Real Talk: Speaking Up on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)

“Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is not a female issue, it is a humanitarian issue. It affects us all.” Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), often abbreviated to Gender-Based Violence (GBV), refers to harmful acts of sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse perpetrated based on gender. GBV, in a modern context, is the term attached to aggression against women and girls. In fact, a popular statistic details that 1 in 3 women have experienced GBV. However, the reality is that this number is far larger. In all corners of the globe, girls are born into neighbourhoods and societies that are unsafe, unjust, and discriminative. Be it catcalls, sexual advances, unequal salaries or other common injustices; these occurrences have become normalised in the lives of women and girls which have no right to be normal in the first place.

GBV encompasses all forms of violence against women and girls, from microaggressions to heinous acts such as rape, sexual harassment, child marriage, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and female human trafficking. As of late, activists, renowned public figures, and civilians across the globe have rallied to take the long-standing fight against GBV to the next level. In 2021, survivors of sexual assault — or other forms of GBV — and allies of the cause begun speaking up about their experiences, modern injustices, and human rights in a concerted effort to raise awareness.

It can be said that Gender-Based Violence denotes an imbalance of power. Acts of GBV are intended to humiliate or undermine women and girls, making them feel inferior. Unfortunately, GBV is deeply rooted in the social and cultural structures that govern our societies and is often amplified due to denial and silence; a pandemic in its own right, GBV is a crisis that continues to afflict the masses. Moreover, GBV plagues women and girls both in public and behind closed doors, as the bulk of cases and instances go unreported.

Hence, the question arises, “What constitutes Gender-Based Violence?” GBV could take the form of sexual, physical, psychological, verbal, or socio-economic abuse. It could manifest as hate speech online or sexual assault, and can be perpetrated by anyone; even the least expected of individuals. Be it a spouse, relative, colleague, schoolmate, friend, or stranger, all individuals are capable of perpetrating GBV and/or being implicit in its perpetuation. In fact, countless cases of GBV are filed against individuals that act on behalf of cultural, religious, state, or interstate institutions, unearthing the fact that no group — even the most pious and righteous — is ever free of perpetrators. In essence, GBV revolves around a stark power disparity present in social institutions, often resulting from feelings of superiority or the intention to assert dominance.

Gender-Based Violence exists in countless forms. It is crucial to be conversant and raise awareness on the numerous forms of GBV. First off, physical abuse. Physical abuse entails an attempt to cause physical harm. Moreover, the perpetrator’s aim could be to undermine a victim’s self-esteem alongside inflicting physical pain. Next, sexual abuse also constitutes SGBV. It encompasses engaging in non-consensual acts of sexual nature. These acts include rape, forced unprotected sex, harassment, and abuse related to reproduction, such as forced abortion or female genital mutilation.

Gender-Based Violence could also manifest as less obvious forms of abuse, such as psychological and socio-economic abuse. It might pose a serious challenge to define or categorise psychological abuse, as the term denotes threatening conduct without physical violence or verbal abuse. It often entails isolation, confinement, information withholdment, and threatening behaviour. Some instances of psychological abuse include the isolation of boys and girls that do not subscribe to traditional gender roles, or a teacher excluding a student from a class activity without a valid reason.

Then there’s socio-economic abuse, or to be more specific, socio-economic deprivation. This form of GBV makes victims more susceptible to other forms of violence. Moreover, the ‘feminisation of poverty’ indicates that women are set up to be more economically vulnerable than men. This is a result of unequal opportunities in education, disparity in wages, denial of access to certain services, exclusion from some jobs, and the denial of enjoying several civil, cultural, social, and political rights — hence, making women more susceptible to other forms of abuse, like domestic violence.

The prevalence of Gender-Based Violence is detrimental not only to the victim, but to the witnesses of the violence and indirectly, to the entire community too. Apart from the intangible suffering and profound impact on the victim’s well-being, GBV detriments the victim and their family in terms of health, employment, finances, and the safety of children. Statistics claim that out of the ten common causes or risks for disability and death amongst women, rape and domestic violence superseded cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war, and malaria. This reiterates the fact that GBV has become increasingly prevalent and dangerous. As for its impact on the country as a whole, GBV reduces productivity and exhausts public funds in terms of health, safety, and legal related expenditure. This is evident as violence against women and children in Australia costs the administration an estimate of US$11.38 billion per annum.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is a global threat to public safety and a prevalent violation of human rights. Foremost, all individuals must learn to discern the forms of GBV in order to call out such behaviour and put an end to the societal discrimination of women and girls. GBV is a multi-faceted issue that requires deliberate action to be resolved. In this article, the nature and implications of GBV are discussed as a stepping stone to the bigger picture. It’s up to us, as survivors, fighters, and allies, to speak up about GBV and educate ourselves on this problem. It is critical to recognise that GBV isn’t a “female issue”. Men and boys must be taught to lend an ear to survivors speaking up, and lend a hand in the fight against GBV. In the words of Samantha Power, “Violence against women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. Equality cannot come eventually, it’s something we must fight for now.”

By Karran Kumar

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