By Olamide Olowoniyi
The United Nations describes gender-based violence (GBV) as one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. This phenomenon is firmly rooted in gender inequality experienced by women globally. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by GBV. In fact, the terms gender-based violence and violence against women and girls (VAWG) are often used interchangeably. GBV includes child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), intimate partner violence (IPV), non-partner sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child abuse, and female infanticide.
Identified as a global pandemic by the world health organization, the numbers of affected women and girls are staggering. It has been estimated that 1 in 3 women will experience some form of GBV in her lifetime, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence from intimate or non-intimate partners. On a global level, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partners, 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner and 200 million women have undergone female genital mutilation.
Gender-based violence is not restricted to any region or country, it is an issue that affects women and girls of different social and economic classes to varying degrees. India, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Nigeria, and The United States of America (USA) were identified to be top ten worst countries for women with the highest GBV rates in the world according to a 2018 poll conducted by the Thomas Reuters Foundation. In many cases, the victims of gender-based violence have to face many sexual and reproductive health consequences, including unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections, and sometimes death.
India and Afghanistan
The National Family Health Survey revealed that 30% of Indian women in the age group of 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and further showed that 6% of women in the same age group have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Also, 31% of married women in India have been estimated to experience physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses. To tackle this violence against women, India made some specific changes to its legal system to pass stricter sexual assault laws and create fast-track courts for prosecuting rape cases. In Afghanistan, the numbers are even scarier, the world health organization (WHO) estimated that almost 90% of women in Afghanistan have experienced at least one form of domestic violence, 17% have experienced sexual violence and 52% have experienced physical violence. The country’s Ministry of Public Health continues to work to implement a multisectoral response to gender-based violence in collaboration with the WHO and UN Women.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
The figures from Pakistan are also quite staggering as 32% of women have experienced physical violence and 40% of women who are married or ever been married have suffered from spousal abuse at some point in their life. An interesting report revealed that 1 in 2 Pakistani women who have experienced violence never sought help. To address this pervasive culture of violence, the government is working with international organizations like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to strengthen the capacity of both the public sector and civil society partners. Like Pakistani, there is a culture of silence around GBV in Saudi Arabia, as many survivors of GBV rarely discuss or report abuse. Saudi Arabia has the strictest male guardianship system in the middle east with many Saudi women subjected to domestic violence. It is estimated that 35 percent of Saudi women have experienced violence and the strict guardianship system makes it difficult for victims to seek help. The Saudi government has attempted to address violence against women by criminalizing domestic violence, however, there are several acts in this law that needs to be reformed in order to better protect women from family violence.
DRC and Syria
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been affected by conflict, food insecurity, and epidemics and as a result, millions of people have had to flee their homes in search of food and protection. Among the displaced communities, women and children are the ones most exposed to GBV especially sexual violence. However, the current democratic transition is creating hope for the stabilization of the country and the DRC government has developed accountability systems to address violence against women, including creating case management protocols and a database of incidents. Syria, like DRC, is also affected by a lot of conflict with women and girls suffering many human rights violations. The government has also failed to keep official statistics on rape and other forms of sexual violence in pre-conflict. However, international organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has partnered with the Syrian government to provide medical and psychological help to survivors.
Similarly, GBV is also widespread in Somalia and like Syria, the data on the scope of the violence is very uncertain because of the decades of conflict, insecurity, and harmful cultural practices. However, some GBV data from Banadir, Middle and Lower Shabelle, and Bari regions of Somali show that the majority of cases reported were 41% rape, 39% physical assault, 11% sexual assault, 4% denial of resources, 3% psychological abuse and 2% forced marriage. To address these issues, a strategy was developed by the Somalian government to provide quality and timely multi-sectoral services to survivors.
Nigeria is also facing a very serious GBV crisis with 30% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported having experienced sexual abuse. Harmful traditional practices such as child marriage are prevalent in Nigeria, with 43% of girls married before the age of 18 and 20% of women between ages 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. In June 2020, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency on gender-based violence in the country following the massive protests held by many women’s rights activists around the country. A major demand by the activists is the country-wide implementation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibitions Act (VAPPA). There are also local and international organizations in the country like Stand to End Rape Initiative advocating against sexual violence and supporting survivors of sexual violence.
Yemen has ranked last in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, and in 2017 the country was listed as the worst place in the world to be a woman. As the conflict in Yemen escalated, the position of women and girls in Yemeni society was further weakened and their vulnerability to violence and abuse increased. Half of the 4.3 million people displaced in the last three years are women and as obtained in most humanitarian crises, they pay heavy prices such as child marriage and child labor. The Yemeni government partners with international organizations like UNFPA to work across the country to protect women and girls.
The United States of America
In the United States, GBV is a very serious problem. 1 in 3 women is a victim of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse and 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence and, on average, more than three women are murdered by their partners every day. The U.S. government has released a global strategy to Increase coordination among U.S. government agencies and other stakeholders such as human rights organizations, integrate gender-based violence protection and response efforts into existing U.S. government work, improve research and data collection to improve gender-based violence prevention efforts and expand and U.S. government programming that addresses gender-based violence.
The impact of GBV is felt on a global level, it stunts the contributions of women and girls to international development and harms not just the women but families, communities, and societies as a whole. To end violence against women, we have to challenge structural inequality and question all the ways power is unequally divided among men and women at social, economic, and political levels.
Photocred: The New Humanitarian