What Is Gender-based Violence?


What Is Gender-based Violence?

“GBV is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed gender differences between males and females. Acts of GBV violate a number of universal human rights protected by international instruments and conventions. Many, but not all, forms of GBV are illegal and criminal acts in national laws and policies.

Around the world, GBV has a greater impact on women and girls than on men and boys. The term gender-based violence is often used interchangeably with the term violence against women.

The term gender-based violence highlights the gender dimension of these types of acts; in other words, the relationship between females’ subordinate status in society and their increased vulnerability to violence. It is important to note, however, that men and boys may also be victims of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence.”

Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2005. Guidelines for GBV Interventions in Humanitarian Settings: Focusing on Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence in Emergencies, page 7.

Note that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is also used by some agencies to refer to gender-based violence (GBV).


GBV exists across the world and in a range of contexts. Situations of displacement often increase the risks of GBV as community protective mechanisms may be weakened or destroyed. Displacement sites, instead of providing a safe environment for their residents, can sometimes increase exposure to violence.

Worldwide, GBV occurs both within the family and community, and is perpetrated by persons in positions of power. This may include spouse/partners, parents, members of extended family, police, guards, armed forces/groups, peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers.

Sexual violence is the most obvious and widely recognised type of GBV. However, all forms of GBV can increase in humanitarian contexts, including domestic violence, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, early and forced marriage, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, honour killings and denial of the right to widow inheritance. For example, living under stress in overcrowded spaces can lead to increased domestic violence, and early or forced marriage may be used as a protection mechanism or a measure to address economic hardship.

In camp settings vulnerable groups are particularly exposed to GBV risks. It is important to note that although the vast majority of those who experience GBV are women and girls, men and boys may also experience violence, including of a sexual nature, based on their gender. In all cases, survivors of violence should receive timely referrals to confidential and appropriate care and support.

While women and girls remain the most at risk of GBV, it is important to acknowledge that men and boys may also experience GBV and are provided with the support they need. As in the case of providing services for women and girls, assisting male survivors of violence requires specialised expertise.


Gender-based Violence Against Men and Boys

While women and girls remain the most at risk of GBV, it is important to acknowledge that men and boys may also experience GBV and are provided with the support they need. As in the case of providing services for women and girls, assisting male survivors of violence requires specialised expertise.

GBV against men and boys may include both sexual violence and other forms of violence in which men are targeted based on the socially ascribed roles of men. Men and boys may be exposed to several forms of GBV. This includes physical, sexual and psychological violence against men perceived to be transgressing ascribed gender roles; for example, transgender individuals, men who have sex with men, or men and boys who do not conform to the expected norms of masculinity in the culture.


The Camp Management Agency plays a pivotal role in decreasing the risks of these multiple forms of violence by ensuring that the needs of all persons are understood, addressed and monitored across sectors intervening in the camp. Assisting GBV survivors in a way that meets their specialised needs requires careful consideration and collaboration between multiple sectors and national stakeholders. It is the responsibility of the Camp Management Agency to work within a protection framework and understand the protection risks that women, girls, men and boys face.


Factors Contributing to GBV

Gender discrimination is an underlying cause of GBV. The risks of GBV are often heightened during conflict or while in flight, and can continue during displacement. The environment of the camp must ensure that everyone living there is safe and protected. The following are examples of how camp responses may exacerbate the risk to GBV:

  • registration: Women not individually registered may not be able to access services, food and non food items, and as a result may be at higher risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • camp layout: Female-headed households who arrive and register once much of the camp is already established may be pushed toward the camp outskirts. This isolation can expose them to opportunistic rape and/or attack from hostile surrounding communities, bandits or armed actors. Camp layout should take into consideration, among others, the location of military posts and markets.
  • site infrastructure: Where service delivery is poor or inadequate, women and girls are most often tasked with leaving the camp and traveling long distances in search of food, fuel and water. This exposes them to risk of attack.
  • psychosocial stress: The danger and uncertainty of emergencies and displacement place great strain on individuals, families and communities, often contributing to the likelihood of violence within the home or family.
  • livelihoods: The absence of livelihoods in the camp might lead individuals to engage in maladaptive practices, such as child marriage or sex work.
  • distributions: How, where and when food and non-food items are targeted and distributed can either increase or reduce the risks to women and girls. Distribution points should be safely accessible to women and girls, and distribution monitoring should look at safety issues that arise both during and after the distribution.
  • others factors, like overcrowding in camps, poor or no lighting in common areas, unlit and unlockable latrines, poor access to education and vocational activities, absence of women or child friendly spaces can increase the risk of GBV during the staying in a camp.

Certain groups may also be at heightened risk of GBV, such as female heads of households, persons with physical or mental disabilities, or associated with armed forces or groups. Adolescent boys and girls, particularly those who are unaccompanied, are in foster families, or are child mothers, are also a group subject to high levels of GBV. Notably, adolescent girls may lack social power due to the combination of their age and gender, and often missed in traditional child protection interventions in emergencies, such as child-friendly spaces, but also cannot be reached with the same programming used to reach women.

☞ For more information on GBV, see the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings in the References section.

The consequences of GBV can be physical, psychological and social in nature. The below table, although not exhaustive, lists a few examples of possible consequences.

Physical health consequences Psychological health consequences Social health consequences
  • Physical injury
  • Sexual transmitted infections
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  •  Fistula
  • Death
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Self-blame
  • Anxiety
  • Mental illness
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
  • Victim-blaming
  • Stigmatisation
  • Rejection
  • Isolation
  • Honour crimes


☞ For more information on the health effects of GBV, see World Health Organization (WHO), 1997. Violence Against

A woman who has experienced sexual assault has just 72 hours to access care to prevent the potential transmission of HIV or infections, 120 hours to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and sometimes just a few hours to ensure that life-threatening injuries do not become fatal. Although medical services are essential, they are not the only lifesaving aspect of emergency GBV interventions. The Camp Management Agency should advocate for case management, including both basic psychological first aid and safety planning, which is also critical and necessitates the establishment of specialised GBV programming. Wherever possible, these services should build on and work in collaboration with existing support structures, such as local civil society organisations and governmental social service institutions. Finally, efforts to reduce risks to women and girls must be mainstreamed across all sectors in humanitarian response. The Camp Management Agency plays an essential role in reducing risks, preventing GBV and ensuring that all actors recognise and take responsibility in this area.