This module is a resource for lecturers  


Key issues


Violence against women and girls is a global problem, affecting countries in all regions of the world (World Health Organization, 2013). While there is a diversity of different kinds of violence, including: violence inflicted by the State; violence perpetrated in communities and families such as killings, rape, and sexual violence; other physical violence such as female genital mutilation (FGM); and psychological violence such as stalking; there are several common factors which must be understood by lecturers:

  • Individuals - mainly men and boys, but also sometimes also women and girls (for example, mothers or mothers-in-law who take part in dowry related violence, forced and early marriage) choose to inflict violence against women and girls.
  • Attitudes and stereotypes relating to masculinity and femininity support the use of violence against women and girls.
  • Laws and customs (particularly normative customs relating to culture and religion) reflect these attitudes and provide a framework in which violence against women is not sanctioned as it should be.
  • Economic inequality is both a facet of gender-based violence against women and girls (in cases of economic abuse, dowry abuse, etc) and a key means of preventing women and girls from accessing justice. For example, women and girls who lack the financial means to live independently may find themselves with no choice but to remain in the home of an abusive husband, partner, or father. The adverse effects of economic inequality and gender-based violence against women and girls are often cumulative in their harm. For example, women and girls who are subjected to gender-based violence are often unable to attend paid employment, or their performance at work suffers and therefore their career prospects are diminished. Adverse outcomes of this kind further compromise the economic independence that many women and girls need in order to escape situations of gender-based violence.

To teach this class appropriately, lecturers must be committed to gender equality and an end to violence against women. This means understanding that:

  • Violence against women and girls can never be justified.
  • Violence against women is not inevitable - States can take action to stigmatize the use of violence, provide meaningful sanctions for perpetrators, and provide reparation to survivors; communities, families and individuals can also stigmatize the use of violence, support survivors and undertake their daily lives in ways that make women and girls equal to boys and men in the enjoyment of their human rights.

The key issue to consider when preparing to teach Topic One is that two issues are being presented at the same time - the facts relating to violence against women as it occurs in the world, and the human rights approach which recognizes the complete reality of the harm (physical, mental, social and political) and identifies solutions which States are legally required to implement.

Accordingly, the initial presentation uses the United Nations General Assembly (GA) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (GA Resolution 48/104) to set out the forms of violence against women, with a particular emphasis on the causal factors and practical solutions.

These considerations may be of particular interest to students of sociology, social work, anthropology, psychology and law, and those preparing for a career in education, whether early years, primary, secondary, or tertiary education. One area of professional expertise which needs to be expanded greatly in all countries is data-gathering on violence against women and the effects of gender inequality more generally: therefore, students of statistics will also find this Module an important resource when considering safe and ethical as well as accurate data gathering and presentation. Given the health impacts of violence against women and girls, this Module will also be relevant to students of medicine, nursing and other medical professions.

The human rights approach requires us to reconsider the practical impact of violence against women in terms of:

  • Whose human rights are violated? Which human rights?
  • Who is using violence and violating the human rights of women and girls?
  • Who needs to take action to provide a remedy for the victim, and to prevent further acts of violence in future? What sort of actions should be taken?  

Lecturers may also be interested in the political economy approach, which involves understanding how power operates, and how economic priorities dictate what happens in society. Relevant considerations here include: attention to whose legal interests are prioritized and protected; and whether women can use law to protect their physical, mental and sexual mental autonomy and integrity. For example, do women have access to courts to secure protection orders? Further, if women succeed in obtaining a protection order, do police enforce it? Does the State invest in education for boys and girls equally, does it teach all children and young people to respect the physical, mental and sexual integrity of others, irrespective of gender? Does the State invest in domestic violence shelters, helplines, and specialist medical care for survivors of violence, including psycho-social care? Students of law, economics and politics may find the political economy entry point especially interesting.

Lecturers may wish to approach local organizations that provide services to, or advocate for, women and girls who have been subjected to violence, to speak about their work to their class. Lecturers might bear in mind that service providers are often very busy - dealing with a huge workload with very few resources - so they may not be able to attend classes. In this case, a practical alternative might be for lecturers to obtain written materials from local organizations about their work, the services they provide or the issues with which they are concerned.

Well-being of students studying this Module

Given that gender-based violence against women affects at least one in three women and girls worldwide (World Health Organization, 2013), lecturers should be mindful that there will be girls and young women in the class who have experienced gender-based violence, and there are likely to be boys and men who have perpetrated violence of this kind. There will be students present who have witnessed gender-based violence, or heard reports of it happening to people they know.

This Module is not designed to assist people to address their own experiences of violence or abuse or being perpetrators or bystanders - but it will be vital for the lecturer to provide information about organizations or service providers who can help learners who are personally affected by the issue and who may need support. This requires the lecturer to research possible referral options before the class, ideally to contact the organizations concerned and find out about the possibilities of referrals and what might be the most effective route to getting help. The lecturer should then plan for the information about the referral options to be made available to students in a way that ensures confidentiality and privacy for students - for example, for details to be made available on paper on each desk.

It may be the case that students are in circumstances which mean that it is better for their well-being to avoid the class altogether. For this reason, lecturers should advise the class about the content of the Module ahead of time, so that students can make this decision for themselves in privacy. It is important that lecturers create an environment where anyone who opts out of this Module is not judged, and their actions are not held against them.

For more ideas on safeguarding young people, and some suggestions on ground rules for teachers and students participating in classes relating to violence against women and girls, see the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and UN Women Voices against Violence Leaders Handbook (2014). While this resource is aimed at providing a curriculum on violence against women for children and young people of all ages between five and 25, and the present Module is prepared for lecturers to teach university students on the topic, there are important principles about safeguarding and dealing with challenging content that are relevant for young adults. Being subjected to gender-based violence against women and girls, witnessing it, or an individual realizing that their behaviour has in fact been abusive is often highly stigmatizing and very great care is needed in dealing with young people who have been affected by these issues.


In the following sections, the Module is structured into six sections, starting with a definition of key terms:


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