Violence Against Women
Violence against women does not mean only physical violence. It is much broader and includes sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse.
On an international level, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women provides the following definition:
‘The term violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’
The central elements of domestic violence include:
- acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship;
- an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and non-criminal; and
- the threatening or violent behaviour can comprise of physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse.
Physical violence can include slaps, shoves, hits, punches, pushes, being thrown down stairs or across the room, kicking, twisting of arms, choking, and being burnt or stabbed.
Psychological and emotional abuse can include a range of controlling behaviours such as control of finances, isolation from family and friends, continual humiliation, threats against children or being threatened with injury or death.
Financial or economic abuse includes forcibly controlling another person’s money or other assets. It can also involve stealing cash, not allowing a victim to take part in any financial decisions or preventing a victim from having a job and women are the major victims of this type of violence.
Family violence is a broader term that refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners. It involves the same sorts of behaviours as described for domestic violence. Any behaviour that causes the victim to live in fear is unacceptable.
Sexual assault or sexual violence can include rape, sexual assault with implements, being forced to watch or engage in pornography, enforced prostitution, and being made to have sex with friends of the perpetrator or even with animals.
Research has demonstrated that violence against women often involves a continuum of violence from psychological, economic and emotional abuse through to physical and sexual violence.
What are the causes?
Many of the misconceptions surrounding violence again women centre on its causes. There are a number of myths that exist, such as:
- men can’t control their anger or sexual urges;
- alcohol causes men to be violent;
- women could leave violent partners if they wanted to; and
- men experience equal, if not greater, levels of violence perpetrated by their partners or former partners.
Research has shown that the significant drivers of violence against women include:
- the unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women; and
- an adherence to rigidly defined gender roles and identities i.e., what it means to be masculine and feminine.
Attitudes that condone or tolerate violence are recognised as playing a central role in shaping the way individuals, organisations and communities respond to violence. These include attitudes that:
- Justify violence against women, based on the notion that it is legitimate for a man to use violence against a woman;
- Excuse violence by attributing it to external factors (such as stress) or proposing that men cannot be held fully responsible for violent behaviour (for example, because of anger or sexual urges);
- Trivialise the impact of violence, based on the view that the impacts of violence are not serious or are not sufficiently serious to warrant action by women themselves, the community or public agencies;
- Minimise violence by denying its seriousness, denying that it occurs or denying that certain behaviours are indeed violent at all; and
- Shift blame from the perpetrator of violence or hold women at least partially responsible for their victimisation or for preventing victimisation.
How to stop violence against women:
- The government should create laws and enforce existing laws that protect women from discrimination and violence, including rape, beatings, verbal abuse, mutilation, torture, “honor” killings and trafficking.
- Educate community members on their responsibilities under international and national human rights laws.
- Promote the peaceful resolution of disputes by including the perspectives of women and girls.
- Strengthen women’s ability to earn money and support their households by providing skills training for women.
- Sensitize the public to the disadvantages of early and forced child marriages.
- Highlight the value of girls’ education and of women’s participation in economic development.
- Encourage women to participate in the political process and educate the public about the value of women’s votes.
- Raise public awareness of the poor conditions some women face, particularly in rural areas.