Gender-based violence is a public health issue as well as a protection issue, due to its significant effects on physical and mental health through, for example, injuries, trauma, sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.
Around 35.6 per cent of women across the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, mostly from intimate partners in the domestic sphere. Large cross-country studies emphasise both similarities and wide variations of violence against women between different settings.
A range of factors drive this violence; amongst others, one of the increasing factors of gender-based violence is conflict. There is solid evidence that conflicts have a strong negative impact on: child and maternal health as measured by mortality, morbidity or nutrition; the occurrence of sexual violence; the prevalence of high-risk sexual behaviours; and poor access to sexual health and rights services.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence during outbursts of armed conflict as a result of: targeted violence as a weapon, the separation of families, disruption to community and institutional protection and service structures, and increased obstacles to access to justice for survivors, among others.
Furthermore, for a number of other reasons, including shame, stigma, low awareness of or access to services, lack of protection and security, and malfunctioning justice systems and impunity, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is often under-reported and available services are under-utilised. As a result, the effects of VAWG on physical, sexual and reproductive health, as well as psychosocial and mental health effects, are typically exacerbated in conflict situations by a lack of access to or improper medical care, concurrent infectious disease, malnutrition, stress, and other psychosocial problems.
Our work focuses on understanding types, patterns and dynamics of violence against women and girls, as well as causes and types of service provision and prevention in different contexts and regions.
Unpaid care work and violence against women could both be viewed as a consequence of the same order. Violence against women and girls can be the result of stresses of limited resources, but it is also often used as an instrumental tool to keep prevailing power relations in order. Furthermore, in a world where women take on paid work responsibilities on top of the bulk of unpaid care work – such as looking after others directly or indirectly through the collection of water and fuel, cooking, cleaning, etc. – time pressures on women build up resulting in bodily and mental exhaustion which could themselves be considered as a form of violence. In addition to that, intra-household conflicts arise where women do not manage to fulfil all their gender-prescribed tasks, which can be triggers of domestic violence.
Another way of linking these two themes is to look at caregivers as potential perpetrators of violence. For example, where the burden of unpaid care work and time pressures or resource pressures exceed manageable thresholds, caregivers might resort to violence against children or disabled or elderly family members in their care. Some evidence exists on people with disabilities and the elderly being at higher risks of physical, sexual and other types of violence; however, reliable estimates are few because most representative surveys that measure violence within the family are restricted to women aged 15–49, and they leave out older populations, men, and don't capture the disability status of the respondent. More research is needed on the relationship between unpaid care work and violence, beyond the structural link that underlies both 'phenomena'.