What is Gender-Based Violence?

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a result of inequality experienced in relationships and unfair expectations women in society must endure. These factors contribute to it becoming a universal phenomenon.

Gender-Based Violence explained

The expectations vary amongst different genders from society to society. Patriarchy is the main power structure in society, and the male population holds most of the power and leadership. Patriarchy is a social and political system that gives men superiority over women – this contributes to the violation of women holistically.

Women are not able to participate fully in society with their livelihoods put at risk daily. Women are largely at higher risk of receiving this violence from men – especially young girls, old women and women who are physically challenged.

GBV can range from physical, sexual, emotional, financial, structural violence and other types of family violence. The types of family violence include female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, trafficking, and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

These crimes are committed by intimate partners, family members, acquaintances, strangers, and institutions. At most times the men committing the violence are known by the women, such as a partner or family member.

GBV continued
GBV is often experienced by people who are not assimilating to their “assigned” gender roles, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and/or intersex people. (saferspaces.org.za)

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is the most common form of GBV and includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. This can cause controlling behaviors by a current or previous partner/spouse and can occur in heterosexual or same-sex couples. (saferspaces.org.za)

Domestic violence (DV) refers to violence that can include IPV, but also encompasses violence against children or other family members.

The types of Gender-Based Violence:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a health concern and a human rights violation. It has both short and long-term consequences for the lives of girls and women. This practice touches on a range of issues such as reproductive health, human rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment, and adolescent reproductive health.

FGM is the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries caused to the female genital organs. The harmful practice conducted has no medical reasoning or health benefits. It is usually performed on young girls under the age of 15 years old, sometimes in their first weeks of life and occasionally on adult women.

Globally, about 100 million and 140 million women have been cut. 3 million more women are at risk each year. Women are subjected to female genital mutilation in 28 countries in Africa including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in Eastern and Southern Africa.


Child Marriage is a widespread problem in many countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. This is a serious violation to the human rights of young girls. Child marriage denies young girls their right to health care, education, security and the right to choose when and with whom they marry.

It reinforces and compromises the health and security of women and girls. It prevents girls from achieving their full economic and social potential.

It subjects the girls to sexual violence, risky pregnancies, and HIV/AIDS. Since it is associated with early childbirth it thus leads to deaths and /or injury for many young mothers. 27 percent of women have given birth by the age of 18 in Eastern and Southern Africa. Most of these births happen within marriage.

27 percent of women have given birth by the age of 18 in Eastern and Southern Africa. Most of these births occur within marriage. Death in childbirth and HIV-related diseases are the two main causes of death among young women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Child marriage puts at risk the human rights of girls, such as the right to education because new brides are usually forced to drop out of school to look after their children and household. In addition, these married young girls have restricted mobility, very few social connections, extremely limited control over resources and little to no power in their new households.

Child Marriage makes young girls especially vulnerable to domestic violence.

The practice excludes girls from making decisions regarding the timing of their marriage and choice of their spouse. It also marks an abrupt and violent initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is considerably older and a relative stranger. (esaro.unfpa.org)

Adolescent pregnancies contribute to higher fertility rates and little to no access to maternal health services which are the main contributing factors in the high number of maternal deaths among young women in Africa.

Girls aged between 15-19 years are more likely to die during childbirth than women who are 20 years and above. HIV, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for young women aged between 15-19 years, with 26 percent of all maternal deaths occurring among adolescents.

Unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies show an indication for the need of contraception among these young girls and women. Teenage pregnancy also impacts a girls’ education, health, and long-term employment. (esaro.unfpa.org)

Sexual Violence has high rates in the Eastern and Southern Africa regions. In seven countries, around 20 percent of girls aged between 15 to 24 years reported that they had experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner. Sexual violence against young teenagers aged 15 years and below is highest in the conflict and post-conflict countries of the DRC, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The reasons for the high rate of violence committed against girls and women include harmful gender norms, alcohol abuse and an increase in poverty. The violence committed against the girls and women hinder them from refusing sex and silence their ability to request for contraception. (esaro.unfpa.org)

“Changing the thinking of men, will change their orientation towards women”

Tumisang Skosana, Director of Dlalisa Moyeni Foundation

Indirect (structural) violence is “where violence is built into structures, appearing as unequal power relations and consequently, as unequal opportunities.”  Structural violence exists when certain groups, classes, genders, or nationalities have privileged access to goods, resources and opportunities over others. This unequal advantage is built into the social, political, and economic systems that govern the lives of the women affected. Because of the way in which this violence is built into systems, political and social change is needed over time to identify and address structural violence. (saferspaces.org.za)

A key aspect in changing these statistics is to identify opportunities to provide support and refer women to other services they may need. These services include sexual and reproductive health services (antenatal care, family planning and post-abortion care), HIV testing, mental health and emergency services such as post-rape care. In this case, reproductive health services are viewed as a critical entry point and should be easily accessible to all women. (esaro.unfpa.org)

GBV in South Africa

Societies free of GBV do not exist, and South Africa is no exception. Although accurate statistics are difficult to obtain for many reasons including the fact that most crimes committed against women are never reported.

South Africa has high rates of GBV, including violence against women and girls and violence against the LGBTQIA community.

The Way Forward

Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women.

The engagement of men and boys is critical and proven effective in GBV prevention and response. This works towards securing better health outcomes for men, women, boys, and girls.