Breaking the Silence: What is Gender Based Violence (GBV)?


A key part of activism on GBV is learning to break the silence around violence. People need to know what GBV is and how to talk about it in order to be activists. So what is GBV?

CARE defines GBV as any harm perpetrated against a person’s will on the basis of gender—the socially ascribed differences between males and females. GBV is rooted in historically unequal power among men, women, boys and girls. Women and girls are often targets because of social norms and beliefs that perpetuate their lower social status. Gender-based violence also refers to the violence directed at people who may not conform to traditional gender roles and norms, including LGBT people.

GBV includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women and girls (and in some cases men and boys) in the home, community, workplace and in schools; trafficking; traditional practices such as female genital cutting and honor crimes; and sexual violence and exploitation during and after conflicts and natural disasters.


Some other related terms you might hear are:

  • Violence Against Women (VAW) - 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 in public or private life
  • Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – Physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse
  • Domestic Violence (DV) – Physical or emotional harm caused by one member of a household towards other members.  Often refers to a pattern of these behaviors, in addition to single incidents
  • Sexual violence (SV) [Some also refer to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)] – Forced, coerced or unwanted sexual contact or intercourse
  • Rape as a Weapon of War - Sexual violence may be considered a method of warfare when used systematically to torture, injure, extract information, degrade, threaten, intimidate or punish in relation to armed conflict
  • Child Marriage – The practice of marriage of children (those under the age of 18).  700 million women and 156 million men alive today were married under the age of 18, often without their consent.
  • Trafficking - Coerced recruitment or transportation of vulnerable individuals for the purpose of exploitation, often for prostitution or sexual exploitation
  • Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) [Also called female circumcision or excision] - The cutting, or partial or total removal, of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious, or other non-medical reasons

What About CARE’s wording?

Probably the most common expression is “violence against women,” which is what appears as a heading on CARE’s website. In programming, we prefer to use the term Gender Based Violence (GBV) because it is more inclusive of other violence based on gender, such as sexual violence experienced by girls, boys and men, and violence based on gender expression or sexual identity.  We also prefer to use the term “survivor” to “victim” when talking about those who have experienced GBV because it better protects the dignity of those individuals.

CARE’s top priority when speaking publicly about GBV is to protect the safety and dignity of survivors. We are careful not to reveal the names, faces, and locations of survivors without their knowledge and consent. Identifying a survivor can sometimes lead to unintended harms, such as expulsion from her or his family and community, further violence, and devastating social stigma. Inappropriate messaging can also jeopardize service providers’ trusted position in the community, reinforce harmful stereotypes and limit our ability to help survivors. The process of collecting survivors’ stories can impose further trauma if the effects of violence on individuals and those around them aren’t taken into account. 

What is #16Days? November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until December 10th, International Human Rights Day are the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, an international campaign with over 5,167 participating organizations from more than 187 countries, with activities to raise awareness about GBV and advocate for elimination.

Considering the sensitivities, it is still important to speak out against violence in an effort to stop it. 16 Days of Activism is about breaking that very silence.

Want to learn more? In FY13, 61 CARE country offices implemented programming that address GBV in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin American and the Caribbean, reaching more than 1 million people. CARE addresses GBV by integrating evidence-based strategies into programming areas such as education, health, economic development, and food security. Overall, 26% of CARE’s total projects in FY12 addressed GBV. Read the CARE International Impact Report to learn more about CARE’s response.  Check out CARE’s Blog and our webpage for updates on what we are doing throughout 16 Days.