Gender-Based Violence: Basic Concepts


In situations of conflict or widespread repression, identities are used to exaggerate differences. Those who spread conflict or order attacks make use of gender stereotypes to further incite violence. Because of gender norms and stereotypes, men and women experience conflict in different ways. Men and boys become targets of forced recruitment into armies.

Often, there are more male victims of killings, torture and disappearances. Women and girls may experience the same violations as men, but are also more vulnerable to sexual abuse. In many conflicts, men who bear arms enslave women and girls to carry out domestic chores and take them as “wives” whom they rape.


Early transitional justice processes that had a narrow focus on human rights violations, such as torture and arbitrary detention, prioritised the experiences of men. Many violations committed against women were overlooked, and their experiences of human rights violations were not well documented or understood. Because this bias often continues today, it is important to give particular attention to the experiences of women to ensure a holistic understanding of mass violations.

Similarly, transitional justice mechanisms need to be sensitive to the gendered impact of armed conflict and ensure both men’s and women’s access to and participation in transitional justice processes so that solutions for peace and democracy not only embody principles of gender justice, but themselves become examples of it.


Violence Against Women/VAW

The United Nations defines violence against women/VAW as violence that causes physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women. Two other terms often used in relation to VAW are gender-based violence and sexual violence.

Gender Based Violence

Gender-based violence is violence based on a person’s gender, that is, it is based on social and cultural expectations about the roles a person should play in the home and society. Gender-based violence often reinforces unequal power relations by directing violence at those who play a subordinate role in society.

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence targets individuals on the basis of their biological sex. It means violence targeted at a person’s sexuality and/or that is committed by sexual means. It includes rape, attempted rape, sexual slavery, forcing individuals to strip naked or to have sexual intercourse. Anyone, including a husband or other family member, can commit sexual violence.