regarded as a human rights violation and a major barrier to achieving gender equality as well as an obstacle to a country’s development. During times of crisis, such as pandemics and war, GBV escalates dramatically.

Violence specifically directed at someone because of their biological sex or gender identity is classified as GBV. It can occur publicly or privately. It includes, verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse. As well as threats, coercion and deprivation, for example, economic or education.

“Gender Based Violence is a Human Rights violation.”

It is important to remember that GBV does not discriminate. Nor does it confine itself to specific communities, socio-economic standing or income level. Any person of any race, age, gender, sexual orientation or religion can be a perpetrator, victim or survivor of GBV.

6 Forms of Gender Based Violence

  1. Violence against women and girls (VAWG)
  2. Violence against LGBTIQ+ people
  3. Intimate partner violence (IPV)
  4. Domestic violence (DV)
  5. Sexual violence (SV)
  6. Indirect (structural) violence

In 1993 Gender Based Violence against women was formally defined by the United Nations in the Declaration on the Elimination of 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”.

Why Gender Based Violence campaigns primarily focus on Woman and Girls

Due to the fact that women and girls make up the majority of survivors and victims of GBV, much of the focus of combating GBV pertains to women and girls. However, this does not mean that men and boys don’t experience GBV.

GBV is prevalent worldwide, largely because of systemic and perpetuated gender inequality. This disempowers women and girls in particular such that their basic human rights are easily turned aside. A consistent absence of economic opportunities, access to resources and lack of justice or recourse against violence perpetuate abuse situations, especially when the survivor is dependent on the abuser, exacerbate and maintain a violent context.

WHO estimates that 1 in 3 women world-wide will experience sexual or physical abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime. While GBV can occur in many forms throughout a woman’s life; the two most common types are sexual violence and physical intimate partner violence. Violence against women spans a life time starting with sex-selective abortion and ending with forced suicide or homicide of widows.

“1 in 3 Women experience GBV in their lifetime.”

The United Nations (UN) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

It encompasses, but is not limited to

  • “physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
  • physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere;
  • trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
  • and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs.”

GBV against women and girls is also termed Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Due to its private and public consequences, VAWG is a health crisis.

Gender Based Violence in South Africa

Stats SA reports that 50% of the assaults against women are by someone close to them:

  • 13% a relative or fellow household member
  • 15% are an intimate partner or spouse
  • 22% of these perpetrators are a friend or an acquaintance

According to Bernadine Bachar, who runs the Saartgie Baartman Center for Women, the problem within South Africa is that “Violence has become normalized, it’s just part of what we experience on day-to-day basis.” Gareth Newham, head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Program at the Institute for Security Studies, explains that “Women and children are susceptible to violence because of the culture of violence where many men believe that they are entitled to use violence against their partners and their children in order to compel compliance with whatever the man wants.”

“Worldwide the Covid-19 lockdown has resulted in a dramatic increase of GBV against women and girls.”

Patrick Godana, a manager of Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, agrees with Newman elaborating “Gender norms are fuelling violence against women, social norms are fuelling violence against women, alcohol abuse and poverty, because some men feel like they are less of a man, their esteem as men is low and therefore they can only present their own authority by shaking and beating up women.”

Gender Based Violence during Lockdown

During Lockdown there was an increase in South Africa’s GBV crisis, such that the capacity of Gender Based Violence Services were maximised. It is thought that this is because perpetrators were isolated with those most vulnerable to their violence, during a period of social and economic stress. Additionally, despite government and non-government organisations efforts to intervene, access to resources to prevent and cease GBV was more difficult due to lockdown.

The increase in GBV is not unique to South Africa’s lockdown. The UN reports that the increase in domestic GBV against women and girls accelerated during the course of 2020. The food and financial insecurity, social isolation measures and confined living conditions exacerbated physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic domestic violence. Additionally, school closures heightened the GBV risk for girls, leading to increased sexual harassment and exploitation as well as child marriages. The World Health Organisation reports that China, the UK and USA as well as other countries have reported an increase in domestic violence specifically against women.

Some of the Consequences of GBV

The impact of GBV is not limited to individuals. It carries a social and economic cost to society; thus, it cannot be disregarded as a “private” issue.

