Frequently asked questions: Types of violence against women and girls
25 November 2020
Violence against women and girls is one of the world’s most prevalent human rights violations, taking place every day, many times over, in every corner of the globe. It has serious short- and long-term physical, economic and psychological consequences on women and girls, preventing their full and equal participation in society. The magnitude of its impact, both in the lives of individuals and families and society as a whole, is immeasurable. Conditions created by the pandemic – including lockdowns, reduced mobility, heightened isolation, stress and economic uncertainty – have led to an alarming spike in domestic violence and have further exposed women and girls to other forms of violence, from child marriage to sexual harassment online. This FAQ provides an overview of the many forms of violence, along with other commonly used terms, that any gender equality activist should have in their vocabulary toolkit.
Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to harmful acts directed at an individual or a group of individuals based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms. The term is primarily used to underscore the fact that structural, gender-based power differentials place women and girls at risk for multiple forms of violence. While women and girls suffer disproportionately from GBV, men and boys can also be targeted. The term is also sometimes used to describe targeted violence against LGBTQI+ populations, when referencing violence related to norms of masculinity/femininity and/or gender norms.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women and girls is defined as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Violence against women and girls encompasses, but is not limited to, physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family or within the general community, and perpetrated or condoned by the State.
Survivor of violence
The term survivor of violence refers to any person who has experienced sexual or gender-based violence. It is similar in meaning to “victim”, but is generally preferred because it implies resilience.
No means No. Yes means Yes. Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity or enter into marriage. It must be freely and actively given and cannot be provided by someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or by someone underage. Consent is specific, meaning that consent to one act does not imply consent to any others, and reversible, meaning that it may be revoked at any time.
Types of violence against women
Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, is any pattern of behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It encompasses all physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This is one of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally.
Domestic violence can include the following.
Economic violence involves making or attempting to make a person financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, and/or forbidding attendance at school or employment.
Psychological violence involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner or children; destruction of pets and property; “mind games”; or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work.
Emotional violence includes undermining a person's sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one's abilities; name-calling or other verbal abuse; damaging a partner's relationship with the children; or not letting a partner see friends and family.
Physical violence involves hurting or trying to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, burning, grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hair-pulling, biting, denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use, or using other physical force. It may include property damage.
Sexual violence involves forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent. See more about sexual violence below.
Femicide refers to the intentional murder of women because they are women, but may be defined more broadly to include any killings of women or girls. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways. For example, most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.
Honor killing is the murder of a family member, usually a woman or girl, for the purported reason that the person has brought dishonor or shame upon the family. These killings often have to do with sexual purity, and supposed transgressions on the part of female family members.
Sexual violence is any sexual act committed against the will of another person, either when this person does not give consent or when consent cannot be given because the person is a child, has a mental disability, or is severely intoxicated or unconscious as a result of alcohol or drugs.
Sexual violence can include the following.
Sexual harassment encompasses non-consensual physical contact, like grabbing, pinching, slapping, or rubbing against another person in a sexual way. It also includes non-physical forms, such as catcalls, sexual comments about a person’s body or appearance, demands for sexual favors, sexually suggestive staring, stalking, and exposing one’s sex organs.
Rape is any non-consensual vaginal, anal or oral penetration of another person with any bodily part or object. This can be by any person known or unknown to the survivor, within marriage and relationships, and during armed conflict.
Corrective rape is a form of rape of perpetrated against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is intended to force the victim to conform to heterosexuality or normative gender identity.
Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. It is rooted in patriarchy and fueled by persistent gender inequalities and biases about gender and sexuality.
Human trafficking is the acquisition and exploitation of people, through means such as force, fraud, coercion, or deception. This heinous crime ensnares millions of women and girls worldwide, many of whom are sexually exploited.
Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is classified into four major types, and both the practice and the motivations behind it vary from place to place. FGM is a social norm, often considered a necessary step in preparing girls for adulthood and marriage and typically driven by beliefs about gender and its relation to appropriate sexual expression. It was first classified as violence in 1997 via a joint statement issued by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA.
Child marriage refers to any marriage where one or both of the spouses are below the age of 18. It is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Girls are more likely to be child brides, and consequently drop out of school and experience other forms of violence.
Online or digital violence
Online or digital violence against women refers to any act of violence that is committed, assisted or aggravated by the use of information and communication technology (mobile phones, the Internet, social media, computer games, text messaging, email, etc) against a woman because she is a woman.
Online violence can include the following.
Cyberbullying involves the sending of intimidating or threatening messages.
Non-consensual sexting involves the sending of explicit messages or photos without the recipient’s consent.
Doxing involves the public release of private or identifying information about the victim.
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women