Women: Home, and Community
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Women: Home, and Community

The challenges are many but the mission is clear; bring an end to the culture of violence

Violence against women, especially domestic, is to me one of the burning issues. Violence is a strategy that people in power use to maintain their power. It is central to discussions of women's health and human rights, not only because it is one of the two major causes of illness in women--the other being sexually transmitted infections--but also because it is a major strategy for maintaining power in societies organized in terms of hierarchy. The Center for Gender Equity describes violence against women as the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world, as well as a profound health problem.

It occurs in all countries and is perpetrated in the vast majority of cases by men against their female partners. The essence of domestic violence is that it is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners. Although domestic violence is hard to measure, those who work in the area of prevention of family violence consider such injuries to have reached shocking, perhaps even epidemic, levels.

In nearly 50 population-based surveys from around the world 10% to 50% of women report being hit or otherwise physically harmed by an intimate male partner. The first-ever global study on domestic violence was released in 2005 by the World Health Organization, based on extensive research done by the London school of hygiene and tropical medicine. The report shows that violence against women is widespread, with far-reaching health consequences.

Domestic violence is devastating not only for the woman but also for families, for children. Children of families where domestic violence prevails often become perpetrators of violence themselves. And it has a huge psychological impact on them. Domestic violence is not limited to any one culture or country.

Worldwide at least one in three women is victim of violence in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces. Violence against women is present in every culture, every religion, every class, and in every ethnicity. The perpetrators are often family members or someone the victims know. And rarely are they ever prosecuted. Protected by deeply entrenched cultural traditions, violence against women is rampant. Insulated by the silence and complicity of local communities, the states and the legal systems that govern them. But in every corner of the globe women are joining forces and speaking out to raise awareness. Advocating for new laws and developing successful strategies to eradicate gender-based violence. The challenges are many but the mission is clear. Bring an end to the culture of violence, and forge a new path to a culture of peace and human rights for all. Women of all ages are enduring brutal, physical, and sexual abuse in their own homes. In your county alone last year, police answered about 25,000 calls, all pertaining to domestic violence.

The former conflicts have tragically demonstrated that wars are often not fought on traditional battlefields, but in villages and nearby forests. And increasingly, the primary targets are women and children. Worldwide, 60 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage, some as young as 8 or 9. We want our daughters to study as much as they wish to and handle their responsibilities, become teachers or whatever they want. The spectrum of violence against women is wide and far reaching. It's not just barbaric acts like stoning, acid attacks, female genital mutilation, and rape. It's also degrading acts of sexual harassment on the street or in the workplace.

The statistics are staggering, the human impact, enormous, and the process of change, frustratingly slow. The issues are complex and emotionally charged. And while cultures vary from country to country, there are many common challenges that women face. Women have been relegated to the private sphere, men to the public sphere. Being relegated to the private space means that you don't have access to political power and to economic power. You are much more likely to be subject to abuse. I think any unequal relationship, and gender being the most universal and fundamental one, is sustained on both consensus and force. And what is unique about violence against women is that it is socially approved in almost all cultures, at least historically. And many women also internalize this, and they feel they must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment. Within religion, there is a very strong historic sensibility that women are inferior to men. And it plays itself out in almost every religion. And reason most people would say Adam and Eve were kicked out of paradise was because Eve tempted Adam. Women are sexual temptresses.

Fundamentalists of all faiths tend to focus on a very immutable idea of culture, religion and tradition that they have kind of written in their own image. And that then really serves to limit women's choices, to put women in boxes. If people do not have a full awareness of the teachings of their own religion and the range of interpretations, they may be in a very difficult situation to combat those kinds of arguments.

Crimes against women, sexually oriented crimes, were not defined as crimes against women per se, but they were crimes against public morality. They were crimes against the family and so forth. So it was not the harm done on the woman that determined the punishment, but the harm done to those who are related to that woman. So she was very much perceived like the property of a man whose property rights have been infringed upon.

Traditionally, what happened within a family and between a man and his wife was considered private and not in the purview of the state. Consequently, in many countries, even today, laws concerning spousal abuse, rape, and even honor killings either don't exist or are not enforced. And often, when women are violated they are forced to seek mediation through the families before turning to the courts. In countries strongly influenced by conservative interpretations of religious law, not only are women not legally protected from violence, they often face a harsh reality when trying to bring a perpetrator to justice.

When women are faced with harassment, they do not believe in any system that can address the issue. Personal embarrassment stops them from talking to other people, as well. So different forces have made them just keep quiet, go back home, find another job. So to that effect, it's really a violation of a person's right to work, a person's right to safety. So these are issues which we are trying to impress on women that it is your right.

People make culture and people can change culture. But it does take contesting the values that are wrong, dialoguing and bringing about community to sit together and look at these issues, and then to say how do we move together to bring about this change? There are very good things in culture that can be utilized to bring about change, and that this change has to be towards human rights.

Why is it mandatory that the man observes self-control and self-mastery even when he's provoked by his parents, but it's all right for him to lose control when he is provoked by his wife? So in this way we're trying to help them see that a culture that allows women to be respected should also remove women from having violence visited upon them.

A thing that we should never do is to detach women's issues from national issues, from social issues, because women's issues are not women's issues. They are not women for women by women. They are central issues of social justice, of democracy, and of human rights.

Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant, hails from Raiyar Doodhpathri and writes on current affairs.

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