Gender-based violence occurs in all societies of the world, within the home or in the wider community and it affects women and girls disproportionately.  This paper attempts to discuss some types of gender-based violence like rape, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation.  The paper also discusses the causes and effects of gender-based violence especially on the females. It also suggests what social studies curriculum should contain so as to solve the problems of gender-based violence in the society.



            The world we live in is characterized with violence against women.  This is universally present in many forms like wife battering, sexual assault and abuse, female genital mutilation and rape, in war and peacetime, etc.  Gender-based violence is the fate of millions of women all over the world and these are affecting their productivity both in the homes, communities and places of work.

            There are different types of gender-based violence, which occur at different levels like within the family, community and state.  Domestic violence, which typically occurs when a man beats his female partner, is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence and this occurs within the families and inside the homes.

            Violence against women within the general community includes battery, rape, and sexual assault, forced treatments and the exploitation and commercialization of women’s bodies.  The social exclusion of women in some parts of the world in general and the purdah system in the northern part of Nigeria in particular are among the violence against women that are perpetrated by the state.

            Gender-based violence is a universal reality existing in all societies regardless of income, class and culture.   It would be difficult to find one woman, whom at one time or the other in her lifetime had not been afraid merely because she was a woman.  Those women who are particularly vulnerable to violence are those who live in extremely precarious conditions or who are discriminated against on the basis of race, language, ethnic group, culture, age, opinion, religion or membership in a minority group.  The World March of Women (2000), also included in the list of those that are affected by gender-based violence, women who are displaced, migrants, refugees or those living under foreign occupation.

            The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least one in every five of the world’s female population has been physically or sexually abused at some time (Population Reference Bureau, 2001).  Gender-based violence arises from the patriarchal system which since time immemorial, has exerted control over women’s lives (World March of Women, 2000). Gender-based violence affects both the physical and psychological integrity of women.  However subtle the violence may be in form, it has no less devastating effect.  Gender-based violence can affect the female psychologically, cognitively and inter-personally.

            Social studies, owing to its integrated nature is very relevant to gender issues but the curriculum in its present form is deficient in topical and thematic elements to address gender-based violence.  The curriculum should therefore be broadened so as to encompass themes and topics, which will teach the pupils to be aware of, and develop attitudes and values for combating gender-based violence, in the society.


Concept of Gender-Based Violence

            The UN General Assembly, in adopting the 1993 declaration on the elimination of violence against women defined gender-based violence as

any art of violence that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women; including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life (Population Reference Bureau, 2001 pg. 3).


Women are vulnerable to this violence at all stages of life.  They are threatened by female infanticide, incest, child prostitution, rape, partner violence, psychological abuse, sexual harassment and harmful traditional practices such as forced marriage.

Levels of Gender-Based Violence

            There are three levels of gender-based violence.  These are the home or family level, the community level and the state level.

Violence within the Home:  domestic violence is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence.  It typically occurs when a man beats his female partner.  Psychological abuse always accompanies physical abuse and majority of women abused by their partners are abused many times. Physical, sexual and psychological violence against women within a couple and  in the family consists of battery, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women and girls, marital rape, dowry-related violence, incest, non-spousal violence like a son’s violence against his mother and violence related to exploitation and deprivation of freedom.  Population Reference Bureau, (2000) reported Murray and Richard’s findings of 1986 that in the United States, more than a million and half women are beaten by their partners each year.  It also reported that in the 1995 Egypt Demographic and Health survey, 35 percent of women were reported being beaten by their husbands during marriage.  In spite of these available data on gender-based violence, there is no accurate information on gender-based violence in some countries.  A culture of silence surrounds cases of violence against women in most countries like Nigeria, making it difficult to get a true picture of its extent.  Some of the reasons why it is difficult to get an accurate account is that most of the gender-based violence occur in the private sphere – within families, inside homes, and out of sight.


Violence Against Women within the General Community: Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community include battery, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and intimidation in school or work, forced treatments and abusive medication, the exploitation and commercialization of women’s bodies which is related to increased poverty that is mainly a result of unbridled economic liberalism.  These types of violence occurring within the general community also include contraception imposed on women by constraints or force, forced sterilization or abortions, selective abortion of female foetuses and female infanticide (World March of Women, 2000).


