Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a term used to refer to any harmful act that is perpetuated against a person’s will based on socially ascribed gender differences between females and males.
Whilst men and boys may be subject to GBV, the term is often used to refer specifically to violence against women and girls because of their socially unequal positions in society which makes them the primary victims of GBV.
Recognizing their special vulnerability, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls” provides a unique opportunity to review the scope of GBV and also highlight what needs to be done to have meaningful change to combat violence against women.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), GBV is perhaps the most widespread and socially tolerated of human rights violations,” and can take form of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse, usually perpetrated against women and girls, both outside and within the home.
In 48 population based surveys from around the world, 10-69 per cent of the women reported being physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point.
Around the world, 1 in 3 women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetime according to 2002 report on World Report on Violence and Health.
While GBV is a problem across the globe, it is the women in developing countries that are most affected.
GBV is widespread in East Africa, where states like Kenya have continued to record an increase in the number of sexually abused women and girls.
The 2003 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (latest) indicates that 43 percent of 15-49 year old women reported having experienced some form of GBV in their lifetime, with 29 percent reporting an experience in the previous year.
About 16 percent of women reported having ever been sexually assaulted, up from 13 percent in the previous year.
In Uganda, 40 per cent of the women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced some form of sexual violence according to a 2006 Demographic Health Survey.
Similarly Tanzania cases of GBV are reported to have increased according to its 2006 National population policy despite absence of gender disaggregated data.
And according to the report, ‘The challenge to set a culture of democracy, tolerance and good governorship’, compiled by ITEKA, a Human Rights group sexual violence in Burundi has been on increase citing 1,930 cases of sexual violence in 2006.
And according to a 2006 USAID Strategic framework for response and prevention of GBV in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (EC/ESA ), prevalence rates of physical intimate partner violence vary from 13 percent in South Africa to as high as 49 percent in Ethiopia.
Levels of sexual violence in intimate partnerships are even higher, varying from 7 percent in South Africa to as high as 59 percent in Ethiopia, with other countries’ rates between 15 percent and 31 percent.
The framework also points out that throughout the region; it is common for both men and women to view sexual violence in intimate partner relationships as an acceptable way for men to punish women for perceived disobedience, not performing household tasks, or refusing sex.
All of the countries in the ECA/ESA region are signatories to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In addition, 15 of these 21 countries are signatories to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Surprisingly in spite of these international instruments, cases of GBV continue to occur in these countries. It is argued that lax implementation of these instruments stems from the fact that there are no sanctions or punitive measures against countries that fail to adhere to them.
In Kenya and Uganda, the maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment, but the minimum sentence for rape is life imprisonment, but the law is silent on the minimum sentence.
Conversely, in most countries across Africa, marital rape is not acknowledged by the law as a form of sexual violence, exposing many women to the HIV infection by their partners.
In Rwanda however, the special law against GBV that awaits for publication, rape in marriage will be deemed as a form of sexual violence.
The interplay of international accords, national laws, and customary laws also creates a paradoxical policy environment according to USAID’s GBV framework.
Call for Action
As the world marks International Women’s Day, it is important to underline that Violence against girls and women is a fundamental violation of their human rights that should be punished.
As signatories to various international conventions, countries are obligated to protect girls and women from all forms of GBV.
It is also essential to focus on gender relations between men and women and boys and girls and to address patriarchal attitudes and behaviours that reinforce the notion that GBV is acceptable.
Working with men is an important factor in preventing GBV since men are in most cases the perpetrators.
Throughout society and the community in general, men are seen as leaders and are a major force for change.