Intersectional Responses to Gender-Based Violence
Master 2 in Development Economics and International Project Management (DEIPM)
Université Paris Est Créteil (UPEC) and Université Gustave Eiffel (UGE)
Article published as part of Wikigender University
Freedom from violence is a human right for all. While considering human rights, it’s important to understand that human beings are multi-layered and complex, with various social identities that transcend to different and unique experiences. For this reason, when discussing gender-based violence, the concept of intersectionality can effectively ensure that no one’s experiences are being overlooked or intentionally dismissed. In this article, I address how an intersectional approach is needed to carefully address gender-based violence and most specifically violence against women, as not all women have the same likelihood to survive from violence because of their gender. Gender-based violence is one of the many obstacles that impede the realization of women’s empowerment.
Eliminating gender-based violence requires immediate attention and action. Based on OECD data, more than one in three women have suffered from intimate-partner violence at least once in their lifetime.Practices such as child marriage are a reality for the lives of 15 million girls when measured every year. Gender-based violence and violence against women and girls present not only long-term physiological traumas for societies but also places large costs on economies. The global cost of violence against women was estimated to be US$1.5 trillion, equivalent to approximately 2% of the global gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly represented the entire size of the Canadian economy.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women states that “all the SDGs depend on the achievement of Goal 5.” Sustainable Development Goal 5’s mandate is to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls by ensuring equal rights and opportunities as well as eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls. This empowerment of half of the population will no doubt shape society. Yet undoubtedly some women and girls will be overlooked in this mandate. As a result, approaches to capture these women and girls along with their multiple dimensions of identity should be put into practice. An intersectional approach can help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) to end all forms of discrimination and eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls. Women and girls face different challenges thus there is not one solution that can achieve SDG 5.
The call for the SDG 5 is also relevant for men and boys. Gendered norms and opportunities govern the lives of men and boys. The experiences of individual men and boys can be used to hold men accountable to gender equitable that in turn benefits all human beings.
What is Gender-Based Violence?
Gender-based violence (GBV) is defined by the United Nations as violence that is directed against a person based on their gender or sex. During the 1995 Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, violence against women was defined as “any act 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 occurring in public or private life.” This definition does not include for every form of violence a person may experience but rather those such as rape, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and economic abuse that are fueled by the patriarchal culture and the power imbalance between men and women. Although women are also capable of perpetuating various forms of violence against men, gender-based violence affects women at a much higher rate. In fact, one in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence (GBV) as will one in five men. Furthermore, the data suggests that as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by male partners. The overwhelming majority of gender-based violence cases occur with men as the perpetrators. For this reason, this article will not use the term violence against women, as this term can overlook the responsibility of this issue on one gender rather than all genders.
Gender-based violence affects the lives of people of all backgrounds. In fact, one in three women in their lifetime are victims of gender-based violence. The current global pandemic of COVID-19 entails not only devastating traumas for survivors, but also includes significant costs for development. Studies reveal that in some countries, gender-based violence is estimated to cost up to 3.7% of their GDP. In retrospect this figure is more than double what most governments spend on education. Despite the fact that 35% of women worldwide are victims of sexual or physical partner violence, our society does not treat victims of gender-based violence the same. Discrimination in our societies creates barriers to the ways in which survivors of gender-based violence can seek help and recovery. A concept that explores various forms of discrimination and oppression can provide better solutions to all groups of people.
What is intersectionality?
The theory of intersectionality was first developed in 1984 by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a famed African American feminist activist, professor and lawyer. Crenshaw coined the concept of intersectionality as tool to understand the specific forms of discrimination by both race and sex. Crenshaw’s work demonstrated how the experiences of inequality for Black women took place at the intersection of racism and sexism. The barriers Black women faced when trying to seek redress around discrimination were challenged by the ideas of sexism constructed around white women and racism designed around Black men.
In attempts to demonstrate how Black women in the United States face the intersections of racism and sexism, Crenshaw attempted to show how these two dimensions cannot be analysed separately to fully understand prejudices in society. Intersectionality has also been used to understand one’s experiences at the intersection of various identities including but not limited to race, social class, ethnicity, gender, disability, nationality, religion or immigration status.
In recent years, intersectionality has become a popular term in the hope to demolish societal hierarchies that perpetuate racism. The concept can be used to understand the multi-facets of oppression that affect groups of people in different ways. Intersecting factors can result to different profiles of vulnerability across women and girls even within the same country. For example, in the United States, Black and Native American women are twice as likely to live in poverty when compared to white women. In Nigeria, women and girls from poor households are nearly five times as likely to be child brides compared to those from rich households.
