Gender-based violence: facts and how to help

Updated Jan 30, 2020
Girls are born with the same God-given rights as boys and that matters – everywhere. Societies with greater gender equality enjoy more sustainable development, faster economic growth and better prospects for their children. Yet in many places, discrimination and violence against girls and women is still rampant. Discrimination that seriously inhibits a woman’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men, in any form, is referred to as gender-based violence and is increasingly problematic globally (CEDAW).

It is important to note that gender-based violence disproportionately affects girls, but boys are also impacted because they witness it.

Learn more about the topic and how you can help combat gender-based violence.

1. What is gender-based violence?
2. What are the types of gender-based violence?
3. What is the impact of gender-based violence?
4. What is World Vision’s approach to gender-based violence?
5. Why should we care about gender-based violence?
6. What can I do to combat gender-based violence?
Help combat gender-based violence across the globe

 1. What is gender-based violence?
According to the UN, gender-based violence can be defined as “acts that inflict physical, mental, sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” Gender-based violence is a global problem of epidemic proportions. It will affect one in every three women in her lifetime. Violence against women and girls happens everywhere, regardless of race, social situation or economic earnings.

When we further expand our definition, gender-based violence can also be defined as, “traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men. They also include stereotyped roles which perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion, such as family violence and abuse. Further, forced marriage, dowry deaths, acid attacks and female circumcision” (UN Women).

In times of conflict, gender-based violence can also be used a tool of war. In fragile contexts with ongoing war or crisis, early marriage is seen as a legitimate way to protect girls in an otherwise hostile environment. Where people have been forced from their homes, better for a girl to have the protection of her husband than to risk physical or sexual assault from strangers in refugee camps or informal tent settlements.

Many girls and women don’t report what’s happening to them. Some fear the repercussions. Some have no one to listen to them. Some have watched their own moms endure violence in silence. And, in some countries, this kind of violence is presented as normal within families and communities. Thus, the statistics we know are that of reported cases and in many regions, falls short of the actual reality.

That’s why it’s critical that we pay attention.

A woman and a young girl walk through an alley, away from the camera.Kajal, a victim of child sexual abuse, found refuge in a Children's Club set up by World Vision. The organization is actively involved in capacity building and empowering children to end violence against children. Photo: World Vision India

2. What are the types of gender-based violence?
There are many types of gender-based violence. As defined earlier it can present itself as physical violence, emotional abuse and economic violence. These include but are not limited to what is defined above. The definition also includes: abusive international marriage, domestic violence, elder abuse, forced marriage, HIV and intimate partner violence, homicide, LGBTQ+ intimate partner violence, sexual violence and trafficking.

While gender-based violence can affect all genders, it predominantly affects women and girls.

3. What is the impact of gender-based violence?
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world. Globally, an estimated one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Gender-based violence can undermine the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims.

According the World Bank:
  • 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
  • Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner.
  • Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
  • 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.

A woman from South Sudan wearing a yellow dress sitting on a wooden bench with her back to the camera.To address sexual gender-based violence and support survivors in South Sudan, World Vision trained a group of community volunteers and leaders to organize community awareness events, and counsel families who have experienced or witnessed violence. Photo: Mark Nonkes

With nearly 3.7 billion women and girls in the world (2019), one billion females could be affected in this generation. This is equivalent to the entire population of the African continent.

Gender-based violence knows no boundaries. Any girl or woman can be affected, no matter where or how she lives. But the problem can be most acute in places where women have less social and economic power, or where laws protecting them are not enforced.

Poverty, instability and lack of education can play a role in perpetuating gender-based violence. These factors can be most prevalent in developing countries. Recent global estimates indicate that 700 million girls were married before age 18—many against their will. Girl brides are often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.

Sometimes, gender-based violence is designed to kill. An estimated 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017. More than half were murdered by their intimate partners, or their own family members.

This issue is not only devastating for survivors of violence and their families, it also has significant social and economic costs. Violence against women and women’s economic empowerment, though not linear, are closely interlinked.

A study done by UN Women states that decreasing violence against a woman is all-together positive, both in her personal life and how she performs at work. Gender-based violence drastically affects a victim’s confidence, her chance to continue with education, or her ability to thrive in the workplace. It also significantly lowers the productivity of businesses. There is higher turnover, lower productivity, and increased absenteeism.

It also affects following generations where the children are more likely to be at risk of becoming violent in their later life, be lower income earners and have a lower performance at work.

You can read more about gender-based violence and the effects here.

