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Gender-based violence (GBV) is the most pervasive yet least visible human rights violation in the world. It includes physical, sexual, mental or economic harm inflicted on a person because of socially ascribed power imbalances between males and females. It also includes the threat of violence, coercion and deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private. In all societies, women and girls have less power than men over their bodies, decisions and resources. Social norms that condone men’s use of violence as a form of discipline and control reinforce gender inequality and perpetuate gender-based violence. Across the globe, women and girls especially adolescents – face the greatest risk. Gender-based violence takes numerous forms: Intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, trafficking for sexual exploitation, female infanticide, and ‘honour’ crimes are common with intimate partner violence occurring at staggering rates in every country. Girls and women may also experience gender-based violence when they are deprived of nutrition and education.
Gender-based violence against children refers to the violence inflicted on a child due to stereotypes and roles attributed to or expected of them according to their sex or gender identity. Children’s vulnerabilities to violence stem from the fact that they depend on their parents or caregivers for their development, health and wellbeing. Sometimes children are viewed as the property of their parents or caregivers, rather than rights-holders, making them vulnerable to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. Gender dynamics add another layer of vulnerability. Gender-based violence disproportionately affects girls and women, particularly through certain forms of violence such as child marriage, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ killings or trafficking. For this reason, Plan International focuses on ending violence against girls and young women to meet their increased needs and to advocate for their rights.
Gender-based violence can occur at any point in a person’s life, in times of peace or instability. But in crisis settings, threats soar. Armed conflict, natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies can significantly weaken a society’s ability to protect women and girls from gender-based violence. Rates of intimate partner violence often increase in crisis settings. Many armed groups also use sexual violence as a tool of warfare to advance military or political aims. All the while, girls and women may be forced to trade sex for food, money and other resources they need to survive. And in some places, they are married off early or forcefully, to protect or care for their families. Survivors of gender-based violence suffer devastating short- and long-term consequences to their physical and mental health. Women and girls may experience severe physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies and exposure to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the limited ability to complete daily tasks, and suicidal thoughts are also common.