What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence  (GBV) is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It constitutes a breach of the fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men, non-discrimination and physical and mental integrity.

Gender-based violence reflects and reinforces inequalities between men and women. 

Gender-based violence and violence against women are often used interchangeably as most gender-based violence is inflicted by men on women and girls. It is estimated that 20 to 25% of women in Europe have suffered physical violence[1]. The number of women who have suffered from other forms of gender-based violence is much higher.

The Council of Europe defines violence against women as ‘all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.[2]

Although it is difficult to distinguish between different types of violence since they are not mutually exclusive, gender-based violence includes:

  • domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, sexual violence during conflict and harmful customary or traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour crimes; [3]
  • trafficking in women, forced prostitution and violations of human rights in armed conflict (in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy);[4]
  • forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide and prenatal sex selection.[5]

While the EU does not have a common policy to deal with gender-based violence, it does have a mandate[6] to take action against one of the most severe forms of gender inequality. In fact, gender-based violence cannot be understood outside the social structures, gender norms and roles that support and justify it as normal or tolerable.  According to a 2009 Eurobarometer on Gender Equality, 62% of Europeans think that gender-based violence should be a priority action in the area of gender inequality, and 92% believe that there is an urgent need to tackle it.






[1] Council of Europe, Combating violence against women: Stockataking study on the measures and actions taken in Council of Europe member states, 2006

[2] Council of Europe, Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO), 2011.

[3] European Commission Strategy for equality between women and men, 2010-2015.

[4] The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995.

[5] Ibid.

[6] European Parliament Resolution on the elimination of violence against women, 26 November, 2009.

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