What is Violence against Women and Girls?

The United Nations Declaration of Violence against Women (1993) defines violence against women as:

“any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” (Article 1)

Article 2 of the Declaration explains that violence against women occurs in various places and takes many forms:

Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;

Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;

Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.

A human rights-based analysis of violence against women identifies the root cause of violence against women as structural discrimination and lack of equality, caused by an imbalance in power between men and women. Unequal power relations are manifested and maintained through patriarchal political, economic and social structures.

At the community level, patriarchal social and cultural norms and attitudes often discriminate against women and fail to provide women and girls with equal access to resources (money), health (services) and opportunity (education and employment).

At the institutional level, the state often reinforces, supports or fails to address discriminatory laws and policies impacting women. As the UN Secretary General has said:

“The State plays a key part in the construction and maintenance of gender roles and power relations. State inaction leaves in place discriminatory laws and policies that undermine women’s human rights and disempowers women.” (Secretary General study on violence against women, 2006)

Ending acceptance of violence against women therefore requires action on both fronts – reform and improvement of state and government approaches to end structural biases, and education, information and mobilisation to change community attitudes and practices.

Sisters For Change initiatives are designed with this in mind. To learn more, click here.