In a society where equality is preached, rights are demanded, and fairness is sought for, women are still overlooked in many aspects of society. Today, the rise of gender violence is prevalent, yet no one talks about it or takes no action against it. In 1993, the UN Declaration of the Elimination of Violence against Women written a definition of the term ‘gender-based violence’ which is “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 deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (HHRI, 2004). Every 9 seconds, a woman is beaten in the United States, intimate partners physically abuse an average of 20 people every minute, which equates to more than 10 million victims annually. Furthermore, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are abused by an intimate partner and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been severely abused by an intimate partner. This begs the question why does gender-violence still occur in our society, to whom does it happen more, what are the causes and effects; and are there any solutions to this local and global epidemic? In the following essay, I will discuss these questions and offer an insight to why this problem still exists in our society and in other parts of the world.
First, while gender-based violence does happen to men, it happens more often to women and girls simply because of their sex. This leads us to explore the causes of gender-based violence, and why it is happening to societies that are developed and in under-developed countries. The fact is that there are many factors that contribute to gender-based violence. There are personal, situational, and socio-cultural factors that cause domestic violence in our societies that become widespread. On the personal level, being abused at a young age, seeing marital violence in the home or having an absent or a rejecting father or being exposed to the frequent use of alcohol are factors for a man to be abusive towards his partner (L. Heise et al, 2002, p.8). Furthermore, from a cultural perspective, having the male as the dominant figure and obtaining control of wealth and the decision-making within the family can be a contributing factor of abuse. Lastly, at the socio-cultural level, the reason we see violence against women is that “gender roles are rigidly defined and enforced…” (L. Heise et al, 2002, p.8). As well, in many societies and cultures, masculinity is linked with the whole image of being tough, honour or dominance and because of that, physical punishment towards women and girls are accepted as a cultural norm. In addition to gender roles, violence is justified from social norms. In many cultures where social norms are defined and enforced, it gives men the right to control their wife’s behaviour and when the women challenges that right, as simple as asking for money or leaving the house can be punished by her husband. Some of the countries that hold to these social norms are India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Therefore, by combining all these factors, we can now understand why men can be violent towards women, and at the same time, why wives are the victims of the abuse. It is important to note that studies have also shown that when women are independent, and have more authority or power, rates of violence or abuse lowers within an intimate partner setting.
Now that we have gained an understanding to whom violence is directed and why, there are few types of gender violence and the most pervasive form is intimate partner violence. In other words, male husbands cause much violence. Studies have shown that out of the 50 population based studies carried out in 36 countries, it showed that 10—60% of women who have been married or been in a relationship have experienced at least one incident of physical abuse from a current or former intimate partner (L. Heise et al, 2002, p. 6). Along with the physical abuse, other types of abuse are involved, such as psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse, which is the second type of gender-based violence. Caused by either their spouses, family members, partners, or acquaintances, forced sexual contact can happen at any given moment in a women’s or girl’s life. Per research, “between one-third and two-thirds of known sexual assault victims are age 15 or younger” (L. Heise et al, 2002, p. 6). This data is collected from various justice system statistics and rape crisis centres from countries such as United States, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, and Panama. While sexual abuse can happen to boys and men, per studies, it happens to girls 1.5 to 3 times more (L. Heise et al, 2002, p. 6). Last, the effects of sexual abuse are severe and long-term, and for some, it will persist in their later life, affecting future relationships, marriages and so forth. While many experience the effects for a lifetime, it is important to note that not all experience a severe long-lasting effect. Per studies, it is more likely to affect an individual longer if someone committed the sexual abuse close to them such as a father or one whom had a role model upon their life (L. Heise et al, 2002, p.6).
