Gender-based violence (GBV) has an alarming global prevalence that cuts across people of all groups irrespective of their socio-economic standing in human society. It is recognised as a worldwide human rights and public health crisis, responsible for higher morbidity and mortality rates, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, substance dependence, as well as suicide. To put this into context, the global prevalence of GBV in 2018 was higher than the prevalence of COVID-19 between 2020-2021.
Although the term encompasses both men and women, statistics depict that the latter face the heat disproportionately. Globally, one in three women — roughly 736 million — experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner during their life. As a consequence of physical or sexual abuse, women are 16 percent more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby and twice as likely to have an abortion. According to a study conducted in Asia and the Pacific, family members are responsible for a staggering 58 percent of all killings of women.
That is not to say that men do not fall prey to GBV. Data revealed that one in five men experience GBV worldwide. Additionally, in light of statistics provided by the ManKind Initiative, 13.8 percent of men (2.9 million) and 27.4 percent of women (5.9 million) between the age 16 to 74 have suffered some form of domestic abuse (2019/20). Moreover, domestic abuse affects one in four women and one in six to seven men in their lifetime. In Pakistan, both men and women are targets of GBV. In 2015, the Pakistan Human Rights Commission recorded 1,096 female victims and 88 male victims of honour crimes.
What is Gender-based Violence?
The United Nations considers GBV to be an umbrella term for targeted violence and define it as any “harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender.” Simply put, any act that “results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering … including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” For the sake of clarity, GBV is a much wider term than “violence against women” although the two are often used interchangeably.
Over the years, GBV has evolved but this has made it harder to define what exactly constitutes GBV. This is one of reasons the definition is broad and nuanced as it allows subjective interpretation based on the needs of a particular society. However, this can sometimes lead to problems where harmful customs and traditions come into play.
Very broadly, GBV can be divided into three overlapping categories:
- Physical violence includes intimiate partner violence; domestic violence and sexual violence; acid attacks; trafficking; sexual exploitation and harassment; forced or early marriage; harmful practices such as female genital mutilation; and forced sterilization and forced pregnancy.
- Psychological violence can be distinguished in the sense that it is not evidenced by physical injury. It can involve verbal abuse, shaming, isolation, intimidation, controlling behavior, online violence or technology-based violence, harassment, and even solitary confinement and the perpetual fear of physical violence.
- Economic violence includes deprivation of or exclusion from basic rights like education, employment, health care, inheritence, financial resources, decision-making and right to livelihood.
In many countries, physical violence is often treated as the only type of GBV, overshadowing psychological and economic violence.
Legal protection against GBV
Perhaps the earliest glimpses of legal against GBV can be traced back to international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and its two sister covenants as a clear violation of the right to life and the prohibition against torture. Women have even been granted special protection by various international instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), General Recommendation 19 (1992), Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), etc.
It is important to remember that states, including Pakistan, have responsibilties under international intruments to protect and ensure that GBV is eradicated. Whenever states or state organs fail to provide adequate protection against GBV or they enact discriminatory laws against women, they are in violation of their international obligations and are thus accountable for their actions or inactions.
A few examples of the constitutional rights GBV violates are: the right to life, right to dignity, the right not to be tortured, the right to liberity and security, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to education, the right to healthcare, and many more.
Under the Constituion of Pakistan, Article 4 grants citizens the inailenable right to enjoy the protection of and to be treated in accordance with the law, Article 9 protects the right to life, Article 14 stresses the inviolable dignity of man, and Article 19A entitles all citizens to equal protection under the law, irrespective of gender. All these provisions protect against GBV in one way or the other.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan said, “[the] right to dignity is the crown of fundamental rights under our Constitution and stands at the top, drawing its strength from all the fundamental rights under our Constitution and yet standing alone and tall, making human worth and humanness of a person a far more fundamental a right than the others, a right that is absolutely non-negotiable.” This emphasises the level of protection individuals, especially women, have against GBV in Pakistan.
As a global issue, countries need to be more mindful of their international obligations and this needs to be reflected within their domestic legal frameworks. With the help of international organisations, the burden falls upon us as individuals and as human beings to come together and help eradicate this ever-growing transgression.
“Above all – we must believe – GBV is never inevitable. It is upon us to end it.” — Gabriela Bucher.
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 Emma Fulu et al, ‘Why Do Some Men Use Violence against Women and How Can We Prevent It: Quantitative Findings from a United Nations Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific.’ (2013) Bangkok: UNDP, et al.
 Mary Ellsberg and Lori Heise, ‘Researching Violence Against Women: A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activist’ (2005) World Health Organization.
 Mark Brooks, ‘Male Victims of Domestic Abuse and Partner Abuse: 55 Key Facts’ (2021). Available at: https://www.mankind.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/55-Key-Facts-about-Male-Victims-of-Domestic-Abuse-and-Partner-Abuse-Final-Published-April-2021.pdf [accessed 12th May 2022].
 M.S. Rafique. 2017. Gender-Based Violence in Pakistan. International Development Journal. 29 January.
 General Assembly Resolution 48/104, Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, A/RES/48/104 (20 December 1993). Art. 1.
 Article 5 of UDHR; Article 7 of ICCPR.; The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966.
 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cedaw.pdf [accessed 12th May 2022].
 Atif Zareef v. The State, Criminal Appeal No. 251/2020 and Criminal Petition No. 667/2020, 4 January 2021. para. 11.