The risks of gender-based violence increase in crisis affected settings
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- The roots of gender-based violence (GBV) lie in power inequities based on gender roles, which are marked by the domination of men and the subordination of women. Violence may be physical, sexual, psychological, economic or socio-cultural, perpetrated in private or in public settings.1
- GBV can occur throughout a woman’s lifecycle, starting with infanticide, early childhood marriage and genital mutilation, and further, sexual abuse, domestic violence, legal discrimination and exploitation of widows.2
- The risks of GBV increase in conflict-affected settings, particularly for women and girls. Men and boys can also be at risk of GBV.
- Acts of GBV violate a number of principles enshrined in international and regional human rights instruments, including the right to life, equality, security of person, equal protection under the law and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.3
- GBV has psychological, social, medical and legal implications. Many survivors will not report rapes and others may feel powerless to do so.
- To facilitate the process of reporting GBV, the rights and needs of survivors should be preeminent. Supportive and effective protocols must be in place to guarantee confidential and safe access to services.
- Documentation of the effects and scope of rape in conflict is very difficult for a variety of reasons, including survivors’ fear of speaking out and chaotic, insecure settings.4
- According to an article by Palermo and Peterman in 2011, even when prevalence of sexual violence is documented, these numbers are often either underestimations, overestimations, or not generalizable to the population of concern.5
- Rape camps, sexual slavery and forced impregnation or intentional infection with HIV have all occurred in recent conflicts.6
- In post-conflict settings, legal institutions and social systems, which often act as protective mechanisms, are most often disorganized and dysfunctional, which may lead to an increased risk of sexual violence.7
- GBV contributes to the erosion of the social and economic fabric as women play important roles in the maintenance of local economies.
- Deaths from GBV include honor killings (by families for cultural reasons); suicide; female infanticide (murder of infant girls); and maternal death from unsafe abortion.8
- GBV is associated with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, unintended pregnancies, gynecological problems, induced abortions, and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, low birth weight and fetal death.
- Sexual abuse as a child is associated with higher rates of sexual risk-taking (such as first sex at an early age, multiple partners and unprotected sex), substance use, and additional victimization. Each of these behaviors increases risks of health problems.9
- Violence and abuse increase risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders and emotional distress.10
- In a study conducted by Baelani and Dunser, of the 23 registered acute care hospitals in Goma, DRC, only four cared for victims of sexual violence during a 22 month period. Of those four, the needed resources were only consistently available at one, a non-governmental organization run hospital. The other three faced constant, comprehensive shortages.11
- GBV can be prevented, as has been proven by the work of local women’s organizations who work to combat GBV. However, in order to continue to be effective, local women’s organizations must receive ongoing technical and financial assistance from the international community.
- Women cannot bear the sole responsibility for combating GBV in their communities. Men and boys, too, have an important role to play as peer pressure can profoundly change attitudes and beliefs about the acceptability of GBV.
- The multisectoral programming model forms the “best practice” for prevention of and response to GBV in humanitarian settings. This model includes full engagement of the affected community, interdisciplinary and interorganizational cooperation and collaboration and coordination among health, psychological, legal and security services when responding to the needs of survivors of GBV.12
- Standardized emergency response measures for women who have been sexually assaulted– including emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy, prevention and treatment for sexual transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, and psychosocial care - must be available at the onset of each new emergency, along with food, shelter and water.
- Data demonstrate that adolescent girls living in rural areas who are not in school and who are often married as children are vulnerable to maternal mortality and morbidity, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion, HIV infection, and sexual violence and abuse.13
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5 Palermo, T. & Peterman, A. (2011) Undercounting, overcounting and the longevity of flawed estimates: statistics on sexual violence in conflict. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 89: 924-925.
6 UNFPA, State of the World Population 2005: The Promise of Equality, New York, 2005.
8 Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: An Inter-agency Field Manual, Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, revised for field-testing, 2010.
9 Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: An Inter-agency Field Manual, Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, revised for field-testing, 2010.
10 Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: An Inter-agency Field Manual, Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, revised for field-testing, 2010.
11 Baelani, I. and Dünser, M. W. “Facing medical care problems of victims of sexual violence in Goma/Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.” 2011.
12 Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: An Inter-agency Field Manual, Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, revised for field-testing, 2010.
Updated March 2012. Please note: while this site is periodically updated, it is up to the user’s discretion to verify that the facts provided are the most current.
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