A woman wearing a yellow and pink head scarf used a pair of headphones and record music in a studio.
Agnes poses for a portrait during a music therapy session for victims of gender-based violence. The program is run at World Vision offices in Beni, DR Congo. “This program has helped me heal my emotional wounds. Before I could have been hit by a car and I wouldn’t have cared. Now I feel better.” Photo: Patrick Meinhardt

4. What is World Vision’s approach to gender-based violence?
World Vision integrates gender equality into every aspect of its programming to address and prevent gender-based violence. For development work to succeed, all members of a community must become equal partners in transforming discriminatory beliefs and practices.

In many places where we serve, community members place trust in the words of the local faith leaders. That’s why we partner with pastors, imams and other faith leaders, to act as catalysts for changing harmful attitudes and behaviors in their communities.

This approach has been critical for reversing widespread misunderstandings about HIV and AIDS, for instance. And it’s also helped overturn discriminatory beliefs and practices harmful to girls and women.

By engaging church leaders in respectful dialogue regarding their culture, we are purposeful about affirming those aspects of culture that can positively impact communities. But we challenge those that entrench power imbalances between men and women, or harm, restrict and belittle any child.

By educating faith leaders on gender issues and emphasizing the unique giftedness and important role of women in the families and communities, we help empower women and girls. We free them to influence their own futures. More girls have a chance to attend school and continue with further education.

When it comes to families, World Vision Canada seeks to engage men and fathers to educate them on gender-equality.

A Rohingya teenage boy sitting in front of a wall that has two large posters attached to.Living in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, 13-year-old Sirajul was part of a two-day World Vision course with 20 other boys on preventing gender-based violence. They learned how inequality between men and women, and boys and girls breeds injustice, and physical and sexual violence. Photo: Jon Warren

It takes planning, listening, clear communication and plenty of room for discussion. And it’s important that all parties – men, women, boys and girls – have a place in the conversation.

In India and countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Tanzania, among others, World Vision works with fathers to address the issues of child abuse and gender-based violence in families. Our community facilitators meet with fathers and husbands in Men Care groups, in sessions for married couples and in family groupings.

Teaching is rooted in a curriculum World Vision helped develop: A More Equal Future. The training provides tools and guidance to engage with fathers, daughters and entire families. The goal is to critically examine the norms that support gender discrimination and child marriage. Once these are unpacked, we can help families change them.

In Sri Lanka, for example, both domestic violence and alcohol consumption decreased when we worked with fathers to prevent violence against women and children and encouraged their involvement as partners and caregivers.

5. Why should we care about gender-based violence?
Because we care about girls and women. And because the impact of gender-based violence is devastating, long-lasting and broad-reaching. Violence against women and girls is a blatant violation of their human rights. It’s about more than physical and sexual harm “at the time.”

Gender-based violence can cause lifelong damage to girls and women. It devastates families. It weakens communities. When allowed to continue unchecked, gender-based violence can weaken a country, too.

Victims of violence are unable to embrace their full potential. In the workplace, gender-based violence lowers productivity and profitability of business because it lowers a woman’s work performance, increases turnover, absenteeism, lateness and other costs. It may also result in loss of job and general ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Women who experience violence are proven to earn less than their counterparts. Children who are abused may drop out of school or their grades suffer because of their inability to focus or even attend school because of violence.

In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost the economy up to 3.7% of GDP – more than double what most governments spend on education.

Two Rohingya refugee women sewing in a room full of women.Smirna is one of the 24 women and girls attend the sewing classes each week that are offered in Women’s Peace Centre run by World Vision. Many also take advantage of the counselling services for survivors of gender-based violence. Photo: Karen Homer

6. What can I do to combat gender-based violence?
You can help combat gender-based violence by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice that families face. When you sponsor a girl, you help provide necessities like nutritious food, clean water, access to education and health care. For families with girls, sponsorship helps protect them from practices like early or forced marriage.

World Vision works in unstable countries. When you give to our Raw Hope initiative you can help fund programs where governments don't protect the rights of its people. In these dangerous places, women and children face threats of violence, hunger, abuse and exploitation daily. When you give to ou Raw Hope initiative, you can help protect vulnerable children and families living in the most dangerous places.

Join us in working with governments to ensure international laws that protect children are enforced. In your own spheres of influence, challenge social norms that reinforce the idea that girls are inferior. Help us create safe spaces for them to speak up against harmful practices.

Together, we can help women and girls pursue their dreams and help curb the effects of gender-based violence on future generations.