Violence Against Women Perpetrated by the State: Physical, sexual and psychological violence are too often perpetrated or tolerated by states that priorities custom or tradition over the respect of fundamental freedom.  In some countries, the rise of religious fundamentalism is extremely disturbing as regards women’s right to their economic autonomy and their freedom of choice.  The social exclusion of women is so great that it constitutes a new form of apartheid.  Women are considered second class beings, of lesser value, deprived of their fundamental rights.  Violence against women is also exercised as a weapon of war in situations of armed conflict.  It has many forms including murder, rape, sexual slavery, hostage taking and forced pregnancy (World march of Women, 2000).

            Coomaraswany cited in Salami (2000), identified some additional violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms such as the trafficking in women and girls for sex trade, forced prostitution, rape, sexual abuse and sex tourism that have become the focus of internationally organized crimes.


Types of Gender-Base Violence

Commercial Sexual Exploitation: In some developing countries of the world, most girls are made to prostitute under the guise of sex tourism.  Sex tourism according to UNICEF Document happens when rich men travel during the holidays from the advanced countries of the world to places like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Thailand etc to have sexual dealings with children of between 13 and 15years.  Around 2000, the CNN focused on sex tourism in one Asian country where tourists traveled and got to hotels where young girls served them nude just to satisfy the sexual urge of the rich tourists.  This act is a violation of the legal rights of children and it is a real violence against women.

            According to Salami (2000), the Nepal Carpet Factories are common sites of sexual exploration by employers as well as recruitment centers for Indian Brothels.  More than 50% of the workers in the factories of Indian Brothels  according to Salami are children.  According to her, in Edo State of Nigeria, the business of sexual exploitation of girls is transacted with parents’ approval in a bid to get rich quickly.  The business according to Salami (2000) involves a syndicate both in Nigeria and North Africa who take girls to Italy to do commercial sex work.  These types of violence against women do a lot of physical and psychological damage to the victims.  They are exposed to series of health risks including respiratory diseases, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and drug addiction.


Rape: Forcing anyone into sexual intercourse against her will is rape.  It is a violent, terrifying and humiliating assault.  Rape is a pervasive form of gender-based violence. It has long symbolized in a man’s ability to have his way with a woman.  Most rapists are known by those they attack and they are often the victim’s father, partner, neighbour, a date or some other household figure.  Rape is considered a crime against a person.  In some societies, like India, the rape of a girl is thought to bring shame on her family.  The family may consider marrying the girls to her rapist as the only way to recover her honour.  In some cases, the girl is condemned to prostitution (Feming, 1999).

            Rape happens to all ages, educational levels, religions, sexual orientations and physical descriptions.  Victims of rape range from a few months old to their 90s (Population Reference Bureau, 2000).  Religious beliefs and education have no influence on a woman’s vulnerability.  The elderly, mentally and physically disabled are often victimized because they are seen helpless.  Rape is an act of power, anger and dominance over another because they are seen helpless.  Rape is an act of power, anger and dominance over another.  Sex is a weapon used to gain control.  Rape not only violates a woman’s integrity, but also her sense of safety and control over her life, too.  Rapists do not care about the victim’s well-being or her feelings.  Even if the victim is sick or pregnant, the rapist does not think rationally during the attack.  He does not see the victim as a human being but just as an object to dominate.

            In politically unsettled lands, wartime rape and other forms of gender-based violence remain a constant threat.  In these places, rape has been used as an instrument of war to humiliate the enemy.  Rape can affect the productivity of women.  A raped girl can be sick, hospitalized and be unable to go to school or work for days.  She can become pregnant without anybody to take care of her and the pregnancy.  Her academic career can be ruined and if she is a working class type, she may not be able to cope effectively with her equals.


Female Genital Cutting or Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital cutting (FGC) is a traditional practice that involves cutting or altering the female genitalia as a rite of passage or for other socio-cultural reasons (Mohammed, Ali and Yinger; 1999).  Female Genital Cutting according to Population Reference Bureau, (2000) is practiced in 28 African countries and in about 20 middle Eastern and Asian nations.

            Mugenzi (1998) commented that FGC is an act of controlling women sexually.  World Health Organisation (WHO) (1999), claimed that more than 130 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital cutting also known as female genital mutilation. According to Carr (1997), Female genital mutilation (FGC) exists in sub-Saharan and Northeastern Africa and Central African Republic.  Specifically, nine countries were highlighted where FGC is steeped in their tradition.  These include Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen and Uganda. The practice is seen as an impediment to a girl’s sexual enjoyment.  The practice varies from partial or total removal of external genitalia to the narrowing of vaginal opening. According to shell and Henlud (2000), traditional practitioners who have no medical training medically untrained perform the majority of female genital cutting. The victims are known to practitioners who have no medical experience intense pains, bleeding, painful menstruation, infections or trauma.

