Gender-based Violence

(GBV) is ‘an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or in private’. [1] 

GBV is a violation of human rights. It denies the human dignity of the individual and hurts human development.  GBV is an abuse of power that inflicts harm on the survivor. It may be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature involving rape, physical assault, sexual abuse, or intimate partner violence. Honour killings, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and other harmful practices also constitute GBV. Other forms of GBV include forced marriage, the denial of resources or restriction of access to services and information, as well as psychological or emotional abuse.

It includes a range of new and emerging forms of violence, such as threats, harassment, stalking, sexual bullying, and abuse that occur on-line or through electronic media and communication technologies. It comprises violence committed by family and friends, by members of the community, unknown assailants, or that which is perpetrated or condoned by the state, non-state actors, or institutions.

UNHCR’s work on GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response

GBV is a violation of human rights. It denies the human dignity of the individual and hurts human development. UNHCR is committed to ending GBV, upholding the human rights of persons of concern (PoC) and to find solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives. GBV programming (i.e. prevention and response) and risk mitigation across all sectors is lifesaving and an institutional priority for the Organization. We work together with partners, governments and communities to address GBV and to implement quality programming to prevent, mitigate and respond.

Our primary purpose as UNHCR is to safeguard the rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee. UNHCR supports States to uphold the responsibility to ensure that PoC are protected against GBV and prioritizes two mutually reinforcing objectives to address GBV across all Operations:

  • Risk of GBV is reduced for all persons of concern
  • All survivors have adequate and timely access to quality services that meet their needs

GBV disproportionately affects women and girls, and in situations of displacement their risk of exposure to GBV increases. UNHCR is committed to continuously strengthening coordination and programming to protect women and girls from GBV and advocates for adequate resources to increase the implementation of quality specialized programmes for women and girls. 

UNHCR also works with male survivors of sexual violence and survivors with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) through specialized programming to respond to their specific needs.

[1] IASC GBV Guidelines, available from



GBV specialist programming refers to the core GBV programme areas of prevention and response – aspects of which must be mainstreamed but which is undertaken by an GBV specialist. A GBV specialist ‘is someone who has received GBV-specific professional training and/or has considerable experience working on GBV programming’.[2]

GBV risk mitigation mainstreaming  specifically the risk of exposure of GBV [3]. To mainstream effective GBV risk mitigation measures in all programming and service delivery, members of the workforce need to understand who is at risk, the source of that risk, and the (un) intended impact of acting or not acting to mitigate the risk of GBV within their respective functions. The proactive and ongoing process of mainstreaming is a shared responsibility whereby all colleagues, and multi-functional teams (MFTs), must consider GBV and take measures to reduce exposure to identified risks at all stages of the OMC and the displacement continuum. Mainstreaming also requires that all UNHCR workforce, and partners be appropriately trained to safely handle disclosures of GBV incidents and to make referrals.

Prevention refers to actions that prevent GBV from occurring by addressing its root causes, namely gender inequality, systemic discrimination and unequal power relations between women and men, as well as people with diverse SOGI. GBV is preventable.  

Risk mitigation refers to a process and specific interventions in all phases of humanitarian programming. It includes actions that are taken in each humanitarian sector and area of work to reduce risks and exposure to GBV and improve safety as part of an agency-wide mainstreaming approach. Cross-sectoral coordination is essential to ensure a comprehensive approach. Risk mitigation measures also contribute to reducing the risk of SEA.

Response refers to immediate interventions that address survivors’ physical safety, health concerns, psychosocial needs, and access to justice, in line with the survivor-centred approach. The provision of multi-sectoral services and assistance to all survivors of GBV contributes to ensuring people’s safety, improving physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and facilitating access to justice. All survivors of GBV, including survivors of SEA perpetrated by humanitarian workers, have the right to immediate life-saving protection and GBV services.

 [2-3] IASC GBV Guidelines, available from