Gender Based Violence

1. Use data to your advantage

Identifying the problem is the first step towards change. Statistics can shock governments into action. This was the case in Kiribati.

A 2008 study found 68 per cent of girls and women who had been in an intimate relationship had experienced some form of violence. This figure gave the government – with the help of women’s organisations, the UN and international aid agencies – the impetus to try to bring about change.

2. Build on existing systems

Governments don’t always have the money to invest in new programmes – this was certainly the case in Kiribati. Instead, they need to tap into existing systems.

Of course, the police, justice, health and social welfare sectors must first work together to respond to existing violence. But to stop violence before it starts, the everyday work of sectors such as education, health and labour needs to be harnessed – to help build environments where girls and women are respected as equals, and violence is not accepted.

In response to that 2008 report, Kiribati’s schools are now changing their curriculums to include teaching about respectful relationships, gender equality and preventing violence. They’re also training teachers to counsel students who have experienced violence, or are living with it at home. This provides children and young people with alternative models, and the skills they need to create non-violent and equal relationships of their own.

Continuing support from trained specialists and women’s organisations is crucial to the success of this approach. Tapping into the experience of organisations such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Tongan Women and Children’s Crisis Centre, Kiribati stakeholders are working hard to establish their first independent and multi-disciplinary Women’s and Children’s Support Centre.

3. Tackle wider inequality issues

Individual programmes will only help the participants. There needs to be a more co-ordinated approach to tackle gender inequality, gender stereotyping and social norms around violence.

In Kiribati, the changes to the education curriculum can be backed up by increasing girls’ participation in sports clubs or a social marketing campaign. For adults it could involve working with faith and other community leaders, or going from village to village educating people about law reform and gender equality – something the Women’s Development Division and Kiribati police are doing on the outer islands.

The idea is to reach out to boys and men, and to empower girls and women by giving them knowledge and tools to shape their own futures.

4. Monitor short- and medium-term success indicators

Reducing levels of violence takes a long time: even well-funded initiatives might take five to 10 years to make a real impact – and they need to be carefully monitored to make sure the impact is the right one.

This can make it tough to maintain momentum, so you need to look at how to measure the progress that comes before that. Attitudinal surveys are one way to assess smaller developments such as acceptance of the issue and changing attitudes to gender equality.

In Kiribati, they’re only just starting the long journey toward social change. The changes outlined in points 2 and 3 are still in their infancy, but by transforming practices that keep girls and women from fully participating in schools and workplaces, they’re starting to see the progress that unfolds when girls and women are full contributors.

After three years they’ve found that people are starting to see there’s a problem and that they can do something about it. That’s progress – and it’s helping to maintain the momentum for change.

5. Be prepared for a backlash

See backlash as a sign of success. It means that people sense that things are changing. Change is always worrying for some members of any community. In Kiribati, when the Women’s Development Division raised awareness about domestic violence, some people would say things like: “You’re ruining our women,” or “This is our culture,” but really they’re just reacting to a change in the status quo. Donors and decision-makers must be prepared for this, and see it as a sign of progress. That’s why point four is so important if you’re going to see change through.

Above all, community conversations and debate about these issues must be welcomed and facilitated – with girls and women having a clear voice. They’re the key to creating lasting change.

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Find out more about programmes working to end gender-based violence

Forms Of Gender based Violence

Facts on Gender Based Violence

Forms of Violence against Women

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is not an isolated, individual event, but rather a pattern of

perpetrator behaviors used against a victim. The pattern consists of a variety of abusive acts,

occurring in multiple episodes over the course of the relationship. Some episodes consist of a

sustained attack with one tactic repeated many times (e.g., punching), combined with a

variety of other tactics (such as name calling, threats, or attacks against property). Other

episodes consist of a single act (e.g., a slap, a “certain look”). One tactic (e.g., physical assault)

may be used infrequently, while other types of abuse (such as name calling or intimidating

gestures) may be used daily. Some parts of the pattern are crimes in most countries (e.g.,

physical assault, sexual assault, menacing, arson, kidnapping, harassment) while other

battering acts are not illegal (e.g., name calling, interrogating children, denying the victim

access to the family automobile). All parts of the pattern interact with each other and can

have profound physical and emotional effects on victims. Victims respond to the entire

pattern of perpetrators’ abuse rather than simply to one episode or one tactic.


Physical abuse may include spitting, scratching, biting, grabbing, shaking, shoving, pushing,

restraining, throwing, twisting, slapping (with open or closed hand), punching, choking,

burning, and/or use of weapons (e.g., household objects, knives, guns) against the victim.

The physical assaults may or may not cause injuries.


