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What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence can take different forms and mostly affects women and girls.

Gender-based violence (GBV) by definition

Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of that person's gender or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately.

Violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in

  • physical harm,
  • sexual harm,
  • psychological,
  • or economic harm
  • or suffering to women.

It can include violence against women, domestic violence against women, men or children living in the same domestic unit. Although women and girls are the main victims of GBV, it also causes severe harm to families and communities.

Forms of gender-based violence

Gender-based violence can take various forms:

  • Physical: it results in injuries, distress and health problems, and may even lead to death in certain cases. Typical forms of physical violence are beating, strangling, pushing, and the use of weapons. In the EU, 31 % of women have experienced one or more acts of physical violence since the age of 15.
  • Sexual: it includes unconsented sexual acts, attempts to obtain a sexual act, acts to traffic, or acts otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality without the person’s consent. It’s estimated that one in 20 women (5 %) has been raped in EU countries since the age of 15.
  • Psychological: includes psychologically abusive behaviours, such as controlling, coercion, economic violence and blackmail. 43% of women in the EU have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner.

Examples of gender-based violence

  • Domestic violence includes all acts of physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence that occur within the family, domestic unit, or between intimate partners. These can be former or current spouses also when they don’t share the same residence. 22 % of all women who have (had) a partner have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner since the age of 15.
  • Sex-based harassment includes unwelcome verbal, physical or other non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person. Between 45% to 55% of women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.

EU law defines sex based harassment and prohibits its practice. Find out more about


  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. It violates women’s bodies and often damages their sexuality, mental health, well-being and participation in their community. It may even lead to death. Today, more than 200 million girls and women alive worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation. At least 600,000 women living in the EU have undergone FGM.
  • Forced marriage refers to marriage concluded under force or coercion – either physical pressure to marry or emotional and psychological pressure. It’s closely linked to child or early marriage, when children are wed before reaching the minimum age for marriage.
  • Online violence is an umbrella term used to describe all sorts of illegal or harmful behaviours against women in the online space. They can be linked to experiences of violence in real life, or be limited to the online environment only. They can include illegal threats, stalking or incitement to violence, unwanted, offensive or sexually explicit emails or messages, sharing of private images or videos without consent, or inappropriate advances on social networking sites. One in 10 women in the EU has experienced cyber harassment since the age of 15.