What is Sexual and Gender Based Violence?
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is, “physical and emotional violence—in the form of force, coercion, threats, and deception – against another because of their sex or gender”. Many victims and survivors of SGBV are women and girls, although men and boys can also be targeted.
SGBV is a global problem. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that, in 2013, 35% of women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence. There is a particularly high incidence in Africa, where 45.6% of women have experienced SGBV.
What causes SGBV?
A high incidence of SGBV can be correlated with factors such as low access to information, and widespread acceptance of, or exposure to, violence and gender inequality. In societies where justice is rarely achieved and knowledge of human rights is limited, reducing SGBV remains important.
How does SGBV affect survivors?
SGBV has serious implications. The physical effects are obvious, but the psychological effects can be less evident and more lasting. Lack of community support and trauma can affect survivors’ mental health. Survivors of SGBV can find that their sense of safety, dignity and independence is threatened.
SGBV also impacts future generations: every case renews the cycle of violence, increasing the number of girls and boys who grow up believing that such attitudes and actions are normal.
How can we end SGBV?
Young people, leaders and organisations throughout Africa are taking action against SGBV.
One example is She Conquers, a three-year national campaign to improve the lives of young women in South Africa. Recognising that one third of girls in South Africa experience SGBV, She Conquers is uniting to improve the physical, sexual and mental health of young girls. The campaign is supporting and empowering young women to put a stop to this violence.
African leaders are speaking out against SGBV. In April 2020, the Kenyan government recorded a 38% increase in domestic violence cases after Covid-19 measures were introduced. In July, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared zero tolerance of SGBV. Since, the Makueni County Government has opened its first safe house to protect victims of SGBV.
Organisations such as Equality Now are working to achieve legal equality for women and girls, because it is the lack of it that enables violence and discrimination. In Kenya, Equality Now is pressing for the full implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, and for dedicated courts to improve access to justice.4
SBGV has serious implications for victims, and many young people have survived such experiences. Several factors contribute to SGBV in communities, for example, expectations about male and female roles. Yet, young people, leaders and civil society are taking action to end this violence by empowering young people to take charge of their destiny and become the adults they want to be.