By Dr Azadeh
Distribution of power
One of the most persistent patterns in the distribution of power is that of inequalities between women and men.
Taking in consideration that gender relations are power relations, it is easy to discover some roots of gender discrimination in three forms of violence facing any society.
The easiest to be recognized is the Direct Violence, which involves the use of physical force, like killing or torture, rape and sexual assault, and beatings, but also the verbal violence, such as humiliation or put downs and evan the threat to use force.
Structural violence exists when some groups, classes, genders, nationalities are assumed to have, and in fact do have, more access to goods, resources, and opportunities than other groups, classes, genders, nationalities.
This unequal advantage is built into the very social, political and economic systems that govern societies, states and the world.
Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, nationalism, ageism are only some examples of structural violence.
There is a strong connection between structural violence and direct violence, taking in consideration that structural violence generates conflict and often direct violence, including family violence, racial violence, hate crimes, terrorism, genocide, and war.
Cultural Violence is the prevailing attitudes and beliefs that we have been taught since childhood and that surrounds us in daily life about the power and necessity of violence and refers to aspects of culture that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence.
Religions ideologies, languages, arts are only few areas which could easy become tools for cultural violence. To exemplify, the history glorifies, records and reports wars and military victories rather than people’s nonviolent rebellions or the triumphs of collaboration and diplomacy.
In this way, children learn that obtaining victories through violence is normal. Majority of the heroes are men, and this creates representation of the patterns of masculinity correlated to heroism, bravery, legitimate violence, power.
As a direct consequence, gender shapes power and distribution of power from the private relationships of the household to the highest levels of political decision making, at all levels of the society.
When interpersonal violence occurs in families, its psychological consequences can affect parents, children, and their relationship in the short- and long-terms.
Violence against women (VAW), also known as gender-based violence, is, collectively, violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women.
Sometimes considered a hate crime, this type of violence targets a specific group with the victim’s gender as a primary motive.
This type of violence is gender-based, meaning that the acts of violence are committed against women expressly because they are women.
Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared in a 2006 report posted on the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) website:
< Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions.
At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her. >
Various forms of violence
Violence against women can fit into several broad categories.
These include violence carried out by “individuals” as well as “states”.
Some of the forms of violence perpetrated by individuals are: rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive coercion, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, obstetric violence, and mob violence; as well as harmful customary or traditional practices such as honour killings, dowry violence, and female genital mutilation, marriage by abduction and forced marriage.
Some forms of violence are perpetrated or condoned by the state such as war rape; sexual violence and sexual slavery during conflict; forced sterilization; forced abortion; violence by the police and authoritative personnel; stoning and flogging.
Many forms of VAW, such as trafficking in women and forced prostitution are often perpetrated by organized criminal networks.
Violence against women is a dynamic concept and it is not easy to define it, because the understanding it’s changing over the time, modifying our perception and definition.
It is true that some forms of VAW are covered by legal definitions, in the frame of the law or criminal law, but other forms are transforming their perception according women’s experiences, according time and location.
For instance, time ago or in certain geographical areas, domestic abuse is only defined by battering the wife, while the nowadays definition is related to many other forms of abuse.
The concepts of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, internet harassment didn’t exist 30 years ago, but are now considered forms of violence against women. That’s why a changing understanding and a changing definition of violence against women determine a changing way to address it and to eliminate it.
If to find a definition of VAW we need a more widely contextualization in history, in society, in the way society with its institutions, cultural beliefs and practices operate, to identify various forms of violence is more simple, because the violence against women doesn’t know borders crossing all the levels of the societies.
Facts and figures
· It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
· Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence.
· Although little data is available – and great variation in how psychological violence is measured across countries and cultures – existing evidence shows high prevalence rates.
Forty-three per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
· It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six per cent of men killed in the same year.
· More than 1 in 4 women in Washington DC, United States, have experienced some form of sexual harassment on public transportation, according to a survey conducted in 2016.
· Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is more common in West and Central Africa, where over 4 in 10 girls were married before age 18, and about 1 in 7 were married or in union before age 15.
Child marriage often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, limits the girl’s opportunities and increases her risk of experiencing domestic violence.
· Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends.
· At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with representative data on prevalence. In most of these countries, the majority of girls were cut before age 5.
· Adult women account for 51 per cent of all human trafficking victims detected globally.
Women and girls together account for 71 per cent, with girls representing nearly three out of every four child trafficking victims.
Nearly three out of every four trafficked women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
· One in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15 (including having received unwanted, offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offensive, inappropriate advances on social networking sites). The risk is highest among young women between 18 and 29 years of age.
· An estimated 246 million girls and boys experience school-related violence every year and one in four girls say that they never feel comfortable using school latrines, according to a survey on youth conducted across four regions.
· The extent and forms of school-related violence that girls and boys experience differ, but evidence suggests that girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation.
In addition to the resulting adverse psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences, school-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls.
· Eighty-two per cent of women parliamentarians who participated in a study conducted by the Inter-parliamentary Union in 39 countries across 5 regions reported having experienced some form of psychological violence while serving their terms. Psychological violence was defined as remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature made against them or threats and/or mobbing to which they might have been subjected.
