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What do we mean by gender violence?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'Gender violence' is not a term most of us use in everyday conversation about the things that it encompasses. So it is appropriate that a blog that chronicles a campaign against gender violence begin with a definition of the term.
  • A Save the Children field guide provides a simple definition:
"...gender-based violence (GBV) is therefore violence that is directed at an individual based on her or his specific gender role in a society. It can affect females or males; however gender-based violence affects women and girls disproportionately. It is violence intended to establish or reinforce gender hierarchies and perpetuate gender inequalities."
(From Judy A. Benjamin & Lynn Murchison, Gender-Based Violence: Care & Protection of Children in Emergencies, A Field Guide, Save the Children, 2004.)
  • The same study quotes Jeanne Ward:
"Gender-based violence refers to “any harm that is perpetrated against a person's will; that has a negative impact on the physical or psychological health, development, and identity of the person; and that is the result of gendered power inequities that exploit distinctions between males and females, among males and among females. Although not exclusive to women and girls, GBV principally affects them across all cultures. Violence may be physical, sexual, psychological, economic, or sociocultural.”

(From Ward, Jeanne. (2002). If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced and Post-Conflict Settings. New York: The Reproductive Health in Conflict Consortium.)

In other words:
  • When one experience violence in a certain way because one is a women, girl, boy, man... that is gender violence. Sexual violence is gender violence, and that includes rape, date rape, marital rape, child sexual abuse, incestuous abuse, etc.
  • Gender violence expresses the power that one person has or wishes to have over another. The power to decide whether a girl child will be born, is gender violence.
  • Gender violence can take any form. Stalking, obscene calls, sexual harrassment at the work-place, what we euphemistically call 'eve-teasing'... are all gender violence.
Although men and boys also experience gender violence, it disproportionately affects women and girls. Hence, the slippage between talking about "violence against women" and "gender violence" or "gender-based violence." The latter is an analytical and political refinement that underscores the role of power in the exercise of such violence and acknowledges that biological sex alone does not determine whether a person has that power or not.

Gender violence has been described as a public health problem by the World Health Organization and a "problem of pandemic proportions" by the UN General Assembly. The UN Population Fund names 16 forms of gender-based violence:
  1. Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War
  2. Pre-Natal Sex Selection
  3. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
  4. Date Rape
  5. Bride-Burning or other forms of Dowry-related Violence
  6. Child Marriage
  7. Trafficking of Girls and Women
  8. Domestic Violence
  9. Crimes committed in the name of passion or honour
  10. Abduction of adolescent girls during combat
  11. Bride kidnapping
  12. Sexual harrassment at work
  13. Physical or emotional violence by an intimate partner
  14. Exploitation of domestic workers
  15. Femicide
  16. Forced sterilization or other coercive reproductive practices
South Asia is home to most of these practices in some form or the other. Social reform movements in each community, the women's movement and the state have made attempts to stop one practice or another, but it appears that these have had limited success. The problem is much bigger than even all these together can tackle, and the rapid rate of change in our society only exacerbates it.

Gender violence can only be eliminated when each and everyone of us takes a stand, takes action against it.

Prajnya's 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence is our first step as an organization. What will yours be?

Join us!

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