the Disillusioned kid: Hitting Home
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Friday, November 25, 2005

Hitting Home

Today (November 25) is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (more on which here) or alternatively White Ribbon Day, either way the focus is on the issue of violence against women. This year, the day has been marked by the release of a report by the World Health Organisation which reveals the extent of the problem.

The report focuses on the issue of so-called "domestic violence," that commited against women by their "intimate partners." The reality the study illuminates is a bleak one, as the accompanying press release explains:
The study finds that one quarter to one half of all women who had been physically assaulted by their partners said that they had suffered physical injuries as a direct result. The abused women were also twice as likely as non-abused women to have poor health and physical and mental problems, even if the violence occurred years before. This includes suicidal thoughts and attempts, mental distress, and physical symptoms like pain, dizziness and vaginal discharge.


For policy makers, the greatest challenge is that abuse remains hidden. At least 20% of women reporting physical violence in the study had never told anyone before being interviewed. Despite the health consequences, very few women reported seeking help from formal services like health and police, or from individuals in positions of authority, preferring instead to reach out to friends, neighbours and family members. Those who did seek formal support tended to be the most severely abused.
Isn't our "post-feminist" world a wonderful, happy place?

One of the things which struck me from the coverage of the report, was the way its authors have conceptualised domestic violence as a health issue. This is, of course, a reflection of the fact that it was commisioned by the WHO, but is distinctive from the way that I think most people consider the issue. While the health of the victims is an crucial element of any response to domestic violence, I think it is insufficient for those of us interested in effectively tackling the problem and its root causes, rather than simply seeking to remedy its effects after the fact.

American activist Stann Goff describes domestic violence as one one of the US's "most immediate, systematic, and violent forms of oppression," an insight which can be applied to the UK with discomforting ease: Acccording to Amnesty International, one in four women in the UK will be the victim of domestic violence in their lifetime; police receive one call about domestic violence every minute, yet only 35% of offences are reported; 2 women are killed each week by a former or current partner - 1 every 3 days.

Unlike many of the examples of oppression which this blog gets exercised about, this is not something taking place in some far-off country (although it happens in many of those places as well) this is much closer to home. In fact, for many women it is at home. I refuse to accept that any of this is inevitable, however. The feminist movement (understood in the widest sense) has acheived a huge amount over the last hundred years or so. Why shouldn't that history of success continue? As ever, accepting the immutability of the status quo is the single best guarantees that immutability.

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