Gender Based Violence
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According to UNHCR, “Gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue. It is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. During displacement and times of crisis, the threat of GBV significantly increases for women and girls” (“Gender-based Violence”). Because of constant exposure to this violence, many people in the U.S. have been desensitized to the staggering statistics and stories of intimate partner brutality or sexual assault. However, this injustice extends even deeper than they realize. Tracing back 2,000 years, cruelty against women has been accepted and praised in almost all societies. To this day, it still normalized in many countries. GBV comes in many shapes and sizes, the most severe occurring in places with little resources to help victims, usually due to an unstable environment and economy. While gender-based violence is a broad issue that knows no location, or gender limits, this injustice most influences the lives of women in developing countries.
Specifically, economic disparity towards women is a cause and consequence of GBV in developing countries. While men can also be affected by the physical, mental, and social effects of violence, women are substantially more likely to experience additional economic distress. According to Inequality.org, “The poverty threshold for a single person in 2016: $11,880 in annual income. Households led by single women with children had a poverty rate of 35.6 percent, more than twice the 17.3 percent rate for households led by single men with children” (“Gender Economic Inequality”). While poverty is a large issue extending throughout the world and affecting every gender, the toll it has on women and their families is tremendous. Therefore, women are disproportionately affected by violence, and in turn face greater economic struggles than men. As stated by, Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, “In Uganda, about nine percent of violent incidents forced women to lose time from paid work, amounting to approximately 11 days a year, equivalent to half a month’s salary, affecting not only the incumbent person but her family and dependents. Also, research shows for example that women who are exposed to intimate partner violence are employed in higher numbers in casual and part-time work, and their earnings are 60 per cent lower, compared to women who do not experience such violence.” Women in developing countries facing violence are met with unfair consequences. Violence affects all aspects of a woman’s lifes, including the people that depend on them for economic support. The repercussions of GBV are known throughout the world as influencing just the lives of those directly a part of it, but statistics show how the economic issues spread worldwide. According to the authors of Public Health in Developing Countries – Challenges and Opportunities, “VAWG[Violence Against Women and Girls] is estimated to cost the global economy about US$ eight trillion. Most studies on violence in Ghana discuss domestic violence or some forms of sexual violence but lack a comprehensive view of VAWG and its costs and impacts on communities, businesses, and the national economy” (Merino, et. al.). After doing a study on the effects of violence in Ghana, authors discovered it creates a ripple of economic loss across the world. Overall, the costly effects of GBV cause more disruption to the lives of women than men, and lead to global economic distress.
Furthermore, the severity of GBV is intensified by empirically grounded and socially constructed gender inequalities in developing countries. Young girls face violence everyday due to the imbalance of power in intimate relationships, and the effects last a lifetime. According to Asha S George, South African Research Chair in Health Systems, Complexity, and Social Change, “Surveys during 2011-16 showed that more than half of rural women aged 15–24 in sub-Saharan Africa had been pregnant before their 18th birthday, and as recently as 2016, 40% of young women in sub-Saharan Africa and 30% in South Asia were married while still children.” While gender inequality is evident throughout the world, it is most acute at a younger age in developing countries. Moreover, the root of this power imbalance stems from the norm that men are superior to women, ultimately leading to the idea that they control them. According to Seema Jayachandran, from the Department of Economics at Northwestern University, “One of the DHS questions asked female respondents age 15–49 whether and when a husband is justified in beating his wife (…). Average tolerance for gender-based violence varies considerably across countries, from less than 1% to over 85%, but tends to be higher in poor countries.” A survey done in countries with varying GDP per capita shows that those with the lowest economic conditions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India, tend to justify the poor treatment of women. Another largely known form of GBV, stemming from gender inequality, is female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the National Library for Medicine, “Many practitioners of female genital mutilation believe that the procedure is dictated by tradition and is necessary to ensure marriage because men refuse to marry intact women. It is sometimes stated that the purpose of female genital mutilation is to control women’s sexuality (…). Female genital mutilation is perpetrated because it gives men power over women as a group. While no religion specifically requires female genital mutilation, patriarchal religions create the cultural milieu that allows this practice to continue” (“The Reasons Given for FGM: Culture and Tradition”). FGM harms women’s mental and physical health by implanting insecurities and inferiority in the minds of young women. While most cultural traditions should be respected, FGM has fundamentally shaped the way women in some communities view themselves, and needs to end. In short, one of the prominent determinants of GBV in underdeveloped countries is systematic gender inequality, which can be seen in female genital mutilation and men’s abuse of power in relations with women.
