Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a violation of human rights. We’re working to transform attitudes, norms and behaviours towards girls and women that perpetuate violence against them. 

Isha*, 16, was rejected by her family after refusing to get married

Gender-based violence can take the form of:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual, emotional or psychological violence
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Honour killings
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Trafficking
  • Child, early and forced marriages and unions (CEFMU)
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Violence occurring online, including harassment and abuse

What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to any act of violence that is directed against an individual based on their gender identity or perceived gender. It is a widespread and persistent problem that affects people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

Gender-based violence is rooted in unequal power relations between girls and boys, women and men, and is perpetuated by social norms, attitudes, and practices that discriminate against and marginalise girls and women.

This type of violence encompasses a wide range of abusive behaviours, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It can occur in many settings, including in the home, in schools, in institutions, and in the community.

16 ways to end violence against girls

Young people from across the globe share the most effective ways to tackle the issue of violence against girls and women.

Where does gender-based violence happen?

Children, especially girls and young women, often experience violence at home and in their communities.  

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.

During emergency situations, including crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate related disasters, girls are at heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation.

Gender-based violence is also a rising issue in online spaces, with girls and young women reporting violence, harassment and abuse. Girls account for the majority of victims of child abuse and exploitation, accounting for 90% of those featured in online child abuse materials. Online violence is a significant barrier to the full realisation of gender equality and violates girls and young women’s 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. 

Recent reports estimate that 1 in 3 women are affected by violence and, on average, 120 million girls have suffered some form of forced sexual contact before the age of 20 years.

Aminata speaks out against gender-based violence

With fears that COVID-19 has led to a global increase in gender-based violence, youth activist Aminata joined a round table discussion on combating early marriage and child abuse on national television in Guinea.

Why does gender-based violence 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 LGBTQIA+, those living with disabilities, and girls and women who speak out about political, social and cultural issues and gender inequality. 

What is Plan International doing to end violence against women and girls?

Plan International advocates for girls and young women to be at the centre of efforts to eradicate GBV as part of a commitment to a gender-transformative approach. Girls and young women are one of the groups most at risk of gender-based violence and need specific attention from the international community to ensure their right to grow up free from violence is fulfilled.

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.