WOMEN'S WEEKLY: Violence against women
Friday, March 20, 2009
Violence Against Women is the issue that perhaps best illustrates the connection between women's rights and women's health, and the tragic consequences of women's inferior position.
Once thought to be only a private matter violence against women has gained visibility as a serious public policy and public health concern. In this week edition, Women's Weekly tries to lift a corner on an issue that many consider as social taboo. Violence Against Women (also referred to as gender-based violence) occurs in nearly all societies, within the home or in the wider community, and it is largely unpoliced. It may include female infanticide, incest, child prostitution, rape, wife beating, sexual harassment, wartime violence, or harmful traditional practices such as force early marriage, female genital cutting and widow or bride burning.
A recent study published by the Centre for Health and Gender Equity and Johns Hopkins University (USA) estimated that one in three women worldwide suffers from some form of gender-based violence. Domestic violence is the most common form of gender-based violence, and it is most often perpetrated by a boyfriend or husband against a woman. Consequently, psychological abuse almost always accompanies physical abuse and the majority of women who are abused by their partners are abused many times.
Many women tolerate the abuse because they fear retaliation by their spouse or extended family, or both, if they protest. Women's vulnerability to violence is reinforced by their economic dependence on men, widespread cultural acceptance of domestic violence, and lack of laws and enforcement mechanisms to combat it.
Although women's control over their sexuality is central to population and health concerns, the extend to which sexual activity is forced or coerced has only recently been addressed. Most coerced sex takes place between people who know each other spouses, family members, or acquaintances. One-quarter to one-half of domestic violence cases involve forced sex. Coercion also takes place against children and adolescent in more developed and less developed countries. Statistics on rape suggest that between one-third and two-thirds of rape victims around the world are younger than 16.
What is the connection between gender based violence and reproductive health? Violence against women is rooted in unequal power between men and women. It affects women's pysical, mental, economic, and social wellbeing. It can lead to a range of health problems since girls are more often subjected to coerced sex than boys, they are at risk of becoming infected with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Some STIs can lead to pelvic inflamatory disease, infertility, and Aids. Forced and unprotected sex also leads to cunintended pregnancies, abortions, and unwanted children. The experience of abuse puts women at hreater risk of mental health problems, including depression, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse. Ultimately, these outcomes have negative consequncies for the whole society, not just the women who are victims of such violence.
After series of international conferences and conventions in the 1990s called for eliminating all forms of violence against women, many mechanisms related to domestic violence were put up in order to remedy to the situation. Much of the pressure to change laws and community standards has come from non governmental organisaions, and particularly women's groups.
These groups are at the forefront of efforts to combat violence against women through grassroots activism, lobbying, and working with women survivors of violence. Ending the violence requires community level action and, ultimtely, changes in the values that lead to the subjugation of women.
Author: By Mariatou Ngum-Saidy