Gender-based violence can be in the form of:
- Child marriage
- Female genital mutilation
- Honour killings
- Trafficking for sex or slavery
- Intimate partner violence
- Physical punishment
- Sexual, emotional or psychological violence
What is gender-based violence (GBV)?
Gender-based violence against children refers to the violence inflicted on a child due to stereotypes and roles attributed to or expected of them according to their sex or gender identity.
Children’s vulnerabilities to violence stem from the fact that they depend on their parents or caregivers for their development, health and wellbeing. Sometimes children are viewed as the property of their parents or caregivers, rather than rights-holders, making them vulnerable to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. Gender dynamics add another layer of vulnerability.
Gender-based violence disproportionately affects girls and women, particularly through certain forms of violence such as child marriage, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ killings or trafficking. For this reason, Plan International focuses on ending violence against girls and young women - to meet their increased needs and to advocate for their rights.
Gender-based violence: an epidemic
Gender-based violence has been described by the World Health Organization as a global public health problem of epidemic proportions and a fundamental violation of human rights.
Where does it happen?
Girls and young women often experience violence at home, from physical punishment to sexual, emotional or psychological violence. Acceptance of violence as a ‘private affair’ often prevents others from intervening and prohibits girls and young women from reporting.
School and the journey to it can also be a place where girls experience violence, from sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation. This violation of girls’ rights, especially when committed by those in positions of care or authority, can impact on girls’ ability to continue and complete their education.
In both cities and rural areas, violence against women and girls in public spaces and on public transport is sadly not uncommon. Fear and threats of violence and harassment limit girls’ capacity to lead a free and full life.
During emergency situations, girls are also at heightened risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and abuse.
Gender-based violence is also a rising issue in online spaces, with girls and young women reporting harassment and abuse. For many girls, there is pressure to leave online platforms, or self-censor to avoid abuse. This puts the onus on girls to change their behaviour, rather than the perpetrators and must be challenged.
Why does it happen?
Gender-based violence occurs in all parts of the world, but the risk is higher where violence is normalised and where rigid concepts of gender exist.
In many cultures, violence towards girls and young women is accepted as a social norm. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, and the blame, shame and stigma faced by victims must be eliminated.
Girls must never be held responsible for the violence that happens to them. Violence is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator, who must be held accountable according to national or international legislation. Fear or threat of violence must not restrict girls from living free and full lives, or from realising their full potential.
Certain groups are more vulnerable to violence, including girls and young women from poor, rural or indigenous communities, those who are or are perceived to be LGBTIQ+, those living with disabilities, and girls and women who speak out about political, social and cultural issues and gender inequality.
How can gender-based violence be stopped?
Violence is not a private matter – it must be uncovered in order for it to be challenged. Ending gender-based violence will involve action at all levels: challenging social norms that condone violence or impose gender roles; strengthening legislation to criminalise violence, and prosecuting the perpetrators.
It’s vital for children to learn about gender-equality at school, just as it's important to promote intergenerational dialogue on violence against children. Community dialogue can challenge the attitudes towards punishment and dominance that perpetuate gender-based violence.
We must all promote and strengthen values that support non-violent, respectful, nurturing, positive, gender-equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded.
Girls' freedom online is under attack
Compared to their male peers, girls online are facing more threats of sexual violence, more comments about their appearance and behaviour, and are more often told not to speak out and have an opinion. We need to reclaim the internet for girls, assert our experts, Leila Asrari and Nora Lindstrom.
What is Plan International doing to end violence against women and girls?
Plan International opposes patriarchal systems that seek to control the lives and sexuality of girls and women, that give lower status to girls and women and are used to justify violence against them. We recognise that girls and women have the right to bodily autonomy and to control their own sexuality. To end gender-based violence, we believe that these prevailing systems of power must be challenged and changed.
Some of our most widespread programmes have ending violence against women and girls at their core, including Safer Cities for Girls, which empowers girls to speak up about the issues they face in urban areas and emboldens them to speak up for change. Champions of Change is our global youth engagement programme which encourages boys and young men to identify and challenge harmful, negative masculinities that perpetuate discrimination and violence, whilst empowering girls to defend their rights.