Gender-based violence has long-lasting effects in the life of a woman or a girl growing up. Aside from negative sexual effects, it can a negative effect physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Such effects can be depression, anxiety, and victimization. In terms of sexual reproductive health, women are exposed to sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, and a high risk of encompassing sexual behaviour towards other people. Per L. Heise, “physical violence and sexual abuse can put women at risk of infection and unwanted pregnancies directly if women are forced to have sex or fear using contraception or condoms because of their partners’ potentially violent behavior” (p. 8). On the other hand, as said, “a history of sexual abuse in childhood also can lead to unwanted pregnancies and STDs indirectly by increasing sexual risk-taking in adolescence and adulthood” (L. Heise et al, 2002, p. 8). As we see from these quotes, this encapsulates the long-lasting damaging effects of gender-based violence and/or domestic abuse towards women and girls. In terms of gynecological health, many women experience chronic pelvic pain which as per studies, “accounts for as many as 10% of all gynecological visits and one-quarter of all hysterectomies” (L. Heise et al, 2002, p. 10). Other disorders include vaginal bleeding, painful menstruation, pelvic inflammatory disease, and sexual dysfunction. When responding to the victims of gender-based violence, much of the solution that can be offered is through the role of healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals can offer physical support using medical treatment or emotional support by proving empathy, counselling, legal support, or support services in general. Most providers can and should offer compassion and reassure women that violence in any form is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. In terms of socioeconomic, it can cost the social system billions of dollars to help the victims of gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse and coercion. In the United States, the cost of gender-based violence exceeds 5.8 billion each year (Russo & Pirlott, 2006, p. 191). Many of the costs go towards the health care system and mental care for those who are victims of the abuse. In another source, the direct cost related to gender-based violence in the United States was around 4 billion dollars, which included both medical and mental health care costs (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 30). From a global point of view, in other countries such as Jamaica totaled to 454,000 dollars and in Colombia, 184 billion dollars (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 30). It is important to note, this expenditure not only was for the medical and mental health care cost, but also offering services to the families who have experienced violence themselves or through a loved one.
When responding to gender-based violence, it is important to note that there are two aspects to it. There are initiatives to prevent gender-based violence and to respond to it. As well, there are preventative measures that can be used, which will be explored further. First, because women at times are marginalized, be it systemic or institutionally, there must be an increase access to justice for women. There are three dimensions to it, the first one is that justice must protect women from “current and potential aggressors by improving laws and policies, mobilizing communities in defense of women’s right to a life free of violence, and increasing knowledge of women’s rights” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 32). Second dimension is to strengthen institutional responses to gender-based violence and lastly, to increase criminal sanctions and to make participation in treatment programs mandatory. Regarding improving laws and policies, there must be more international conventions which give a framework to support legislation on gender-based violence. Even further, reforming civil and criminal codes where it applies. This applies both locally and globally. In Canada, we can do more regarding gender-based violence. We can reform our laws, create a harsher set of laws and policies, and give more voice to women who are or were victims of gender-based violence. On a global international level, many agreements have come into play such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, and other Declarations. It is important to note that as per the article, these Declarations have some mention about violence against women and in the past 25 years, many countries have signed these international agreements, hoping to lower gender-based violence around the world. In the Latin American world, there is the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, which, to date, 31 countries have not only signed it but ratified it which makes it obligatory for other countries to sign it. In conclusion, the greatest step to any change is legislative reform. The greatest setback to legal reformation is its implementation of it in society. Per the article Addressing Gender-Based Violence, “much legislation has been implemented poorly or not at all. Common implementation problems include lack of coordination between family courts, reluctance by police or prosecutors to investigate cases or protect women in danger, and unwillingness or inability of the judiciary to enforce the laws…” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 35).