GBV has a wide and most often long-lasting impact with mental, physical, social and economic consequences. Trauma, stigma and psychological abuse can prevent someone from seeking job opportunities. Sexual violence can lead to STIs and/or unwanted pregnancies. These can result in unsafe abortions, blame, isolation and shunning from family and/or community as well as depression to name but a few repercussions.

The economic cost of GBV is significant. In 2014 KPMG reported an estimated conservative cost of GBV between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion for the 2021/13 financial year. This equates to 0.9% to 1.3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the annum.

“In 2013, R28.4bn could have paid in the annual salaries of 200 000 primary school teachers.”

Findings show that violence is a learned behaviour that can be intergenerationally transferred. Sons and daughters who witness domestic violence have a higher likelihood of becoming victims or survivors and perpetrators of violence. A girl who experiences violence in childhood is approximately 3 times more likely to experience violence as a woman. Men who witness violence between parents or are themselves abused during childhood are at greatest risk of becoming perpetrators.

“Men and Women need to work together to combat GBV against women and girls.”

10 Reasons Why GBV is not Reported

  1. Shame
  2. Stigma
  3. Cultural beliefs
  4. Financial dependence on perpetrators
  5. Belief that violence in normal or not serious enough
  6. Lack of knowledge of or access to GBV services
  7. Fear of retaliation
  8. Threat of losing access to children
  9. Discrimination against survivors and victims within law enforcement and legal settings
  10. Distrust of health workers

What’s been done about GBV?

To combat GBV against women and girls it is essential to educate both women and men around women’s rights and their responsibility in promoting as well as defending women and girl’s rights. Only with active continual support from both women and men, gender equality can be established. Men, specifically, need to become effective-allies and be willing to start inclusive conversations within their communities and amongst peers on preventing and mitigating GBV.

South Africa’s Response to GBV

In South Africa, any act of GBV is a direct breach of the Constitution as it violates the fundamental right to life, liberty, dignity, non-discrimination as well as mental and physical integrity.

On the 18th September 2019 an Emergency Response Action Plan, focused on addressing GBV and Femicide, was presented to and approved by Parliament. It aims to free South Africa from the GBV of women and children as well as LGBTQIA+ persons. The Emergency Response Action Plan is a multi-sectorial strategic action plan taking root in international and national legislation. It requires the commitment, coordination and resources of government departments, civil society, academic institutions, development agencies and the private sector for successful implementation.

The 5 Key Interventions of the South African National on Gender Based Violence and Femicide are:

  1. Urgently respond to victims and survivors of GBV
  2. Broadening access to justice for survivors.
  3. Changing social norms and behaviour through high-level awareness raising and prevention campaigns.
  4. Strengthening existing architecture and promoting accountability
  5. The creation of more economic opportunities for women who are vulnerable to abuse because of poverty

“16 Days of Activism runs from 25 November to 10 December 2020.”

Additionally, South African has legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) (1998), the Sexual Offences Act (2007) and the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Human Persons (2013) Act which work towards mitigating GBV. 

South Africa is also signatory to a number of international treaties and campaigns which seek to eliminate GBV. For example: The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.

Global Response to GBV

South Africa is also signatory to a number of international treaties and campaigns which seek to eliminate GBV. For example: The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.

The purpose of this global campaign is to create a multi-year world-wide coordinate strategy against GBV. The campaign calls for the prevention and elimination of GBV against women and girls. It builds on existing international legislation and policy frameworks and attempts to stimulate as well as support country-based initiatives and laws. This year there is a special focus on covid-19 initiatives being gender sensitive and accounting for the escalated risk to, as well as experience of violence of, women and girls.

The 4 pillars of the UNiTE campaign 2020 activities are:

  1. Fund: Prioritise funding for GBV prevention and response as well as women’s rights organisations
  2. Prevent: With action plans declare national zero-tolerance of GBV and launch social mobilisation campaigns
  3. Respond: Undertake specific actions to ensure establishment and/or maintenance of GBV survivor and essential services
  4. Collect: Data for improvement of GBV services

How to Help Prevent GBV

One of the first steps towards combating GBV is to have a stand point against it and challenge the subtle as well as obvious ways GBV plays out within our communities.

Three ways You can help Prevent and Mitigated GBV are:

  1. Challenge gender stereotypes and roles.
  2. Confront those who make sexist jokes and derogatory remarks about women.
  3. Challenge the normalisation and condoning of violence against women and children.

South Africa needs people who can help heal the wounds of the past. For more information on studying psychology or counselling at SACAP, enquire now.

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