What Is Gender-based Violence (GBV)?

Gender-based violence involves men and women, in which the female is usually the target, and is derived from unequal power relationships between men and women. Violence is directed specifically against a woman because she is a woman or affects women disproportionately.[1] It includes, but is not limited to, physical, sexual, and psychological harm. [2] The most pervasive form of gender-based violence is abuse of a woman by intimate male partners. [3]

Gender-based violence includes: battering, intimate partner violence (including marital rape, sexual violence, and dowry/bride price-related violence[4]), feticide, sexual abuse of female children in the household, honour crimes, early marriage, forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FBM)/cutting and other traditional practices harmful to women, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in school and elsewhere, commercial sexual exploitation, and trafficking of girls and women.

In 1995, the U.N. expanded the definition to include: violations of the rights of women in situations of armed conflict, including systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy; forced sterilization, forced abortion, and coerced or forced use of contraceptives; and prenatal sex selection and female infanticide. It further recognised the particular vulnerabilities of women belonging to minorities: the elderly and the displaced; indigenous, refugee, and migrant communities; women living in impoverished rural or remote areas, or in detention.

The global community typically groups these abuses into three categories:

Family Violence: The most widespread type of violence against women. This includes any abuse that occurs within the family context where the perpetrator is known to the girl or woman. Common examples are spousal beatings; marital rape; forced marriage; sexual abuse of a girl by a father, uncle, or stepfather; and verbal abuse and trauma related to “dowry” and “not giving birth to a son”.

Community Violence: This includes violence at the hands of a perpetrator unknown or unrelated to the woman and often comes in the form of rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution or trafficking, and public humiliation.

State Violence: This includes violations that are condoned and committed by individuals associated with the government. This is often seen in the form of violence at the hands of police, prison guards, refugee camp guards, border officials, and even peacekeeping troops. In conflict regions of the world, systematic rape and sexual violence is often used as a tool of war.


[1]  “Women are also much more likely than men to be sexually assaulted as children, adolescents or adults, and the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are male, as are virtually all perpetrators of rape.” Heise L, Ellsberg M, Gottemoeller M., 1999. Ending violence against women. Population Reports. Series L, No. 11. Baltimore, Maryland: Population Information Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health

[2]United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA), (1998) Ending Widespread Violence Against Women. Retrieved from http://www.unfpa.org/gender/violence.htm

[3]Heise, Lori. (1994) . Gender-based Abuse: the global epidemic. Cad. Saúde Pública, 10. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0102-311X1994000500009

[4]The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women defines dowry-related violence or harassment as “any act of violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after the marriage.”  Dowry-related violence is distinct from domestic violence in that the husband or current partner may not be the only perpetrator of dowry-related violence or death.