Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Types and causes of gender-based violence are sometimes difficult to identify. Sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence.

ONE IN THREE women in the world has experienced some form of violence simply because she is a woman. Violence can include anything from violation of physical integrity, beatings and hair tearing to sexual assault or psychological acts of violence. Girls who cannot go to school because of their gender are also victims of gender-based violence.

With the internet, and especially with the smartphones everyone now carries around, harassment, psychological violence and the threat of physical violence are present everywhere, including at home. Then again, home has never been a safe place for girls and women. Not even in Finland, where one in three women has experienced intimate partner violence.

There are so many forms of gender-based violence that it may be difficult to define it as a particular type of activity. Violence can be expressed through a clear act, such as genital mutilation, beating or rape. But sometimes violence is more difficult to define and finding words for it may not be easy. This is often the case with coercion associated with intimate partner violence or with financial control exerted by a spouse.

How do we know it’s gender-based violence?

What is gender-based violence? One of the definitions is that the violence committed differs in form, prevalence or consequences by gender. Experiences of violence usually differ between the genders, especially in terms of the setting and the perpetrator.

Men are more commonly than women subjected to violence in public places, while women experience violence at home and in the workplace. A minority of victims of intimate partner violence are men. Girls and women also experience sexual violence and harassment more often than men.

Most typically, the perpetrator is a man, and most of the victims are women. This is nearly always the case. However, statistics show that gender-based violence not only affects women, but also those who belong to sexual minorities. In fact, as gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality, it is one of the most common human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.

What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent violence against women?

Finn Church Aid works to ensure that every person can lead a dignified life. We support the most vulnerable people. Our actions are guided by equality, non-discrimination and accountability, and we work to ensure that right to education, peace and livelihood is realised for all people.

While we are not specifically focused on protecting the rights of girls and women or combatting gender-based violence, realising equality and human rights and addressing the vulnerabilities of genders and minorities are closely related to our work. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, which obliges us to address equality issues in our work and strengthen the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

In practice, we work to improve the educational opportunities, livelihoods, entrepreneurship and political participation of girls and women. We are committed to the identification and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and unequal balance of power between genders.

Our efforts to advance the education and livelihoods of girls and women also strengthen their position in their own communities. When women gain an education, find an occupation and become decision-makers, it is easier for them to have influence over their own lives. This, in turn, reduces discrimination and increases human dignity in those communities where girls and women have traditionally been in a weaker position.

Unfortunately, such changes in society’s balance of power also raise objections, which may turn into violence against women and girls. Crises, conflicts and natural disasters also pose a risk to the positive development of equality and can increase the threat of violence. For these reasons, we must pay special attention to the safety of women when delivering humanitarian assistance.

Covid-19 has increased the threat of violence

The prolonged pandemic has had a negative impact on the safety of girls and women. In Nepal, an increase in the number of child marriages and violence against girls and women has been observed.

Already in the first year of the pandemic, Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, expressed concern that up to 11 million girls may not return to their studies when schools reopen, particularly in the African countries. The pandemic has also increased the occurrence of domestic violence, the use of child labour and the risk of sexual violence.

In its development cooperation, Finn Church Aid seeks to improve the security and equality of girls and women, for example by educating teachers, supporting the voice of women in peacebuilding and political decision-making and promoting the education of refugee women.

How can we combat gender-based violence?

The aim of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is to advance the equal realisation of human rights for women. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been signed by 187 states.

The Convention contains provisions on aspects such as citizenship, education, participation in working life, healthcare and women’s economic rights. Their realisation is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which can also make general recommendations. Of these, Recommendation No 19, adopted in 2002 and updated in 2017 by Recommendation No 35, for the first time included measures to eliminate violence against women.

In Europe, one of the most significant attempts to end gender-based violence is the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in Finland in August 2015. The aim of the convention is to prevent and eliminate violence against women, protect victims of violence and hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.

However, international conventions alone will not eliminate sexual, and gender-based violence. Creating safer communities requires action that cannot be left to decision-makers and states.
The key is to identify gender-based violence, listen to victims and recognise their experiences, and increase the provision of information for all parties involved. Gender-based violence is everyone’s concern.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Carla Ladau
Translation: Päivi Creber