Direct and Indirect Forms of Violence

By Shucheesmita Simonti


Image result for refugee women
Photo Credit: CFR (Council  on Foreign Relations)

Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture. Charlotte Bunch

Johan Galtung (1969) was one of the founding scholars who developed a typology of violence. He made an elaborate list of activities under each category and argued that violence is not merely the ―intentional use of force….against one or more others '…to inflict injury or death', and it is not necessarily goal oriented and intended to ―achieve some particular or general purpose. (Galtung, 1969). 

Galtung distinguished between two kinds of violence- direct and indirect, or 'structural', as he noted: 
―We shall refer to the type of violence where there is an actor that commits the violence as personal or direct, and to violence where there is no such actor as structural or indirect. In both cases, individuals may be killed or mutilated, hit or hurt in both senses of these words, and manipulated by means of a stick or carrot strategies. But whereas in the first case the consequences can be traced back to concrete persons as actors, in the second case this is no longer meaningful. There may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.‖ (Galtung, 1969: 170-171) 

Galtung‘s conceptualization of violence, however, excludes the notion of gender as pointed out by Catia C. Confortini who pushes for a gendered theory of violence by analyzing Galtung‘s conceptualization of violence: ―Galtung's theory would benefit from an understanding of gender as a social construct that embodies power relations, rather than as a synonym for sex.

Gender-based violence can be defined as violence targeted to a person because of their gender, or that affects them because of their special roles or responsibilities in society. (Benjamin and Fancy, 1998; Kusakabe and Akhter 2014). Likewise, El-Bushra and Lopez (1993) defined gender-based violence as ―violence which embodies the power imbalances inherent in patriarchal society. Though it is not necessarily carried out by men against women, this is overwhelmingly the form it takes. 

El-Bushra and Lopez (1993) also identified three levels of analysis for gender-based violence: Personal, Household and Public. They also observe that in times of war and conflict where people are forced to flee their homelands, the women refugees are more vulnerable. 

With regard to vulnerabilities faced by women refugees, Rita Manchanda(2004) observed: 

―The woman refugee/IDP represents the epitome of marginalization and the disenfranchisement of the dislocated. Her identity and her individuality are collapsed into the homogeneous category of victim and community, devoid of agency, unable and incapable of representing herself, powerless and superfluous.

Rita Manchanda (2004) also discusses how the aid programs end up reproducing the local hierarchies by adopting the 'going through the men' approach whereby the male leaders in the refugee camps become stakeholders and influence the way the projects are carried out in the camps. In this process, the women are often voiceless and marginalized and the male leaders are often found to exploit the women in camps. 

The field study carried out by Kyoko Kusakabe and Shamima Akhter (2014) bears testimony to the argument. Shamima Akhter & Kyoko Kusakabe (2014) conducted a study on Gender-based violence among documented Rohingya refugees living at the Kutupalong Camp located in Cox‘s Bazar district in Bangladesh through conducting in-depth interviews. 

These interviews reveal the gendered dimensions of refugee experience. The women refugees, the interviews demonstrate, were not only vulnerable outside the camps, but they were exploited within the confines of the camp too. Women were often subjected to domestic violence, and sexual exploitation by Majhis inside the camp and by employers outside the camp. 

It is also crucial to understand the nature of the 'space' or the camps as demonstrated by Asha Hans (2012) who deconstructed the geography and sociology of refugee camps to reveal their gendered implications on the displaced population, especially women. 









This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'Gender Based Violence and Subsequent Safety Challenges experienced by Rohingya Women'  in Chapter 3 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.




The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:


  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.


SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.

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