Societal norms – the culprits of GBV

WHEN we talk about societal norms that are harmful, we look at religious norms, cultural norms and community expectations on gender roles and what the beliefs are concerning individuals within these spaces and how they conform to the rules that are placed on them.


In many countries globally, the main culprits of GBV are traditional and cultural values and norms. Certain societal expectations and beliefs have been condoning the rise of GBV because it normalises violent behaviours in household and public spaces.  Society has placed invisible fences around gender roles making it a continuous struggle to break free from.

The question we should really ponder on is whether the larger part of the community is ignoring GBV? Is the community playing its part in fighting against the crimes of GBV?

And are the people well informed about what GBV is and its effects, not just individuals but the society at large?

What are societal norms?                                                                                                                                            Societal norms are collective representations that are perceived acceptable conduct. These social and societal norms are unwritten rules and beliefs that deem what is right and what is wrong in the behaviours of individuals within the society.

What are cultural norms?                                                                                                                                           Cultural norms are agreed expectations and beliefs by which the culture guides the behaviours of its people. These ‘norms’ include attitudes and values within a belief system that are considered normal within a given culture or tradition.

What are considered harmful cultural norms?                                                                                                                                             These are established values/beliefs and attitudes that place certain borders/fences around gender roles. They are designed to keep individuals in boxes that can be harmful to both males and females when not conforming to these expectations.

Toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity can be defined as the adherence to traditional roles assigned to members in a society.  This may lead to stigmatisation and limitation of boys and men when it comes to expressing emotions perceived as feminine, such as crying, comfortably and on the other hand may justify emotions such as anger. This many times contributes to harmful practices being normalised and affects both men and women.

Toxic femininity

This refers to the gender beliefs of societal expectations on how a woman should act. The focus is the effects of harmful beliefs of what is acceptable and what is not. These beliefs keep women subservient and the male dominant, therefore reemphasising the harmful gender roles. These beliefs are displayed through different attitudes and expectations.

In the context of GBV, the influence and effects of these ‘norms’ on the society at large                                                                                                                               do not only affect the victim, but also affect the children and the people closest to them. This cycle becomes harmful because no one speaks up or has the strength to stand up to the perpetrator.  Society has normalised GBV to such an extent that speaking about it does not bother people that much anymore. Domestic violence has been normalised.

In many cultures it is not encouraged to talk about your household problems with other people, that it is disrespectful, and consequently keeps the cycle of violence going.

The silence leads to continuous abuse where it becomes more difficult for the victim to seek help. Men are most likely to suffer in silence, especially when it comes to psychological and verbal abuse, as they are afraid to speak about it, because of the judgement that will be placed on them or being seen as weak. This same expression allows for women to be submissive and if not, they can be disciplined by the man, through physical violence.

Women do not speak out about it, as they were taught that it is acceptable, or their lives and livelihood may be threatened.

The culture of violence allows males to be violent and physically expressive, while women need to be emotionally soft. Should they be the total opposite, there are stereotypical names attached to them.

This exponentially makes women more likely to be the victims of physical, emotional, sexual (intimate partner) abuse and difficult to report or walk away. These norms have molded the society to be patriarchal and may encourage men’s aggressive behavior; almost in the same vein as the belief that it is okay for men to consume alcohol and women not. With alcohol abuse being one of the major contributors to GBV, harmful cultural and gender norms need to be addressed.

The long-term effect that is deposited unto the children that are victims/survivors of GBV cannot be overlooked. Many children exposed to violence in childhood suffer from trauma that will follow them throughout their lives. They may end up becoming perpetrators of GBV themselves, not having learnt to deal with conflict or build healthy relationships. They cycle continues. This deposition again has an overall effect of the society at large. Most times PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a result of early childhood GBV experience, and individuals suffer lifelong (if left untreated).

Genders most likely to suffer from forms of violence

Psychological and Mental abuse


Sexual abuse


Physical abuse


Verbal abuse


Economical/Financial abuse


Culprits of GBV

One of the leading causes that contribute to the rise of GBV is the use of alcohol and drugs.                                            Gendered powered inequality rooted in patriarchy is another primary driver of GBV where the dynamic of power and control of another is deemed just. This believe, especially in social settings were male superiority in enforced may lead to the increased likelihood of sexual violence and domestic violence taking place.

Economic and financial instability has been shown to contribute GBV. Poverty plays a role in the rise of GBV, especially when it comes to conflict around finances. Forced prostitution and early child marriage are other forms of financial abuse that take place where the girl child can be used by the family or community (trafficking, forced labour) to provide for basic needs or monetary gain. Another form of economic abuse is many times played out in partner relationships where it is purely for financial gain, once again leading to unequal dynamics within the relationship. This can also impact the emotional and psychological wellbeing of individuals, leading to high stress, depression and anxiety, insecurities and other forms of mental illness.

Victims sometimes turn into perpetrators, becoming aggressive as they lose control over their economic and financial stability.

There are many more contributing factors to GBV. However, we need to realise that GBV is a human rights violation. GBV can have fatal outcomes, both for the victim and the perpetrator, as seen in the increasing cases of partners committing murder-suicide.  What few realise is the great impact GBV has on the economy of the nation. Limited access to the need for the right kind of information or psychosocial support may be the reality of many vulnerable victims and survivors.

The laws that civil society placed against GBV should be enacted. While many cultural and traditional laws are respected, they should not take precedence over the nationally enforced laws.  Nations sign treaties, and legislations that have a framework around GBV, and it should be implemented. There is a need to instill a multifaceted system around GBV, where state, civil society and the citizens at large, all take responsibility to address the prevailing issues and how to break away from this.

A need to put less emphasis on the response system has taken the attention away from addressing prevention methods and policies that should address harmful norms leading to GBV. We can only progress once we start to address and break down the harmful norms found in religion, culture and tradition contributing to the creation of barriers.

LifeLine/ChildLine’s Psychosocial Services to Victims and Perpetrators

Providing psychosocial services to victim and perpetrator are essential to the healing and growth of our nation.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is a registered Welfare Organisation and NGO whose vision is ‘safer, healthier, more resilient children, families and communities in Namibia’. The organisation operates a National Counselling Centre in Windhoek, which handles different telephone, sms, face-to-face and online counselling services for the whole of Namibia. All services are free of charge.

Operating within their scope of practice and adhering to all national laws, our counsellors are ready to listen and assist.  The call centre is open from 08:00 – 23:00 daily.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is here for you. Please do not play on the lines; you block the lines for those who may be in immediate need of help!