Gender-based violence: a confused and contested term

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This article is relevant for humanitarian practitioners as it clearly outlines different definitions of gender-based violence and the implications of accepting one over another. The author demonstrates the need for both practitioners and agencies to critically assess their own theorisation and implementation of the term ‘gender-based violence’.

This article examines the definition and use of the term ‘gender-based violence’ (GBV) in the humanitarian sector. It first outlines the historical development of the term since the 1990s. The author highlights how the term was initially only used to refer to violence against women and girls but has increasingly been used to refer to a broader range of violence, including sexual violence against men in conflict and people with diverse SOGIESC.

The article argues that in order to develop effective policy responses, it is necessary to distinguish between sexualised and gendered violence against men and boys and violence against girls and women and that definitions of gender-based violence must acknowledge this difference.The author further reveals that many humanitarian practitioners personally define GBV in a way that is distinct from the definition provided by the agency they work for. The article presents and explains three distinct definitions of GBV.

The first is ‘primarily men’s violence against women’. The second is ‘violence primarily used by men against women, some males, and inclusive of sexual violence against children’. And the third is ‘violence used against women, girls, men and boys to assert and reproduce gender roles and norms’. This confusion and contestation over what is the appropriate definition of GBV is considered a significant factor limiting the creation of effective interventions. The article implores humanitarian practitioners to critically assess their definition of GBV and build appropriate programs based on their theoretically informed definition of GBV.

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“The idea that men and boys can simply be added to policies, documents and frameworks that aim to address violence against women is simplistic and problematic. It does not help build knowledge or understanding of the causes and consequences of sexualised and gendered violence against men and boys in conflict and disaster-affected settings, nor does it contribute to the development of good practice in responding to violence, which requires evidence-based and theory-driven frameworks.”

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This article examines the definition and use of the term ‘gender-based violence’ (GBV) in the humanitarian sector. It first outlines the historical development of the term since the 1990s. The author highlights how the term was initially only used to refer to violence against women and girls but has increasingly been used to refer to a broader range of violence, including sexual violence against men in conflict and people with diverse SOGIESC.

The article argues that in order to develop effective policy responses, it is necessary to distinguish between sexualised and gendered violence against men and boys and violence against girls and women and that definitions of gender-based violence must acknowledge this difference.The author further reveals that many humanitarian practitioners personally define GBV in a way that is distinct from the definition provided by the agency they work for. The article presents and explains three distinct definitions of GBV.

The first is ‘primarily men’s violence against women’. The second is ‘violence primarily used by men against women, some males, and inclusive of sexual violence against children’. And the third is ‘violence used against women, girls, men and boys to assert and reproduce gender roles and norms’. This confusion and contestation over what is the appropriate definition of GBV is considered a significant factor limiting the creation of effective interventions. The article implores humanitarian practitioners to critically assess their definition of GBV and build appropriate programs based on their theoretically informed definition of GBV.