Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My Brother, My Husband, My Father. My Tormentor, My Captor, My Killer

Every day, girls are born into our world. Sadly, simply because of their gender, these girls will be more likely to face violence and abuse throughout their lives. In many cases, they will also face premature death at the hands of their abusers.

Around the world, women suffer a disproportionate burden of violence for no reason other than having been born female. Contrary to popular belief, violence against women is not a phenomenon that affects girls and women who put themselves at risk by willingly entering dangerous situations. No, the unfortunate reality is that women experience the most violence at home.

Worldwide, women are abused every day, every second. The number one perpetrators of such abuses are not usually strangers they cross paths with on the street. They are not always that man who they met at the bar. Nor are they usually the militiamen who stumble upon women who leave their camps to fetch water from the nearest well. No, in reality, those abusing women tend to be a member of the woman’s own family or someone who they know.

As frightening as it is, women around the world are constantly sleeping under the same roof as the person who abuses them or who might put them at risk.

A report by Amnesty International explains that seventy percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. In Kenya, one woman a week becomes part of this grim statistic. In Zambia, five women a week follow the same fate.  In Bangladesh, half of all murders of women are by their partners. Even more alarming, in South Africa, about one woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend every six hours.

Not all skirmishes end up in death. According to the World Health Organization, about fifty percent of women in Tanzania and seventy-one percent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners.

Developed countries have acted to reduce the impact and the incidence of violence against women. Unfortunately, violence against women remains a global problem. In the United States, a woman is battered by her husband or partner every 15 seconds. That boils down to about four battered women in the time it took me to write this paragraph. In New Zealand, twenty percent of women have reported being hit or abused by their male partner. In the United Kingdom, approximately two women are killed every week by their partners.

There is also a story of women who never see the light of life due to female female foeticide. As part of this practice, female fetuses are intentionally killed by their own parents before or right after being born. In India, for example, an estimated 35 to 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population as a result of gender-selective abortion. As a consequence of pre-natal sex determination, female fetuses are selectively aborted in order to avoid the birth of girls.

The list describing the forms of violence against women is endless. Women not only are beaten and killed. They are also forced into marriage, they suffer dowry-related violence, marital rape, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, trafficking and forced prostitution.

Why is it that women face such violence and hardships in our world? And why is it that their own family members are the ones perpetrating these acts?

The reason is simple: women are abused because cultural norms around the world put them in subservient positions in relation to their husbands and other males.  The reality is that violence against women is so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that millions of women across the globe consider it a way of life.  In Pakistan, for example, forty-two percent of women accept violence as part of their fate, and thirty-three percent of Pakistani women feel too helpless to stand up to violence.

Culture in many countries condones violence against women. This is especially true in the case of married women who practically become the property of their husbands. Across Asia and Africa, the right of a husband to beat or physically intimidate his wife is a deeply held conviction. In other societies, such as North America, where women seem to enjoy a better status, a certain amount of violence against women is somewhat condoned or at least tolerated.

Culture-based violence against women not only manifests itself in the form of partner violence. Every year, in areas of Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia, honor killings take the lives of thousands of young women. Honor killings are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by a male family member against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family. Given the many cultural restrictions and limitations imposed upon women, a woman can be targeted by her family for several reasons, including refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, or seeking divorce. It does not matter if the woman wants to divorce her husband because he is abusive. No, in the context of cultural norms, her actions are interpreted as an attempt to dishonor her family. Therefore, she must be killed to make up for the offense.

Yes, a woman’s actions, no matter the underlying reasons, can dishonor an entire family. For all that responsibility, you would think being a woman also carries some privileges.

Cultural views of women also affect the number of women who are born every day. In regions across China and India, there is a preference for male children over female children. This preference manifests in terms of the most unbalanced gender ratio ever to be seen in both countries. Female feoticide is an extremely callous form of violence against women.

The list goes on, but the main reason why women face violence worldwide is clear: Cultural norms allow, and even reward, violence against women.  

Family is the core of society and, as an independent entity, it reflects the norms dictated by society as a whole. However, family and society are interconnected. They affect each other constantly. As a result, if we want to change society’s view on women, we need to change the way families view and treat female family members. Conversely, in order to change the way families treat female family members, we must also change cultural views regarding women in our society.

Where do we make start? That is the real question. But, until we are able to raise the status of women worldwide, women will continue to die at hands of their husbands, fathers, and other males in their lives.

  • Amnesty International
  • United Nations Population Fund
  • World Health Organization
  • The Advocates for Human Rights
  • Gendercide Watch

By Paola Brigneti

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