Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will; and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to anyone (including threats of such acts), coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Globally, it is estimated that one out of three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.


While women and girls are the primary victims of GBV because of their ‘subordinate’ status, GBV reflects a broader conceptualisation of violence as anyone may be victims of violence that is based on socially determined roles, expectations and behaviours linked to ideas on masculinity – including Sexual Harassment. At AWAM, our primary focus is on SEXUAL HARASSMENT, CYBERBULLYING, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and RAPE.

What causes GBV?

One of the leading causes of GBV is TOXIC MASCULINITY. Over the years, it has also been observed that a root cause of GBV also lies in a combination of POWER, PRIVILEGE AND PERMISSION.

Toxic Masculinity

Today we understand that there exists a spectrum of masculinities, and the understanding of what is masculine is subjective. Toxic masculinity does not refer to any one masculinity but rather types of masculinities that perpetuate strict ideas of gender roles that are harmful to everyone.


The ability or capacity to exert force over another person/group. While individuals exercise varying degrees of power across different contexts (including the capacity to make decisions), there are instances where they are unable to do so due to an external force (power). Power can take many forms including the power to dictate/create/narrate history, create and amend laws, to spread or control ideas and to wield political or economic power. Abuse of power can have extremely negative effects, to the point of being lethal.



Social privilege refers to the benefit of belonging to a certain class/group whereby the benefits are not given out based on consideration of rights or need, but rather on the sole basis of belonging to that social class/group.


Permission here refers to social permission whereby dominant social narratives and sentiment dictates the moral approach towards an issue. A common example is that of victim-blaming, where instead of holding perpetrators accountable, the victim (or survivors) are criticized instead.


Based on the definitions above, we know that:


GBV can occur to anyone – regardless of gender, biological sex, social background, region or nationality. Although GBV can happen to anyone, a majority of GBV survivors or victims are women, especially those from marginalized communities. Perpetrators (s) are often people known to survivors such as an intimate partner, family members, friend, co-workers, community leaders and teachers. [3]. According to statistics, approximately one in four women and girls over the age of 15 may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and rates of sexual abuse by non-partners range from one to 12 percent over the course of a woman’s lifetime [4].


The root causes of GBV are unequalled power relations and gender social norms; both men and women are expected to perform socially determined roles. For example, traditional roles dictate that women should be humble, passive, emotional and powerless while men are aggressive, unemotional, and powerful. Additionally, other concepts like toxic masculinity, power, privilege, and permission all play a fundamental role in contributing towards GBV.


GBV can occur anywhere – not only in private settings but also at public places like offices, schools, and even religious places of worship. As the main root cause of GBV stems from unequalled power relations, some environments that consist of authority figures, such as boss/employee relations at work, often experience instances of GBV.    


GBV can happen at any time – As there is often no rhyme or reason to the motives of the perpetrator, there is no specific time where GBV is more likely to happen, regardless of location or time of day.


 How does GBV affect survivors? 

GBV is connected to injuries, disabilities, chronic health problem, sexual and reproductive health problems and more. These are some of the physical effects of GBV – not including those that result in murder or suicide. Unwanted pregnancies and abortion could also occur as a result of sexual assault or rape.

Psychological effects of GBV can be divided into two; direct and indirect. Anxiety, fear, depression, inability of concentration, and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are main direct effects of gender-based violence. Psychosomatic illnesses, withdrawal and alcoholic or drug  use (and other methods of coping) are categorized into indirect effects [5].

These physical and psychological factors prevent victims/ survivors from participating in society, establishing relationships outside of the abusive home, opportunities of employment, education, or other meaningful social activities that form important pillars of a person’s sense of self. These factors tend to  go on and manifest as financial issues later on in life.

 How does GBV affect society? 


Although the main impact falls on those closest to the survivor, GBV also has a negative impact on society. GBV does not only affect the perpetrator and victim/survivor, in fact, their families, neighbours, friends, front-liners (hospital staff, police officers, counsellors, social workers etc), lawyers, and communities are also affected by GBV.

It affects the sense of security whether it is physical, social, emotional, or mental. It is also a cost to society in the economic sense. Approximately 4000 investigations of domestic violence are conducted every year. This means that GBV is costing the country in terms of police work, and labour, time and economic cost in the courts, loss of productivity at work as a result of psychological trauma, and welfare benefits.


Compiled by Yukiko Nagano & Anastasha Abraham for AWAM


[1] Women for women international,
[2] “What Is Toxic Masculinity”, Maya Salam, 22/01/2019, New York times
[3] “Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons”, 2010, p.197, Global Protection Cluster Working group, Global Protection Cluster
[4] “WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women”, Claudia García-Moreno, Henrica A.F.M. Jansen, Mary Ellsberg, Lori Heise, Charlotte Watts, 2005, World Health Organization
[5] “Causes and Effects of Gender-Based Violence”, 2003, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
[6]“consequences and costs” 31/10/2010, UN Women,
[7] Ellsberg MC, Heise L. Researching Violence Against Women. A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, PATH; 2005.