the Disillusioned kid: The Day Today
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Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Day Today

Today (November 25) is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The date was so designated by UN General Assembly Resolution 54/134 of December 17, 1999, but has been marked as a day against violence by women's rights activists since 1981. November 25 was chosen to mark the murder of the three Mirabal sisters who were political activists in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.

Before proceeding any further, it might be beneficial to consider exactly what we mean when we talk about violence against women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines it as "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 in private life." This, of course, raises the question of what constitutes gender-based violence. The Declaration seems to be silent on this point, but Amnesty International explain that this is violence "directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately."

While the women's rights movement has achieved many impressive victories over the past century, the problem of violence against women remains a serious one, as Amnesty note:
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.
  • The Council of Europe has stated that domestic violence is the major cause of death and disability for women aged 16 to 44 and accounts for more death and ill-health than cancer or traffic accidents.
  • More than 60 million women are 'missing' from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, according to an estimate by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate. China?s last census in the year 2000 revealed that the ratio of new-born girls to boys was 100:119. The biological norm is 100:103.
  • In the USA, women accounted for 85 per cent of the victims of domestic violence in 1999 (671,110 compared to 120,100 men), according to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
  • The Russian government estimates that 14,000 women were killed by their partners or relatives in 1999, yet the country still has no law specifically addressing domestic violence.
  • The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
Looking at that (apparently essentially random) series of statistics it would be easy to come to the conclusion that this is a problem which happens elsewhere. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. Amnesty provide a worrying summary of the reality in the UK:
  • Domestic violence accounts for a nearly quarter of all recorded violent crime in England and Wales.
  • Acts of violence against women recorded in the UK include honour killings, forced marriage, rape, sexual violence, trafficking, female genital mutilation, physical abuse and others.
  • One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.
  • On average, two women per week are killed by a male partner or former partner. Nearly half of all female murder victims are killed by a partner or ex-partner.
  • The British Crime Survey estimates that approximately three-quarters of a million women (754,000) have been raped on at least one occasion since age 16.
  • One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
Kind of takes the edge of all the nonsense about feminism having won and thus being redundant, doesn't it?

I don't want to present the idea that the problem is insurmountable. There are various groups active around the issue. Among them, Amnesty International who have launched a new campaign around the issue which is to run until 2010 and V-Day who organise performances of "The Vagina Monologues" to raise awareness and funds for other anti-violence groups. Elsewhere, a Guardian article from early November reported that women from the slum of Nagpur, central India "have attacked alleged rapists who they say are walking free from court, often with the connivance of the authorities." I'm not necessarily encouraging such actions, but my point is that women can and will fight back. As long as this continues the idea of a world where the scourge of violence against women has been effectively tackled remains within reach.

In order to achieve such a world, the support of men will have to be sought and achieved. This may prove to be more difficult to do than it might at first seem. I recently went to a meeting about violence against women organised by Amnesty. The turn-out wasn't bad, with perhaps 30 people in attendance. Unfortunately the ratio of males to females was not encouraging. There were only 4 men. Of them, one was speaking, another was there with a housemate and a third had been dragged along by their girlfriend. As a consequence only one (me) was there of his own initiative. Hardly an encouraging development.

Apparently many men feel that if they don't commit violent acts against women (and most, of course, don't) then it isn't there problem and doesn't affect them. In reality this is far from true. All men will have women they know or are related to, whether mothers, sisters, friends, housemates, girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces or whatever. Any one of these could be or have been a victim of violence and given the statistics, it is more than likely that one or more of them will. Altering men's perception of the problem lies at the heart of effectively dealing with it.

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