Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a human rights violation and a barrier to civic, social, political, legal, and economic participation. Women, girls, and LGBTQI+ individuals face a disproportionate risk of gender-based violence across every context due to their unequal status in society.

Sector Overview

GBV is any harmful threat or act directed at an individual or group based on actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics, or sexual orientation, and/or lack of adherence to varying socially constructed norms around masculinity and femininity. Although individuals of all gender identities may experience GBV, women, girls, and LGBTQI+ individuals face a disproportionate risk of GBV across every context due to their unequal status in society. GBV is rooted in structural gender inequalities, patriarchy, and power imbalances. Across its many manifestations, GBV is a human rights violation and a barrier to civic, social, political, legal, and economic participation. It is prohibited under international humanitarian law.


Types of GBV

GBV includes physical, sexual, economic, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life, in-person or in a digital online space. Importantly, it is an umbrella category that encompasses different types of violence, including, but not limited to, child, early, and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU); child sexual abuse; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); gender-related killing of women and girls, including “femicide” and female infanticide; so-called honor-based violence, including acid attacks and killings; some forms of human trafficking; intimate partner violence, including domestic and dating violence; reproductive coercion, including forced sterilization; sexual exploitation and abuse; sexual harassment; stalking; all forms of sexual violence, including sexual coercion, conflict-related sexual violence, rape (including marital rape; so-called “corrective” rape related to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression; rape as a weapon of war), and forced or coerced physical examinations (including virginity testing); and all forms of TFGBV, including gendered online harassment and abuse. Other types of violence that can be gender-based include abandonment, bias-motivated violence or hate crimes; bullying; child abuse, including corporal punishment; elder abuse; and so-called “conversion” therapy practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics. GBV negatively affects the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities; impedes public health goals; thwarts access to education; contributes to economic instability, including lost household productivity and reduced income; and threatens security and democratic gains.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

GBV cuts across identity categories and social statuses, including but not limited to age, disability, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic class, religion, education level, and citizenship status. Perpetrators of GBV operate in a variety of social locations, including the family, the public sphere, workplaces, schools, religious institutions, and via digital technologies, with TFGBV often crossing from digital spaces to in-person experiences. 

Despite decades of work by governments, civil-society organizations, multilateral organizations, and tenacious advocates, GBV remains a pervasive global problem, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating rates. The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women globally has experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, and in some communities the percentage can be much higher. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women worldwide; women killed by intimate partners or family members account for 58 percent of all female homicide victims reported globally. GBV rates, especially for men and boys, are often underreported due to harmful gender norms that dissuade them from reporting. Members of some populations also face overlapping forms of discrimination that put them at even higher risk of GBV, including but not limited to Indigenous Peoples; marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious populations; displaced persons; LGBTQI+ individuals; persons with disabilities; sex workers; domestic workers; and persons in fragile and conflict-affected states.

LGBTQI+ individuals also face heightened risks for GBV. This includes the prevalence of corrective rape, forced anal examinations, nonconsensual disclosure of identity, and other forms of GBV. Violence is often directed at these groups because they are perceived as departing from norms that dictate gender expression and sexual behavior.

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to violence, especially sexual abuse. More than one in ten girls under age 20, or approximately 120 million worldwide, have experienced forced sex, or other forced sexual acts, at some point in their lives. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study found that girls and young women with a disability face up to ten times more GBV than their non-disabled peers. Global data show that boys are also at risk for sexual violence and are at higher risk for physical violence, including fights and peer bullying. Boys are also more likely to face physical punishment in households and schools as a form of discipline. Both witnessing and experiencing violence can lead to intergenerational violence, with increased likelihood of perpetration of violence in adulthood, particularly as a means of discipline and control.

GBV against older adults is widespread, but it receives comparatively less research and public advocacy focus compared to GBV perpetrated against youth and younger adults. Perpetrators include intimate partners or spouses, family members, caregivers both in homes and institutional settings, and community members. Older women are more likely than their male counterparts to live in poverty, which increases their vulnerability to violence and limits their ability to leave an abusive partner or household.

In the context of humanitarian crises, emergencies, and climate-related disasters, women and children are often the most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, and abuse because of their gender identity, age, and status in society.

Promising Approaches

  1. Expand the provision of high-quality, survivor-centered GBV response services addressing health, psychosocial, shelter, economic, and legal needs in humanitarian and development settings.
  2. Pursue structural interventions to improve the creation, implementation, and enforcement of laws and shift harmful gender norms and beliefs.
  3. Reduce acceptance of GBV and promote more gender-equitable norms across individual, household, community, and institutional levels.
  4. Engage local, women-led, and women’s rights organizations, community influencers, and men and boys to achieve transformational change.
Use our Resource Library to learn more about Gender-Based Violence.