What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is derived from gender norms and unequal power relationships. It inflicts harm on girls, women, boys and men. However, research shows that it is mainly committed towards girls and women of all ages and backgrounds. According to the United Nations, although anyone can be a victim of acts of violence, gender is one of the factors that significantly increases vulnerability.

Some of the factors that back up the assertion that gender-specific violence exists are:

  • Most aggressors are men, whether the victim is a man or a woman
  • Violence affects men and women in different ways, since the injury or damage suffered is normally determined by their sex
  • Aggressors are usually motivated by gender considerations, such as the need to reinforce male power and privileges

Forms of gender-based violence

Gender-based violence includes, but is not limited to physical, sexual and psychological harm including:

  • Feticide
  • Sexual abuse of female children in the household
  • Harmful practices, such as early marriage, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honour’ crimes
  • Sexual harassment and intimidation in educational institutions, at work, and elsewhere
  • Sexual violence (including rape, sexual assault and stalking)
  • Battery
  • Domestic violence (including marital rape and dowry/bride price-related violence)
  • Slavery
  • Commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of girls and women
  • Cyber-violence and harassment using new technologies


In 1995, the U.N. expanded the definition to include: violations of the rights of girls and women in situations of armed conflict, including systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy; forced sterilization, forced abortion, and coerced or forced use of contraceptives; and prenatal sex selection and female infanticide. It further recognised the particular vulnerabilities of girls and women belonging to minorities: the elderly and the displaced; indigenous, refugee, and migrant communities; as well as girls and women living in impoverished rural or remote areas, or in detention. Gender-based violence and human rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It consists of 30 articles affirming an individual's rights which, although not legally binding in themselves, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other laws including the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The most basic and fundamental right outlined in the Declaration is Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. And yet victims of gender-based violence throughout the world are denied this right on a daily basis. Although human rights violations affect males as well as females, their impact and nature clearly change based on the sex of the victim. Studies show that all acts of abuse and discrimination against girls and women indicate some characteristics that provide a basis for their classification as gender-based violence, further indicating an unequal distribution of power between boys and girls as well as men and women in our society. As such, gender-based violence is a violation of the rights of girls and women.

A rights-based approach to addressing gender-based violence is beneficial in a number of ways:

  • It helps to recognize gender based violent experiences that girls and women have encountered, resulting in the official recognition of such abuses and drafting of effective laws to deal with issues of gender-based violence.
  • It helps to challenge the violation of girls' and women's rights in both the public and private spheres with the influence of international human rights instruments and their domestication at the national level. This has also helped individuals and societies to look beyond and analyse the structural gender inequalities that exist in society, thus showing that gender-based violence is not something that is natural.
  • It has opened the way for girls and women to speak about discrimination, violence and other issues affecting them through political engagements with governments, lobbying, advocacy and documentation of human rights interest stories of gender-based violence
  • It has moved the issue of gender-based violence from being invisible to being embraced in human right programmes by governments, human rights organizations and individuals, which in turn has driven demand for accountability by governments.

The anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration is commemorated every year on December 10, and is known as International Human Rights Day. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Declaration and the European Union is partnering with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This year's campaign theme is #StandUp4HumanRights. Please visit www.standup4humanrights.org and eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/8664/eu4humanrights_en to learn about ways to promote, engage and reflect on human rights – and take the human rights pledge against all forms of human rights violations, including gender-based violence.

The key messages of the campaign are:

  • The Declaration empowers us all.
  • Human rights are relevant for all of us, every day.
  • Our shared humanity is rooted in these universal values.
  • Equality, justice and freedom prevent violence and sustain peace.
  • Whenever and wherever humanity's values are abandoned, we all are at greater risk.
  • We need to stand up for our rights and those of others.

Gender-based Violence in Nigeria: An Overview

Nigeria ranks 118 out of 134 countries on the Gender Inequality Index which quantifies the loss of achievement within a country due to gender inequality, using three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. In Nigeria, the inadequate inclusion of women and girls' perspectives in policy making decisions, resource allocation and implementation in economic and social sectors continues to challenge the advancement of gender equality.

  • Over 70% of women live below the poverty line
  • Maternal mortality ratio is 576 per 100,000
  • An estimated 3.2 million Nigerians live with HIV, with 55% being women
  • Enrolment of girls in school ranges from one third to one quarter of classroom participants
  • An estimated 10.5 million children are out-of-school, with two-thirds being girls
  • At least 30% of women aged 15 -49 have reported experiences of sexual abuse, with a marked divide between girls and women in urban (33%) and rural (24%) areas
  • The Boko Haram insurgency, the rise of violent extremism and humanitarian crisis has exacerbated the occurrence of GBV in North-East Nigeria
  • Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa and one of the highest prevalence rates in the world: 23 million girls and women were married as children
  • Currently, 43% of girls are married before age 18, and 17% are married before they turn 15
  • Nigeria accounts for the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, reported at 25% prevalence
  • An estimated 20,000 new cases of obstetric fistula occur every year
  • The Nigerian Constitution, the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP 2015), and the Child Rights Act (CRA 2003) are key laws that guarantee the safety of girls and women. However, in practice, most Nigerian girls and women are unable to claim the rights and entitlements stipulated in these frameworks due to low domestication: the CRA has been enacted by only 23 states and the VAPP has only been domesticated in 5 states. Additionally, only 2 states have enacted their own specific laws prohibiting female genital mutilation
  • In 2016, the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill was presented to the National Assembly, aimed to strengthen women’s rights. However, the bill is pending adoption into law. If adopted, it would be a major advancement of women's rights in Nigeria
  • An estimated 6 million girls were married by age 15 and 36 million girls by age 18 and the highest prevalence rates are reported in the Northwest and Northeast region (at 72%)
  • Female genital mutilation is most prevalent in the South (at 56%) but also show discrepancies between urban and rural areas: 23.4% of women living in urban areas having undergone female genital mutilation, compared with 15.6% in rural areas. Nigeria is also one of the five countries with the highest rates of female genital mutilation medicalization in the world with a prevalence of 12.7% among women aged 15-49 years and 11.9% among daughters aged 0-14 years
  • Gender-based violence is widespread and exists in all forms in public and private spheres
  • Domestic violence remains pervasive (16% intimate partner violence prevalence rate) and 30% of women aged 15-49 have experienced sexual harassment abuse (33% in urban and 24% in rural areas)
  • Many are female students in post-secondary schools and pupils in primary schools, within both formal and informal institutions
  • Nigeria accounts for the third highest number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide (after Egypt & Ethiopia) with a national prevalence rate of 25% . As a result, about 19.9 million women have undergone female genital mutilation, accounting for 16% of the 125 million female genital mutilation survivors worldwide