Gender equality is an essential aim for any society based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Gender equality concerns almost every aspect of social interaction and public policy, including youth policy and youth work. Every individual is directly and personally affected by issues relating to gender equality and gender-based violence.
However, discussing gender and gender-based violence can be difficult, as these discussions include concepts and terms which are not always clear, which may change over time, and which cut across different disciplines such as psychology, sociology, culture, medicine, law, education, activism or politics. The baseline is that gender-based violence is a human rights violation and affects not only people who are directly targeted by it, but also the whole of society.
The Spotlight Initiative of the United Nations and the European Union provides the following data :
- 35% of girls and women in the world have experienced physical or sexual abuse;
- 70% of all human-trafficking victims worldwide are girls or women;
- more than 700 million women alive today were married before the age of 18;
- 200 million women and girls alive today have been victims of female genital mutilation.
- 1612 transgender people were killed in 62 countries between 2008 and 20142 ;
- almost half of the respondents to an EU LGBT survey stated that they had experienced discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation.
- Gender-based violence is a human rights violation
It is an unrelenting assault on human dignity, depriving people of their human rights. Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right, and gender based violence undermines a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. It affects not only physical health but also mental health and may lead to self harm, isolation, depression and suicidal attempts.
- Gender-based violence threatens a person’s physical and psychological integrity
Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure, and where this is not present, people’s ability to function in the family, community and society is likely to be impaired, as self-realization and development are affected. Gender-based violence is an obstacle to the realization of every person’s well-being and to their right to fulfilment and self-development.
- Gender-based violence is discrimination
It is deeply rooted in harmful stereotypes and prejudices against women or other people who do not fit into a traditional gender binary or heteronormative society. For that reason, gender-based violence can have the effect of pushing women and others who are affected to the margins of society and making them feel inferior or helpless. In the case of men who do not act according to dominant masculine gender roles, gender-based violence has the function of correction by example. The severity of the ‘punishment’ for men who do not act according to expectations concerning male gender roles (whether gay, bisexual or heterosexual) may be related to the perceived danger that their difference presents to normalized and dominant assumptions about gender. Their very lives might collide and appear to contradict the idea that there are natural forms of behavior and social roles in general for men and women.
- Gender-based violence is an obstacle to gender equality
Gender equality is central to safeguarding human rights, upholding democracy and preserving the rule of law. Gender-based violence contributes to cultivating a heteronormative society and perpetuates the power of men. Gender equality, on the other hand, entails equal rights for people of all genders, as well as equal visibility, and equal opportunities for empowerment, taking responsibility and participating in all spheres of public and private life. Gender equality also implies equal access to, and equal distribution of resources between women and men.
- Gender-based violence is under-reported and there is often impunity for perpetrators
Common myths, such as that ‘what happens at home should stay at home’ or that ‘it is nobody’s business what happens in the family’ are very powerful. This makes denouncing violence in the family difficult, and it may affect the provision of help and support services, thereby exposing the abused person to greater harm, with possibly fatal consequences. Furthermore, violence very often silences those who are affected by it. By failing to speak out against domestic violence we also mirror the techniques used by perpetrators. In some countries, most types and forms of gender-based violence are illegal and punishable by law, but there are countries which lag behind in this respect. The Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe asks for criminalization of different forms of gender-based violence.
- Gender-based violence affects everyone
Children raised in families where a woman is abused are also victims of violence (sometimes not physically, but always psychologically). The children witness violence and may form the impression that such behavior is justified or ‘normal’; in other words, they assimilate violent norms. They are also brought up in a culture of violence that may negatively affect their self-development and ability to function in society. Gender-based violence affects family members, friends and colleagues.