Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Gender based violence in emergencies

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-0972/Ron Haviv
Women and girls leave the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people near the city of El Fasher, capital of North Darfur State, to gather firewood. The trip can take over seven hours, lead them past government checkpoints and leave them exposed to attacks. Girls as young as eight years of age have been attacked, raped or killed trying to fetch wood, which is essential for cooking in the camp.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a term used for describing harmful acts perpetrated against a person based on socially ascribed differences betweeen males and females. While the broadest interpretation of GBV is sometimes understood to include specific types of violence against men and boys, the term has historically been and continues to be used primarily as a way to highlight the vulnerabilities of women and girls to various forms of violence in settings where they are discriminated against because they are female. Examples of GBV affecting women and girls throughout the lifecycle include but are not limited to: sex-selective abortion, differential access to food and services, sexual exploitation and abuse, child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, sexual harassment, dowry/bride price abuse, honour killing, domestic or intimate partner violence, deprivation of inheritance or property, and elder abuse.

A fundamental aspect of GBV against women and girls is that the violence is used in cultures around the world as a way to both preserve and maintain females’ subordinate status vis a vis males. In other words, acts of violence against women and girls are both an expression of and a way to reinforce male domination-not just over individual women and girls, but females as a whole class of people. The violence is rooted in power imbalances and structural inequality between men and women.

Clarifying gender discrimination as a central component in the perpetration of all forms of violence against women and girls reinforces states’ obligations to work towards the elimination of violence against women and girls as part of their responsibilities for protecting and promoting universal human rights.
 
In these settings, the humanitarian community has a responsibility to ensure the safety, well-being and rights of those at risk of GBV, regardless of whether data exists on the true scope of the problem. Any available data on GBV, including reports from police, legal, health, or other sources, will likely represent only a very small proportion of the actual number of incidents of GBV. Therefore, it should be assumed that GBV will be an issue in every emergency, requiring that all humanitarian actors (such as those working within and across the sectors of water and sanitation, health, nutrition, logistics, education, protection, etc.) take steps to address it.

In emergencies, child protection systems, – including laws, policies, regulations and services across all social sectors, especially social welfare, education, health and security are weakened and disrupted. Displacement and separation of families and communities place women and girls at increased risk of violence and abuse. Sexual violence may be used as a method of warfare to brutalize and instil fear in a civilian population.

In line with the Inter-agency standing committee gender-based violence guidelines in humanitarian settings, UNICEF is committed to the survivor centered principles of safety, confidentiality, respect and non-discrimination which seek to minimize harm and maximize efficiency of prevention and response interventions. UNICEF’s approach to addressing GBV acknowledges that combating GBV requires a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes access to services while also fostering a protective environment through coordination of GBV prevention and response efforts amongst all humanitarian actors. UNICEF and its partners support policy reforms and the implementation of mechanisms to foster a protective environment for women, girls, men and boys. UNICEF promotes the capacity building of health, social welfare, legal and security personnel to recognise and monitor GBV while providing survivors with rapid and respectful services. Finally, UNICEF supports community discussions that address norms of discrimination to change harmful behaviors and end gender-based violence.

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