Aside from the legal standpoint, the greatest improvement, we can do to respond to gender-based violence is improving the institutional response towards gender-based violence. Such improvements are having trained professionals, polices, courts to give a more comprehensive and supportive response to the victims of gender-based violence. In terms of effectiveness, “the most effective appear to be strengthening and reforming the justice sector as a whole and building partnerships between the justice system and other sectors” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 35). In other words, build a great system of communication and trust between the justice system and the public sector. Today, what we see is a distrust in our judicial system and a great step moving forward is to create that trust against and build a partnership between society and the justice system. On a global level, there are countries that do try to improve women’s access to justice by increasing partnerships between the judicial system, health sector and social services through the implementation of legislation or policy change. These countries are Costa Rica, South Africa, and Nicaragua. Other institutional changes include judicial training which focuses on the interpretation and enforcement of laws on gender-based violence as well as enforcing international human rights agreements. The training given is not just limited to the judicial body, but to prosecutors, social service workers, public defenders, and pathologists (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 36). As great as these programs are put into place, the greatest setback for institutional reform is that the state can underfund it. Regarding trained professionals, at times, they receive a lack of training, lack of resources to help the victims. We must remember that most of the institutions, be it in the States or elsewhere depend on the state and its funding towards it. If underfunded, these institutions will lack resources, training, and knowledge to help these victims that are affected by gender-based violence. In conclusion, for there to be institutional reform, the state must be willing to fund it, all for the goal to respond and prevent gender-based violence. The two aspects of society, state, and institutions, must go hand in hand for there to be institutional reform.
In connection to institutional reformation, and the initiatives of improving it, a key aspect to this is to implement and create better treatment programs. In Latin America, such programs that exist are the Men’s Collective for Equal Relations in Mexico, the Men’s Association against Violence in Nicaragua, and the Argentine Association for the Prevention of Family Violence (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 38). In the United States, the effectiveness of programs as such are minimal. Per studies, “of five randomized trials of court-mandated batterer programs… three found no effect on the probability of re-offending” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 38). Furthermore, in terms of recidivism, it was found that there is a lower probability of recidivism. In conclusion, it is noticed that perpetrator’s do tend to enroll themselves in these programs which would not affect them socially, in the sense of jobs, and social functioning.
In terms of prevention of gender-based violence, there are many means which can be used to prevent it. The first stance is by creating and increasing awareness, and change attitudes of individuals in society to change violent behaviour. Awareness should be brought “that starts with knowledge about a message and ends in behavioral change” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 42). Second, violence prevention must need a communitywide interventions, meaning that each community with social and cultural factors must collaborate and prevent violence. Based on international research, “social and cultural factors at the community level play a large role in determining overall levels of violence…” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 42). It is imperative that communities collaborate and spread the message against gender-based violence, and by doing so, we might see a decrease of violence in that neighborhood. Aside from community involvement, mass media campaigns and community-based education are options to change the norms and attitudes regarding gender-based violence. The results of using these methods of preventing gender-based violence is “to promote nonviolent behavior, challenge the underlying beliefs that justify women’s subordination and the use of violence for settling conflicts, and encourage women and men to be more supportive of their friends and family members who experience violence” (Morrison et al, 2007, p. 42).
Other recommendations which can be sought as solutions are to promote gender equality and women’s human rights. Violence towards women simply perpetuates the notion that there is inequality. Such actions to promote gender equality and women’s human rights is to increase awareness of their rights and the measures to ensure women’s rights are enforced in all aspects of their lives. Another recommendation is to hold governments to a high standard in regards to their compliance with human rights treaties and international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and other treaties. In short, “governments should strive to harmonize their legislation with these commitments and bring about the necessary changes in national laws, policies and programming” (WHO, 2005, p. 22-23). Other actions of recommendations are to recruit social, political, religious, and other leaders speak against gender-based violence or violence against women. Empower people, specifically men, in positions of authority and influence to speak against violence against women (WHO, 2005, p. 23). Other preventative measures are to create more preventative action in the prevention of child sexual abuse, make schools safer for girls, use the healthcare sector to respond to the needs of the women affected by violence, sensitize the legal and justice systems to the needs of women affected by violence and lastly, increase support programs to reduce and respond to violence against women.
Finally, of gender-based violence, given the causes and effects of it, we can now understand why gender-based violence is so complicated and not brought into awareness much. We have seen the many agreements that are put into place, but are poorly enforced. We have seen how there must be more of a legal and institutional reformation, however, if the state does not collaborate, neither of those changes or progress will happen. The question I pose to you is what will you do? The beginning of all change is educating others, empowering others, increase awareness, open the eyes of the blind, then we will start seeing change – until then, we can only hope that the legal system, institutional system, and education system still offer the support these women affected by gender-based violence.
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