            The practice, according to doctors, can also be associated with the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS through cuts and abrasions in sear tissue, during intercourse and childbirth.  It is also associated with lack of orgasm or sexual gratification and depression (Population Reference Bureau, 2001).

            According to Brady (2001), many women who undergo female genital cutting have serious health consequences which include shock, pain, infections, injury of the adjacent tissue and organs, urinary retention and tetanus.  Long-term effects may include cysts and abscesses, urinary incontinence, psychological and sexual problems and difficulty during childbirth.  Obstructed labour may occur if a woman is infibulated.  All of these damage a girl’s lifetime health.


Causes of Gender-Based Violence

            The causes of gender-based violence are many and varied depending on the types of violence.  Traditional attitudes towards women around the world help perpetuate the violence. Stereotypical roles in which women are seen as subordinate to men constrain a woman’s ability to exercise choices that would enable her end the abuse.

            Njenga (1999) who was the chairman of the Psychiatric Association in Kenya discussed with women in Kenya on reasons for the rise in gender-based violence.  He opined that the causes are quite diverse.  One of the causes is the space people live in.  The more crowded people are, Njenga commented, the more domestic violence there is likely to be.  Njenga (1999) concluded that poverty, which also determines where and how a person lives, is one of the contributing factors.

            Financial insecurity is another cause of gender-based violence.  Njenga (1999:6) commented

that if a man cannot establish his authority intellectually or economically, he would tend to do so physically.  Another cause is the image created by the society which portrays a man to be viewed as being strong, educated, creative, and clever while a woman is the opposite of all these traits.  The way parents bring up their children, which create disparity between boys and girls, also is a source of gender-based violence in later life.  When a boy grows up, knowing that he is not supposed to wash his own clothes, cook or help in the house, if he grows up and gets married to a woman who comes from a home where duties are equally shared between girls and boys, this can create tension that might lead to violence.


Bitangaro (1999:9) had sumarised the causes of violence against women as being deeply rooted in the way society is set up-cultural beliefs, power relations, economic power imbalances, and the masculine idea of male dominance.

            Saran (1999:19) gave another cause, which she regarded as a myth, she opined that a woman’s dress and behaviour can cause rape.  This myth according to her places the blame for rape on a woman and views men as unable to control themselves.  She concluded that if a woman is known as a party animal or a tease and wears provocative clothing, she is asking for attention, flattery, or just trying to fit in. She is not asking to be raped.


Effects of Gender Based Violence

            The effects of Gender-based violence can be devastating and long lasting. They pose danger to a woman’s reproductive health and can scar a survivor psychologically, cognitively and interpersonally.  A woman who experiences domestic violence and lives in an abusive relationship with her partner may be forced to become pregnant or have an abortion against her will, or her partner may knowingly expose her to a sexually transmitted infection.

            Bitangaro (1999:9) reported what a child psychologist says that “violence absolutely impacts on children…” A child who has undergone or witnessed violence may become withdrawn, anxious or depressed on one hand; on the other hand, the child may become aggressive and exert control over younger siblings.

            Boys usually carry out the aggressive form of behaviour and as adults, may beat-their spouses.  The effects of sexual abuse are the exploitation of power.  Young people are especially at risk and this can have lasting consequences for their sexual and productive health.  The costs can include unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STI), physical injury and trauma.  Bitangaro (1999) reported that in Uganda as in many parts of the world, a lot of stigma is attached to a woman who has been raped.  The effects of female Genital cutting (FGC) are many.  According to the report of women vision in Uganda (1998) the surgeons, who performed the cutting are old women.  These women according to the report claim that they have ancestral powers.  Female genital cutting can be seen as an impediment to a girl’s sexual enjoyment.  The girls according to the report of women vision (1998) are known to experience intense pain, bleeding, painful abdominal menstruation, infection or trauma.

