Gender based violence (GBV) is used in this paper to refer to “Violence that targets individuals or groups on the basis of their gender” (The New Humanitarian, 2020). It comes in different forms like: sexual violence such as rape; physical violence such as beating, maiming or killing; emotional and psychological violence such as body shaming, verbal abuse or stigmatization; socio-economic violence such as discriminations in opportunities; and harmful cultural practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation, etc. No matter the form it takes, one thing is certain which is the fact that GBV does harm to society, individually and collectively. This is the reason we must all consider GBV both as a public health problem and a human rights violation, and do all within our power to end it.
It must be stated from the onset that gender based violence does not affect women or the girl-child alone, even the males share its consequences as victims. Imagine the psychological trauma of the young man who in the course of sexual violence kills a girl – his girlfriend, or a man who physically abuses his wife until it leads to her death. What of a boy who has been abused by an older lady or pedophile? How does he fare psychologically in life? These instances show that GBV affects both genders. But studies have all agreed that women are the most affected since they are the most abused. This equally goes for the girl who happens to be a potential woman. According to a World Health Organization (2013) report, “one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows.” Similarly, WHO’s 2014 report indicates that “One in five women is sexually abused as a child.” This shows that GBV as it affects people is not something to be taken likely.
Before now, gender-based violence (GBV) like rape was considered something that should be kept private or what the family should handle, maybe due to the stigmatization involved. But one may ask, “what happens to victims of, say rape or beating leading to death who have no relatives? Who will handle the matter on their behalf? It is better now that GBV has been brought to public domain as it is an issue everyone must be involved in solving whether as an individual or as a society.
According to the UNFPA (2001), “Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence” The dangers of GBV are seen as victims suffer sexual and reproductive health issues such as forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, trauma, and even death. Despite these negative effects, what is being done to provide succor to victims of GBV?
With all the protests, agitations, legislations against, and implementations of bi/multilateral talks on GBV, what seems to be missing is “a lack of coordinated services for the victims of GBV” (UNFPA, 2001). This may by itself be another form of socio-economic violence because those behind the implementations of policies against GBV are often headed by the men who are not showing real time commitments to their daily implementations; and the few women abreast with the knowledge of GBV are also overwhelmed by other socio-cultural limitations. This is why it was reported that “although women who go to health care facilities often have symptoms related to GBV, they are generally not asked about GBV in their lives. Thus, in reproductive health settings victims of GBV are often the women who are labelled (and further stigmatized) as “difficult” clients.” (UNFPA, 2001)
One major reason why victims of GBV are not properly cared for could be due to the many forms of GBV. Does the victim of sexual rape violence go to the same care center with a victim of forced and early child marriage? Or does the victim of beating (physical abuse) go to the same care center with a victim of verbal abuse like body-shaming or stigmatization? Is there a center that provides treatments and counselling for all the various forms of GBV? This needs to be brought into consideration as a step towards helping most, if not all, victims of GBV. This will require humongous resources too by international communities, governments and private partnerships.
What is worst is the fact that health care professionals that attend to victims of GBV are challenged or constrained on how best to proffer solutions to the problems of their clients. It is reported that,
“even though health care providers often do not address GBV, many of their clients are GBV victims. Health care providers see clients suffering from the effects of the GBV on a daily basis with problems such as undiagnosable, escalating pain, repetitive episodes of STDs, and unintended pregnancies. Faced with such problems, staff may feel powerless, even feel like failures themselves because they do not know what to do. Staff may even realize that the effects of the GBV are undermining the services they provide. However, because they are not trained to recognize and address GBV and because there is no institutional base to support them in this area, health care providers feel helpless to intervene.” (UNFPA, 2001)
The solution to solving this cancerous problem of limitations to helping victims of GBV lies in real time commitments on the part of governments, citizens and organizations. A regular nationwide orientation program by the government on all mainstream media addressing issues of GBV and what victims are expected to do can go a long way. Ignorance and a lack of information causes victims of GBV to further deteriorate in character. When the government shows publicly that it cares about the welfare of the victims and urges them to come forward to get help, this will contribute to solving the problem too. The government in collaboration with NGOs and Civil Society Groups need to start by first addressing the effects of GBV on the victims.
The drive to support victims of GBV by governments especially in Africa where there are cultural and social limitations placed on the woman (including victims of GBV) is low and not encouraging. Financial resources must be committed towards setting up care centres (whether health or legal) that focus on helping victims of GBV. This is why UNFPA (2001) reports that despite the extensive work done by women’s organizations, governments and other partners, many women and girls who are subjected to violence still lack access to essential services that support their safety, health and access to justice. To respond to these needs, in 2013 UNFPA and UN Women initiated the Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence. In collaboration with other UN partners, the programme is developing guidance to improve survivors’ access to these services and to ensure the quality of these services, with a particular focus on health, justice (including policing and legal aid), social services (such as psycho-social counselling, helplines and safe houses), and coordination and governance.
All governments across nations must key into this endeavor ofthe Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violenceand domesticate it in their various home countries where the victims of GBV can seek relief whether in terms of getting medical help or legal justice and a programme that integrates them fully back into society.
The New Humanitarian (2020) “Definitions of Sexual and Gender-based Violence”
UNFPA (2017) report on “Gender Based Violence”
UNFPA (2001) “A Practical Approach to Gender Based Violence: A Programme Guide for Health Care Providers and Managers”
World Health Organisation (2013) report on “Gender Based Violence”
World Health Organisation (2014) report on “Gender Based Violence”
Follow GEAM AFRIKA across all social media platforms