· They cited social media as the main channel through which such psychological violence is perpetrated; nearly half of those surveyed (44 per cent) reported having received death, rape, assault or abduction threats towards them or their families.
· Violence among vulnerable groups
· Evidence suggests that certain characteristics of women, such as sexual orientation, disability status or ethnicity, and some contextual factors, such as humanitarian crises, including conflict and post-conflict situations, may increase women’s vulnerability to violence.
· In 2014, 23 per cent of non-heterosexual women (those who identified their sexual orientation as lesbian, bisexual or other) interviewed in the European Union indicated having experienced physical and/or sexual violence by both male and female non-partner perpetrators, compared with five per cent of heterosexual women.
· In a survey of 3,706 primary schoolchildren from Uganda, 24 per cent of 11 to 14-year-old girls with disabilities reported sexual violence at school, compared to 12 per cent of non-disabled girls.
· Violence against women is a human rights violation
· . Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women.
· Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.
· Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential.
· Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.
· One of the major challenges to efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls worldwide is the substantial funding shortfall.
As a result, resources for initiatives to prevent and end violence against women and girls are severely lacking. Frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, which includes a specific target on ending violence against women and girls, offer huge promise, but must be adequately funded in order to bring real and significant changes in the lives of women and girls.
· From 25 November through 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence aim to raise public awareness and mobilizing people everywhere to bring about change.
· This year, the UN Secretary-General’s Unite to End Violence against Women campaign invites you to “Orange the world,” using the colour designated by the Unite campaign to symbolize a brighter future without violence. Organize events to orange streets, schools and landmarks!
· Measures to address violence
· In the majority of countries with available data, less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.
Among women who do, most look to family and friends and very few look to formal institutions and mechanisms, such as police and health services. Less than 10 per cent of those women seeking help for experience of violence sought help by appealing to the police.
· At least 140 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 144 have laws on sexual harassment. However, even when laws exist, this does not mean they are always compliant with international standards and recommendations or implemented.
Still, 37 countries exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution when they are married to or subsequently marry the victim.
As women increasingly come forward with stories of sexual assault and harassment, advocates are seeing the “me too” movement as an opportunity to renew their push for Constitutional protections against sexual discrimination. On November 15th, in USA, a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressional members introduce the ‘METOO Congress Act’ aimed at reforming how Congress handles sexual harassment.
“Now that women have spoken out about harassment, it’s time to go to the second phase of, “What do you do about it?”
In recent years, there has been a trend of approaching VAW at an international level, through instruments such as conventions; or, in the European Union, through directives, such as the directive against sexual harassment, and the directive against human trafficking.
The most recent legal instrument is the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Taking in consideration the necessity to set comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, the Council of Europe, assuming its leading role in human rights protection, adopted it on 7 April 2011 and opened it for signature on 11 May 2011 on the occasion of the 121st Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul.
It entered into force
On 1 August 2014 and it was ratified by 27 EU and Non EU states until now, but also by the European Union:
Ending violence against women UN Women’s rights:
Women’s right to live free from violence is upheld by international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), especially through General Recommendations 12 and 19, and the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
UN Women works with countries at the global level to advance the international normative framework through support provided to inter-governmental processes, such as the General Assembly and the CSW.
At the country level, UN Women supports Governments in adopting and enacting legal reforms aligned with international standards.
It is encouraged the partnership between Governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations and other institutions to advocate for ending violence, increase awareness of the causes and consequences of violence and build capacity of partners to prevent and respond to violence.
It is promoted the need for changing norms and behaviour of men and boys, and advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.
UN Women supports expanding access to quality multi-sectoral responses for survivors covering safety, shelter, health, justice and other essential services. Policy guidance helps to step up investments in prevention – the most cost-effective, long-term means to stop violence.
It is promoted the work with Governments to develop dedicated national action plans to prevent and address violence against women, strengthening coordination among diverse actors required for sustained and meaningful action. UN Women also advocates for the integration of violence in key international, regional and national frameworks, such as the post-2015 development agenda.
UN Women’s Approach
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states, “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women” and “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
In 1994 the members of the United Nations made a commitment to eliminate violence against women, linking this very clearly to gender inequality; moreover, they stressed that it was not only about physical violence, but also psychological, emotional, and sexual violence, that it could include threats of violence, and also that it was a fundamental violation of women’s human rights.
Prevention and Eradication of violence against women and girls
UN WOMEN works on several fronts towards ending violence against women and girls. This includes tackling its main root: gender inequality.
Efforts are multiplied through advocacy campaigns and partnerships with governments, civil society and the UN system. Initiatives range from working to establish legal frameworks and specific national actions, to supporting prevention at the grassroots level, including in conflict and post-conflict situations.
UN Women has also supported data collection on violence against women, facilitating new learning on the very important issue.
Author: DR AZADEH MD ,Senior Lecturer at the University of the Gambia, Senior Consultant in Obstetrics& Gynaecology, Clinical Director at Medicare Health Services.