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Feb 08

Violence against Women: A Global Epidemic

CNN reported last week that in Afghanistan police are looking for a man accused of killing his wife after she gave birth to his third child. The reason he killed her was because she had already given him two daughters and this third child was also a girl. Sher Mohammed blamed his wife for not being able to deliver a boy. According to local police, he convinced his mother to help him beat his wife and finally strangle her to death. His mother was arrested but he is now a fugitive of the law.

Gruesome as it seems, this story is not just a regional problem but a global issue. Violence against women is an epidemic that affects many women in the developed and the developing world. The sociological term for this phenomenon is gender-based violence, and it is defined by the United Nations as an act of violence that leads to physical, sexual or mental harm to a woman because she is female. Some types of acts are more common in certain regions due to cultural practices. These include forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honor killings. Others, like domestic violence are prevalent globally and affect women of all ethnicities, ages and socio-economic statuses.

The truth is that women experience violence throughout their life. The following chart shows a woman’s life from conception to death and the types of violence she experiences, mostly at the hands of men. Included are some case studies to illustrate what occurs during that particular phase.

Phase Type
Prenatal Prenatal sex selection, battering   during pregnancy, coerced pregnancy (rape during war)
Infancy Female infanticide, emotional and   physical abuse, differential access to food and medical care
Childhood Genital   cutting; incest and sexual abuse; differential access to food, medical care,   and education; child prostitution. Example: A   15-year-old girl was locked up in the basement of her in-laws’ house,   starved, and had her nails pulled out. The girl was married off to a   30-year-old man last year. Authorities said the girl reportedly was tortured   after she refused to submit to prostitution.
Adolescence Dating   and courtship violence, economically coerced sex, sexual abuse in the   workplace, rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution.Example: A   young woman was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she reported that her   cousin’s husband had raped her. Her plight attracted international attention   when it came out that she had agreed to marry her attacker to gain her   freedom and legitimize a daughter conceived in the attack. She was eventually   freed.
Reproductive Abuse   of women by intimate partners, marital rape, dowry abuse and murders, partner   homicide, psychological abuse, sexual abuse in the workplace, sexual   harassment, rape, abuse of women with disabilities. Example: Gunmen   attacked and sprayed an Afghan family with acid in their home after the   father rejected a man’s bid to marry his teenage daughter.
Old Age Abuse of widows, elder abuse (which   affects mostly women)

Historically, violence was in part due to the perception that women were the weaker sex. Also, the role of women in the household created a dependent relationship upon men. Despite changes in their role in the home and the workplace, in certain parts of the world, violence has increased because of women’s awareness of their rights. In 2010, Amnesty International reported that mob attacks against single women were taking place in parts of Algeria. The report states that they were not only targeted because of their gender, but also because they lived alone and were economically self-sufficient.

Cultural practices also continue to exacerbate the problem. Stories written by fellow NotEnoughGood contributors speak of the plight of women around the world. Kristen Youngs examines such phenomenoma in her blogs Honor Killings – Culture and Education and Female Genital Mutilation: A Growing Problem in Western Countries. Katherine Peterson looks at how sex trafficking, which predominantly exploits women and girls, increases as a result of this male-dominate sporting event in her article titled The Super Bowl and the Increase of Sex Trafficking.

This topic has received considerate attention nationally by the media and the government. They have each tried to raise awareness and stop the practice of violence against women. Different suggestions including strengthening laws to outlaw certain practices, increasing criminal penalties for perpetrators, and building awareness and a system of care for victims of these crimes have been brought to light. The truth is that one response will probably not be enough. It will take all of these initiatives to tackle this problem.

I also noticed that the chart above shows that most of the violence a woman experiences in her lifetime is at the interpersonal level. This means that is at the hands of her family or those she loves. This makes me think that the answer might be to stop violence at home first. What do you think?

Regina Bernadin is a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University focusing on Conflict Analysis and Resolution. As a SISGI intern, her primary areas of interest are conflict resolution, human rights and Latin American political, economic and socio-cultural issues. Her interest in the development of human rights abroad has taken her to several Latin American countries, including Colombia, Ecuador and Suriname.

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