Broadening our Understanding of Gender-Based Violence

In our first article on Gender-Based Violence (GBV), we responded to the recent spike in the number of incidents of the abuse and deaths of women and children in South Africa and we thereafter shared a list of actions that Pastors, other leaders and men can undertake in addressing violence against women and children, in their congregations and in surrounding communities:

We therefore felt that it was important to ensure that all of us have the same understanding of what is meant with GBV i.e. violence or abuse of Women, before we venture into articles that provide more details on the proposed actions referred to above. It should be noted GBV is a sensitive topic and that there are different forms of GBV. It is therefore important to understand the concepts and nuances, which is the purpose of this article.

The World Health Organisation’s Key Facts on Violence Against Women

• Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
• Global estimates published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
• Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
• Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
• Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.
• Some of the contributing factors that make it more likely for men to become perpetrators of violence include having low education, a history of being abused as a child, exposure to domestic violence, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women.
• Similarly, some of the contributing factors that make it more likely for women to experience intimate partner violence is if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, attitudes of accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status.
• There is evidence that advocacy and empowerment counselling interventions, as well as home visitation are promising in preventing or reducing intimate partner violence against women.
• Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, as well as and non-partner sexual violence, and may also lead to new forms of violence against women.

Understanding The Various Concepts Related To Violence Against Women

Violence against women is a persistent and universal problem occurring in every culture and social group. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been physically assaulted, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime – most often by someone she knows, including a member of her own family, an employer or a co-worker.

Violence against Women. The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Gender-Based Violence. Though most documents use the terms Violence against Women and GBV interchangeably, the following points and definition suggest a slight difference:

Gender-based violence is not exclusively a woman’s concern. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender perceptions. GBV can be broadly defined as “the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between genders, within the context of a specific society.”

It should be noted that in some cultures GBV is violence against women based on women’s subordinate status in society. It includes any act or threat made by men or male dominated institutions that inflict physical, sexual, or psychological harm on a woman or girl because of their gender. In most cultures, traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions legitimise and therefore perpetuate violence against women.

So whilst it is true that some types of violence against women (and men) are perpetrated by women, the majority of GBV perpetrators are men.

Domestic Violence. Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, physical violence or threats of violence, including sexual violence, assault and or harassment, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. Domestic Violence is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). IPV refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

Forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
The following forms of GBV are the more commonly known:

Physical abuse/violence

Physical abuse can happen in dating or married relationships, but it can also happen outside a relationship. Physical abuse is any physical force that injures the victim or places the victim in danger physically. Physical abuse can include hitting, shaking, burning, choking, hair-pulling, slapping, kicking, and any type of harm with a weapon e.g. a knife, another sharp instruments or a gun. It can also include threats to harm their spouses/partners and or children, family pets, or other family members. Physical abuse can also include restraining a spouse/partner against their will, by tying them up or locking them in a space.

Emotional or Psychological abuse

Emotional violence often involves verbal abuse, name calling and belittling of the other and which causes psychological harm to the individual. It entails acts of embarrassment, humiliation and disrespect. These acts affect one’s sense of self, self-esteem and self-confidence. Michele Borboa says emotional abusers are often “silent monsters” that fake affection while knowing precisely how to manipulate situations, hurt and humiliate their victims and do whatever it takes to stay in control of the situation and their victims.

Husbands/Partners are guilty of emotional abuse when they:
• Manipulate their partner’s emotions on a psychological level,
• Constantly criticizes their partners,
• Play “mind” games,
• Make her feel bad about herself e.g. through degrading, belittling and or negative comments,
• Makes her think she is crazy,
• Makes their partner feel guilty, and
• Humiliates their partners.

Economic abuse

Economic abuse includes the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which the victim is entitled or requires out of necessity, including mortgage bond repayments or rent. It essentially traps a person into remaining in a marriage or relationship from which escape becomes impossible. Economic violence can take the form of, for example, property damage, restricting access to financial resources, education or the labour market, or not complying with economic responsibilities, such as alimony.

This includes control of a partner’s assets, access to money and other economic resources. The husband/male partner may be reluctant for his wife/female partner to work or may manage and abuse her compensation for work done.

Sexual violence
Sexual Violence is “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.”

This is the most common form of GBV and may involve rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and trafficking for sexual purposes.


Femicide is the killing of a female, or perceived female person on the basis of gender identity, whether committed within the domestic relationship, interpersonal relationship, or by another person or whether perpetrated or tolerated by the State or its agents, and private sources.

(This definition was agreed on 4 October 2017 by the Committee that dealt with Intimate Femicide under the auspices of the then Department of Justice and Constitutional Development – DOJCD)

In summary, this is characterised by the murder of a female partner by an intimate male partner and is considered to be the most extreme outcome of GBV.

Indirect (structural) violence
Structural violence is “where violence is built into structures, appearing as unequal power relations and, consequently, as unequal opportunities”. Structural violence exists when certain groups, classes, genders or nationalities have privileged access to goods, resources and opportunities over others, and when this unequal advantage is built into the social, political and economic systems that govern their lives.”

In closing we would like to remind Pastors, other church leaders and men that this article is the second in a series of articles on “What Pastors, other Church Leaders and men can do in the fight against GBV and Child Abuse”. The next article will be in a similar vein, however the focus will be on improving your understanding of Child Abuse with the view of assisting you to deal with this societal scourge. I would like to encourage you to raise questions and share your stories and practices so that we can learn from one another.

Ashley Theron
Acting CEO
AFM Welfare

centrecare, Australia
DOJCD, SA 2017
Dept of Justice, SA 2018
EIGE Europe
Legal Centre 2012
Lisa Vetten 2003
Ludsin &Vetten 2005
Matthews 2010
Michelle Barboa
Office of Human’s Health, U.S.
saferspaces SA 2020
Sigworth 2009
Swazi Malinga 2016
Tears Foundation, SA
Tshwararanang Legal Centre 2012
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Women’s Aid (UK)

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