Sexual violence can take many forms and take place under very different circumstances. A

person can be sexually violated by one individual or several people (e.g. gang-rapes); the

incident may be planned or a surprise attack. Although sexual violence occurs most

commonly in the victim’s home (or in the perpetrator’s home), it also takes place in many

other settings, such as the workplace, at school, in prisons, cars, the streets or open spaces

(e.g. parks, farmland). The perpetrator of a sexual assault may be a date, an acquaintance, a

friend, a family member, an intimate partner or former intimate partner, or a complete

stranger, but more often than not, is someone known to the victim. There is no stereotypical

perpetrator; sexually violent men come from all backgrounds, rich and poor, academic and

uneducated, religious and non-religious. Perpetrators may be persons in positions of

authority who are respected and trusted (e.g. a doctor, teacher, tourist guide, priest, police

The Health System Response to Gender-Based Violence in EECA: A programmatic package


officer) and thus less likely to be suspected of sexual violence. Sexual violence is common in

situations of war and armed conflict. Specifically, rape and sexual torture are frequently used

as weapons to demoralize the enemy; women are sometimes forced into “temporary

marriages” with enemy soldiers. Women who are incarcerated may be subjected to sexual

violence by prison guards and police officers. Other forms of sexual violence include, but are

not limited to:

sexual slavery; sexual harassment (including demands for sex in exchange for job promotion

or advancement or higher school marks or grades); trafficking for purposes of forced

prostitution; forced exposure to pornography; forced pregnancy; forced sterilization; forced

abortion; forced marriage; female genital mutilation;

(WHO Guidelines for Medico-legal care of victims of Sexual Violence, page 7 to 8)


There are different types of psychological assaults.

Threats of violence and harm

The perpetrator’s threats of violence or harm may be directed against the victim or others

important to the victim or they may be suicide threats. Sometimes the threat includes killing

the victim and others and then committing suicide. The threats may be made directly with

words (e.g., “I’m going to kill you,” “No one is going to have you,” “Your mother is going to

pay,” “I cannot live without you”) or with actions (e.g., stalking, displaying weapons, hostage

taking, suicide attempts).

Emotional violence

Emotional abuse is a tactic of control that consists of a wide variety of verbal attacks and

humiliations, including repeated verbal attacks against the victim’s worth as an individual or

role as a parent, family member, friend, co-worker, or community member. In domestic

violence, verbal attacks and other tactics of control are intertwined with the threat of harm in

order to maintain the perpetrator’s dominance through fear. While repeated verbal abuse is

damaging to partners and relationships over time, it alone does not establish the same

climate of fear as verbal abuse combined with the use or threat of physical harm.

Emotional abuse may also include humiliating the victim in front of family, friends or

strangers. Perpetrators may repeatedly claim that victims are crazy, incompetent, and unable

“to do anything right.” Not all verbal insults between partners are acts of violence. In order

for verbal abuse to be considered domestic violence, it must be part of a pattern of coercive

behaviors in which the perpetrator uses or threatens to use physical force.

The Health System Response to Gender-Based Violence in EECA: A programmatic package



Perpetrators often try to control victims’ time, activities and contact with others. They gain

control over them through a combination of isolating and disinformation tactics. Isolating

tactics may become more overtly abusive over time. Through incremental isolation, some

perpetrators increase their psychological control to the point where they determine reality for

the victims. Perpetrators’ use of disinformation tactics such as distorting what is real through

lying, providing contradictory information, or withholding information is compounded by the

forced isolation of the victims. For example, perpetrators may lie to victims about their legal

rights or the outcomes of medical interventions. While many victims are able to maintain

their independent thoughts and actions, others believe what the perpetrators say because the

victims are isolated from contrary information. Through his victim’s isolation, the

perpetrator prevents discovery of the abuse and avoids being held responsible for it.

Use of children

Some abusive acts are directed against or involve children in order to control or punish the

adult victim (e.g., physical attacks against a child, sexual use of children, forcing children to

watch the abuse of the victim, engaging children in the abuse of the victim). A perpetrator

may use children to maintain control over his partner by not paying child support,

threatening to take children away from her, involving her in long legal fights over custody, or

kidnapping or taking the children hostage as a way to force the victim’s compliance. Children

are also drawn into the assaults and are sometimes injured simply because they are present

(e.g., the victim is holding an infant when pushed against the wall) or because the child

attempts to intervene in the fight.


Perpetrators control victims by controlling their access to all of the family resources: time,

transportation, food, clothing, shelter, insurance, and money. He may actively resist the

victim becoming financially self-sufficient as a way to maintain power and control.

Conversely, he may refuse to work and insist that she support the family. He may expect her

to be the family “bookkeeper,” requiring that she keep all records and write all checks, or he

may keep financial information away from her. In all instances he alone makes the decisions.

Victims are put in the position of having to get “permission” to spend money on basic family

needs. When the victim leaves the battering relationship, the perpetrator may use economics

as a way to maintain control or force her to return: refusing to pay bills, instituting legal

procedures costly to the victim, destroying assets in which she has a share, or refusing to

work “on the books” where there would be legal access to his income. All of these tactics may

be used regardless of the economic class of the family.

The Health System Response to Gender-Based Violence in EECA: A programmatic package


Source: Ganley, Anne L.(1998): Understanding domestic violence. In: Warshaw, C., &

Ganley, A. (1998): Improving the health care response to domestic violence: a resource

manual for health care providers. Futures Without Violence: Health Care,…

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