Gender-Based Violence

Gender makes women vulnerable to violence

The victimization of women and girls is one of the most common, yet least visible forms of oppression. Its effects go beyond the bruises and the fear to tear at the very fabric that holds families and communities together.

For years, Amie Kandeh endured threats and beatings at the hands of her husband. The end finally came when the man, in an alcohol-fueled rage, told her she was going to die. What makes Kandeh’s story more salient is that at the same time she was being brutalized, she was counseling other women who were victims of similar abuse.

“So I had this double life,” says Kandeh, the director of the Gender-Based Violence Program with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Sierra Leone.

“Of all the issues … gender-based violence is the most widespread. Sure enough, in a country like Sierra Leone, it’s very extreme; it’s a post-conflict situation. But rape and domestic abuse happen everywhere. They really are one of the most ubiquitous
forms of gender-based oppression.”

— Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky

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A girl in Sierra Leone

Photo by Jessica Chermayeff

Gender-based violence is one of the most common but least visible or recognized forms of oppression against women. Around the world, as many as one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex acts or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

“Of all the issues … gender-based violence is the most widespread. Sure enough, in a country like Sierra Leone, it’s very extreme, it’s a post-conflict situation. But rape and domestic abuse happen everywhere,” Sheryl WuDunn says. “They really are one of the most ubiquitous forms of gender-based oppression.”

Gender-based violence encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices like female circumcision.

The IRC says that 26 percent of the rape victims it treats in its center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, are 11 years old or younger, journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote in an October 8, 2011, column in The New York Times that detailed his encounter with a three year-old rape victim.

“As I stood in the rape center corridor, reeling from the encounter … a four-year-old girl was brought in for treatment. She, too, turned out to have been infected with a sexually transmitted disease in the course of a rape. Also in the center that day were a 10 year-old and a 12 year-old, along with older girls,” Kristof wrote.

A study by the World Health Organization, based on interviews with 24,000 women in 10 mainly developing countries, found that among women aged 15 to 49 years:

  • Between 15 percent of women in Japan and 70 percent of women in Ethiopia and Peru reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
  • Between 0.3 percent and 11.5 percent of women reported experiencing sexual violence by a non-partner.
  • The first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 24 percent in rural Peru, 28 percent in Tanzania, 30 percent in rural Bangladesh, and 40 percent in South Africa.

“This is not a third world, first world issue,” says Zainab Salbi, co-founder and president of Women for Women International, which supports female survivors of civil strife.

“The fact that three out of five women still get abused … somehow, someway in the world, you know, shows that that fundamental respect that I just don’t have the right to do, to touch her or talk to her the wrong way – it’s still not there fully yet.”

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Presented by ITVS, funded by Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional program funding provided by the Ikea Foundation, US Agency for International Development (USAID) (in partnership with FHI-360 and C-Change), Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Seedling Foundation, the Nike Foundation, the United Nations Foundation. 

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is not in any way affiliated with or in partnership with the Half the Sky Foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 to enrich the lives and enhance the prospects for orphaned children in China. For more information about the Half the Sky Foundation, visit halfthesky.org.