Gender-based violence (GBV) has been an integral aspect of armed conflict for hundreds of years. Widespread, the atrocities are perpetrated against women and girls, but men and boys are also victims.
Gender inequality and GBV are interlinked through the imbalance of power relations. The definition of GBV is when a woman’s rights to equality, liberty and security, the right to be free from discrimination, torture, degradation and inhumane treatment are systematically violated.
GBV has been used as a weapon of war/armed conflict throughout history. While the international media and various human rights organisations have heightened awareness of GBV, it remains endemic. Few organisations reflect upon its extensive nature, its underlying causes, its prevalence in post-conflict situations and measures to reduce even further domestic violence.
Need to know – Gender Based Violence
* 67% of women who survived rape during the 1994 Rwandan genocide are HIV positive.
* 75% of women in Liberia were raped during the conflict.
* 20,000-50,000 women were raped during five months of conflict in Bosnia in 1992.
* 5,000 cases of rape were recorded in the Uvira area of the Democratic Republic of Congo by women’s associations since October 2002. This constitutes an average of 40 per day, and does not include unreported rapes.
* 80% of Sri Lankan refugees are women and children.
* 40% of all crimes committed in Dili, Timor Leste, during 2001, were violence against women.
Abuse of power
Sexual exploitation is also widespread in humanitarian situations where sex is traded for food rations, secure passage, and for access to basic goods. The perpetrators are the ‘trusted’ – police, military, peacekeepers, international and national humanitarian agency staff, host communities.
The abuse of this power is at the core of GBV. The best strategy for preventing it is to address these root causes by influencing and changing the behavioural attitudes of male and female, young and old. Ignoring or tolerating GBV implies complicity and acceptance.
Widespread in both conflict and post-conflict environments, GBV’s systematic use as a weapon of war is on the increase in Africa. GBV is not a coincidence of conflict but rather an ordered and condoned result of political strategies.
Bearing this in mind, those committing such systematic violations presently run a negligible risk of investigation, never mind prosecution. GBV crimes against women/girls and men/boys are, therefore, committed with knowledge of impunity by people who are fully aware that they will not be punished. An element of this is because social stigma acts as a deterrent against reporting. Police and judicial systems are also complicit.
Challenge for us all
Three key words summarise the problem of GBV – endemic, silence, impunity. It is a very broad and potentially overwhelming problem that requires integrated rather than stand-alone development programmes.
The results of GBV – psychological trauma, isolation of survivors, social stigmatisation – ensure that the reintegration of victims into their families and communities is difficult. Long-term mistrust among communities is also a challenge to peace building. But there is a challenge for us all if, when we know that GBV exists, we choose to tolerate or ignore it.