Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 6: Ending Gender-based Violence

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HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Chapter 6: Ending Gender-based Violence


a group of men and women holding signs with messages that include "Stop Violence Against Women" and "No to Sexual Harassment."

Suffering violence or fear of violence should not be a part of anyone’s life. Sadly, however, gender-based violence is so common that it is often considered "normal." Most women fear rape or sexual violence even if they have never been personally assaulted or threatened. That fear is part of being a woman. And many men believe that using violence — or the threat of violence — is an acceptable way to handle the power that goes with expectations about masculinity. Those expectations are part of being a man, even if a man never uses violence.

Physical violence such as beating, or sexual violence such as rape, are what people usually think of when they think of gender-based violence. However, gender-based violence includes all the ways power or force is used to control women and girls, and to punish men who do not obey gender norms.

What is gender-based violence?

Any violence or threat of violence that is done to women and girls to enforce gender roles and the lower status of women is gender-based violence. Harm done to lesbians, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) people can also be gender-based violence because their lives challenge rigid ideas about masculinity and femininity. Gender-based violence is not just physical and sexual, but is also emotional and economic. When people verbally abuse women and LGBT people, limit their freedoms, deprive them of education and fair wages, or use gender-based power to control what they can and cannot do, that is also a form of violence.

illustration of the below: a crocodile that is mostly underwater, with words on it including "dowry deaths," "beating," "rape," and "disrespect."


a woman speaking.
Gender-based violence is like a crocodile in the water: the danger is much bigger than what you can see at first.

It often looks like gender-based violence is the act of a single person — the man who beats his wife or the boss who sexually harasses his employee. But usually the perpetrator is permitted or even encouraged to do this because others around him justify this violent behavior. Addressing gender-based violence means not just changing men’s violent actions towards women and LGBT people, it also means changing laws, widely held attitudes, and customs that allow and even reward gender-based violence.