            The Population Reference Bureau (2000) reported the World Bank as saying that gender-based violence is heavy a health burden for women of ages 15-is as that posed by HIV, tuberculosis and infection during child birth, cancer and heart diseases.  The fourth world conference on women has adopted a platform for action, which declares that “violence against women is an obstacles to the achievement of the objective of equality, development and peace” (Population Reference Bureau 2000:3).


Challenges to Social Studies Education

            Social studies curriculum should be broadened to encompass contemporary issues which are existing educational problems.  All that it connotes is to make people to be socially aware, be able to adapt or change their life-style to positive and effective social living.

            There is the urgent need for incorporating contemporary issues in the social studies curriculum so that students may be aware of issues of concern to the society so as not to be ignorant of issues, events and problems of their societies and seek rational solutions to problems created by them.  Contemporary issues all over the world directly or indirectly impinge on the lives of the citizen.  According to Mezieobi (1994), most of the problems of the contemporary Nigerian society such as ethnic and cultural intolerance, population of the contemporary Nigerian society such as ethnic cultural intolerance, population explosion, family problems, conflict and gender issues of which gender based-violence is a part, peace education, amongst others anchor on absence of concerted multiethnic education, population education, gender education and peace education respectively.

            Though some social science disciplines such as sociology, geography and political science may discuss some of the contemporary issues, these disciplines adopt the compartmentalized or single subject approach, which do not consider all the dimensions of an issue not to talk of finding solutions to them.  Social studies education adopts the integrated approach in which contemporary issues are viewed from a holistic  frame for meaningful understanding and proffering of workable solutions.

            Some of the contemporary issues that should be taught in the social studies programme include law-related education, family life education and peace education to enable the existing social studies curriculum to equip students to have awareness of and develop attitudes and values for combating gender-based violence in understanding Nigerian Society.  Law-related education should aim at developing an understanding of the basic legal concepts such as justice, authority, freedom, privacy, equality, honesty and fairness.  Family life education which encapsulates population education and sex education should aim at developing requisite attitudes, awareness, skills and values germane to stable, effective and successful family life. Family life education in the social studies curriculum according to Mezieobi (1994) should embody the following:

1.                  Family stability and instability factors

2.                  Sexual socialization-promiscuity, premarital sex, extramarital sex, sexually-transmitted diseases, commercialized sex.

3.                  Family counseling

4.                  Stemming child-neglect and abuse, spouse abuse and other family problems.



Bitangora, B. (1999). “Rape, the Silent Cancer among Female Refugees”. In: Conveying Concerns; Women Report on Gender-based Violence. Washington: Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.

Brady, A. (2001). “Female Genital Mutilation: Complications and Risk of HIV Transmission, AIDS Patient Care and STDS”.  In Abandoning Female Genital Cutting.  Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.

Carr, D. (1997). Female Genital Cutting: Findings from the Demographic and Health survey, Clavertion: MD International.

Feming, A. (1999). “Rape-Are you at Risk?” in Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-based Violence.  Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000).

Heise, L; Ellisoberg and Gottemoeller, R. (1999). “Ending Violence Against Women” Population Reports Series (ii). Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

Mezieobi, K. A. (1994). “Contemporary issues in social studies Education”. In: Social studies in Schools (eds.) Joof, G.W. and Amadi, H.C. Onitsha: Outrite Publishers.

Mohammed, A; Ali, N. and Yinger, N. (1999). “Female Genital Mutilation: Pogrammes to Date” What Works and What Doesn’t.  GenevaL World Health Organisation Press.

Mugenzi, Joan (1998). “Killing Women’s Sexuality” In: Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-based violence. Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.

Njenga, F. (1999). “If your Husband is Abusive, Leave Him!” In: Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-based Violence. Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.

Population Reference Bureau 2000.  Washington measure communication.

Salami, I .I. (2000). “The Girl-Child: Work and Health Hazards”. Journal of Women in Academics (I). Gender-based Violence and the Challenges for Social Studies Education.

Saran, S. (1999). “Rape Are you at Risk?” In: Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-based Violence. Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.

Shell, D. and Henlund (2000). “Female Circumcision in Africa”. In Abandoning Female Genital Cutting: Washington. Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication. 

The World March of Women Advocacy: Guide to Women’s World Demands (2000).

World Health Organization (WHO). “Female Genital Mutilation: Programmes to Date.  What works and What Doesn’t.  Geneva: World Health Organization Press.

“Women’s Vision” (1998). “A Fight Against the Knife”. In: Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-base Violence. Washington. Population Reference Bureau, (2000) MEASURE communication.