People can be discriminated against for their race or gender yet often, the intersection of both race and gender is not considered in policymaking. Furthermore, the systems we use to fight against discrimination in our societies can be constructed around a single identity rather than multiple or intersectional identities that includes all people. It should be noted that there is not a hierarchical degree of inequalities and oppression when adopting an intersectional framework to gender-based violence.
Intersectional Approaches to Gender-Based Violence
In solving gender-based violence, intersectionality can be used to understand how overlapping identities can create a particular experience of violence. The UN Women’s Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence Against Women (2012) recommends that policies to fight against gender violence should recognise that factors such as race, skin color, religion, political stance, nationality, marital status, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, migrant or refugee status, age, or disability can affect one’s experiences of violence. The lived experiences of intersectional identities must be taken into account to develop responses when addressing GBV.
In the United States, studies continue to reveal that Black women as well as those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experience higher rates of gender-based violence. In fact, more than four in ten Black women have experienced violence from an intimate partner. The data reveals that Black women are at higher risk of sexual violence when compared to White women, Latinas, and Asian/Pacific Islander women. Lesbian and transgender women also face higher risk of sexual violence. Furthermore, LBGTQ experiences are often excluded in strategies to curb gender violence.
By adopting an intersectional approach, agencies that provide assistance to combat gender-based violence can better help victims overcome the specific barriers they may face. For example, if we imagine a situation where a victim of gender-based violence is a Black woman who lives in a poor neighborhood, this person may face several barriers when attempting to seek help. The multi-facets of her identity may put her in a position where not only being a woman is perpetuating the violence being inflicted upon her but also her social-economic status and race operating within an oppressive institution.
In countries throughout the world, oppression and domination has been a major feature of history. Racist and classist institutions that have upheld oppression in societies have the ability to fuel injustices that ignore gender-based violence and in turn stagnant development. An intersectional approach in promoting development could assist in confronting the unequal power dynamics in societies, not only for women but also for those who are not able to fully participate in the economy due to their race, class or poverty-level. Case studies in the United States and South Africa exemplify a culture of dominance in which race and class oppression has created a culture of violence against women. As a result, violence against half of the nation’s population is creating barriers for development. Intersectionality can help us better understand and solve the various levels of inequalities that encompasses the oppression of women and of all people.
The shortcoming arises when we are unaware of which women and girls are the most vulnerable. There is a lack of data on women and girls, suggesting that their needs or experiences are not a priority when it comes to policymaking as well as in turn hampering our ability to understand gender differences. Disaggregating data by sex is an important first step to identity, understand and address the ways in which gender inequalities are affecting women’s lives. Furthermore, datasets do not always reflect the fact that women are not a homogenous group defined by their gender alone. The multiple dimensions of one’s identity is often neglected in data collection and analysis. The language used in surveys along with the methods used to collect and analyse data can unveil or obscure inequalities. Inclusive datasets can be a powerful tool to uncover inequities.
The OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) provides data on discrimination against women in social institutions across 180 countries. By measuring laws, social norms and practices that affect women and girls, the SIGI aims to capture the root causes of gender discrimination in order to provide the evidence required for transformative and intersectional policymaking. The SIGI is also an official source for monitoring SDG 5.1.1 “Whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Policies can be made in an intersectional framework by promoting women’s leadership. For example, to design a policy that ensures VAGW services needs are met for all women, policies should be designed by all women. Further, when understanding that Black women face multiple forms of marginalisation based on their identity, the appropriate responses needed would be designed by Black women themselves to capture the intersecting oppressions that Black women face. To meaningfully address violence perpetuated towards women and girls, it is critical that policies are conceived considering these intersecting oppressions. Emphasising the involvement of minority women in policymaking and implementation can help design sustainable policies around practical needs and priorities of minority groups, in turn creating solutions to gender-based violence that is rooted in the social, cultural, political, and economic reality of all women. Therefore, tackling significant barriers such as poverty, discrimination, insecure housing, and lack of access to education, employment and healthcare is essential to ensuring the elimination of gender-based violence.
In conclusion, intersectionality confronts the roots of the power imbalances, in turn creating a framework for human rights policymaking. Intersectionality applied to policies that aim to mitigate gender-based violence may help bridge the gaps between prejudices in societies. This concept can be implemented in policymaking by applying a specific focus on groups that are marginalised. In doing so, policies must acknowledge all perspectives and experiences. As commonly said, policymaking is not a one size fits all option. For this reason, intersectionality is key in developing effective strategies to combat gender-based violence.
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