Finally, poverty in developing countries has made girls and women more susceptible to GBV. To illustrate, poverty leads to violence because it causes a lack of education for girls. As stated by Danielle Cornish-Spencer, Senior Technical Advisor – Violence Against Women and Girls, “According to UNESCO, almost a quarter of young women aged 15-24 (116 million) in developing countries never completed primary school. UNESCO states that if all girls had a secondary education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages. The younger a woman or girl is when she’s married, the higher the risk, severity and frequency of violence perpetrated by her partner. Children born from child and early marriages, are less likely to receive education and more likely to live in poverty.” Violence, specifically child marriage, is proven to directly relate to poverty and lack of education. This results in young women being robbed of opportunities to build a life and support themselves. Another precipitate of violence is socioeconomic status (SES), which plays a large part in poverty and is typically measured by someone’s level of education, income, and occupation. Consequently, most women in developing countries have a low status, leading them to face poverty and rely on their male partner to provide economic support. The Council of Europe states, “Some public forms of socio-economic gender-based violence contribute to women becoming economically dependent on their partner (lower wages, very low or no child-care benefits, or benefits being tied to the income tax of the wage-earning male partner). Such a relation of dependency then offers someone with a tendency to be abusive in their relationships the chance to act without fear of losing their partner” (“Socio-economic Violence”). Women with a low SES often struggle to provide for themselves and the people around them, forcing them to turn to their partners for financial support. However, they are frequently met with violence. The gap between women and men in poverty has become so dramatic, the phenomenon “the feminization of poverty” is often referenced. According to authors at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, “The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on 1 dollar a day or less are women. (…) Worldwide, women earn on average slightly more than 50 percent of what men earn. (…) they lack sufficient access to education and support services, and their participation in decision-making at home and in the community are minimal. Caught in the cycle of poverty, women lack access to resources and services to change their situation” (“The Feminization of Poverty”). Working together, the lack of education, socio-economic resources, and respect women receive generates few opportunities for success. Poverty continues to be a critical problem in underdeveloped areas of the world, often working concurrently with violence to create an unsafe environment for women and girls.
On the other hand, some may argue that to reduce violence against all, men and boys should be included in the term GBV. People interpret GBV differently, some believing it should include all genders and forms of violence. According to Sophie Read-Hamilton at Humanitarian Practice Network, “A third interpretation of GBV, and the broadest, refers to violence directed at an individual, male or female, based on his or her specific role in society. In this interpretation GBV is violence used against women, girls, men and boys to assert and reproduce gender roles and norms. According to this understanding, GBV can happen equally to a person of either sex and is used to reinforce conformity to gender roles.” This definition of GBV, while inclusive, is unrealistic. By combining these two issues under one term, it takes away from the resources and help distributed to each gender. One might also argue that gender norms cause harm to men, such as the stereotype that they make better soldiers. This results in the continuous recruitment of men to serve in violent war and fighting, often leading to injury or death. According to Veronique Barbelet, a Senior Research Fellow, “Actually, men are more likely to be killed during conflicts, according to a study by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), while women die more of indirect causes after the conflict is over. Men and boys are often seen as potential soldiers and fighters in conflicts – and thus a threat to the opposing side – due to the socially attributed role given to men.” Systematic gender norms also affect men, making them more likely to experience violence in the form of war. Violence against men and boys is a real issue that stems from the same roots as violence against women. However, GBV has become widely known as violence against women, and the idea that men and boys should simply be added to the framework is problematic. Because GBV typically refers to violence against just women and girls, and the causes, dynamics, and effects of VAW and VAM differ, men should not be included in the term GBV.
GBV knows no limits, affecting everyone across the globe, but most directly influencing the lives of women and girls in developing countries. This violence leads to the conditions of women already dealing with economic disparity and poverty to worsen dramatically. Due to deep systematic inequalities, the causes and consequences of GBV throughout history have disproportionately affected men and women. The term GBV includes all genders, but has been focused on the violence against women and girls. The brutality men face should not be combined with this term, as they usually experience different forms of violence, and a majority of the world is unaware of just how large the issue is. Throughout history, various systems of government organizations with resources to help those in desperate need, have been slow to address problems that are not an urgent threat to them. However, statistics are beginning to show the worldwide economic toll violence against women and girls is causing. The physical and psychological results of GBV have not acquired the serious attention this injustice deserves. Is the price tag of gender-based violence the only way change will be achieved?
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