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Why care about violence against women?

February 18, 2013

A friend recently asked me:
I do not know if the intent of the blog is to lead to some concrete action.
If so, then I will start at the root of the problem. “violence against
women” is an anonymous and vague topic.

Do you mean “women against women?”
“men against women?”
“children against women?”
“societal laws limiting women, men, and children?”

If you had to assign different weight to each of these scenarios what will
the criteria be and what will be the corresponding weight?
———
Good questions to address, so here goes.

First – this issue is definitely a personal one. I hesitated to write because so much came up for me as I thought about my own life experiences, but I decided to share some of the things that happened to me.

I was 8 years old, in second grade. It was late in the summer or early fall because it was still very warm, and I know I was back at school – in the suburbs of Baltimore. A good friend lived across the street and her parents were having an afternoon party. She and I had been at her house, but then decided to go back to mine, across the street. I remember one of the older men sitting on the front porch steps. She went over to kiss him goodbye because they were such good family friends, so I thought I should as well. He grabbed me, held my arms down, not letting me move or get away, and French kissed me for about 15 minutes – on and off. I was 8 years old. He must have been around 60. It was awful and I had no idea what he was doing. It was in broad daylight, in front of my friend and her brother who was in first grade. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything – it was not that I was muffled physically, I was in shock and just took it. I didn’t scream or fight back. I was scared and just didn’t know what to do. I was 8 years old.

According to the UN, 1/5 of all women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Look around you and see how many women are near you. You might be the one, or have a close friend or family member might be one. It might be your coworker or your next door neighbor. It might be the woman sitting next to you in your church pew. I was one of the lucky ones. It happened only once, it was not rape, but it was sexual abuse from someone who would be considered a “normal” person in the community. I wonder how many other girls he molested. How did he treat his wife and daughters (if he had any)? Fortunately for me, it was the only interaction with the criminal, so I was lucky that our paths never crossed again.

That was not the path for another woman I know well who was molested for several years as a child by her parents’ best friend, until she had the courage and capacity to fight back. It took her many years to address it and to tell her parents about it. The victim carries the scars.

I just checked the US Dept of Justice, using their NVAT Reporting tool: from 2008 -2011, ages 12 to 17, of the reported victims of child molestation, 88% were girls.

88% of victims of child molestation are girls.

Getting back to the questions:

Violence against women is all of the above – it refers to the fact that women are abused because of their sex and are restricted by gender-based societal laws or norms.
“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. (from WHO)

It is personal because I have experienced it. It is personal because I have seen it and continue to see it.

If we take each one separately:

Women against women – Mothers (and fathers) hold back their daughters from sports, from education paths or career paths. Women in India support killing daughters-in-law for poor dowries or other “offences.” Mothers sell their daughters to brothels. Women run brothels that use young girls. Women cut other women in cultures with female genital mutilation.

Men against women – not sure what to say about this. There is so much information about it. Most perpetrators of violence against women are men. It is in the papers daily – intimate partner violence is most often men against women – as in the Oscar Pestorius case. This seems to be one of those questions that one could say volumes or simply be silent because what else is there to say? Just read the news. Look at the Steubenville High School case where a football team gang raped a girl from another town across the state line.

This case encompasses all types of violence against women – from juveniles raping another juvenile, adults staying silent (men and women), a society complicit in its views towards football and girls, others at the parties who stood by and watched and took pictures: the societal norms that open women to such horrific treatment. “The Steubenville rape case has drawn international attention and has been compared by some to a rape case in India because both have raised questions about how their respective societies view women.” From LA Times.

As to how I would weigh the various scenarios, I do not think I can. They are all such strong issues. I am not an economist who can dispassionately assign weights to issues. (see Bjorn Lomborg TED talk – looking at the big problems of the world and how to identify which ones should be addressed first).

Notice in the list of The 10 Challenges
1. Climate change
2. Communicable diseases
3. Conflicts
4. Education
5. Financial instability
6. Governance and corruption
7. Malnutrition and hunger
8. Population: migration
9. Sanitation and water
10. Subsidies and trade barriers

that women are not listed here. However, if looked at through a gender lens, perhaps his calculations would have a different outcome.

Hmmm – I just looked at an article on Davos 2012

From the article, Cherie Blair:

How to ensure women’s economic inclusion, because economies will not thrive unless we do.
… The World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of the money in their families. For men, that figure is more like 30% – 40%.
… I’m a great believer in the gender parity group at Davos: it is not about the exclusion of men, but men and women working together as equal partners to bring about change.

In all this discussion, it would be good to know just what is being done. I hope to learn more at the UN but will continue with my personal education and write as I learn more.

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4 Comments
  1. Darrell permalink

    I fully agree that violence against women is a major problem and cannot be addressed by women alone. Since men are the overwhelming perpetrators of violence against women, men should look to women for advice and suggestions about how they – men – can address the problem with themselves and other men. Men who respect women as equals need to listen to women, and not dismiss their complaints as exaggerated or not their concern because they personally have not been violent or do not perceive themselves as violating women. In short, violence against women is not just a women’s issue. It is a human issue. Thank you for bringing it to my attention once again.

  2. Reblogged this on Ecumenical Women at the United Nations and commented:
    absolutely amazing post (and a great blog in general about #CSW57)

  3. Thanks for taking on this on, Susan.

    An important issue, I think, is the tie between economic power and violence against women. In most animal hierarchies, those with the lowest status are the ones most vulnerable to attack. Sexual violence isn’t about sex, it’s about power. The solution to violence goes far beyond applying sanctions against those perpetrating the physical violence, but creating a world where the status of women is elevated to the point that they (we) aren’t seen as walking targets.

    When women feel powerful and are widely perceived as possessing power, at an individual and a societal level, the violence will subside.

  4. Thanks for sharing this blog, Susan, and for sharing your own story. This is painful on so many levels that I hardly know where to start and I think that is part of the problem. As I’ve struggled and read about this issue — knowing at least 3 women in my life who have been victims of sexual abuse — I have come to the conclusion that it has something to do with our idolatry of patriarchy and a repudiation of the sacred feminine. One example of this idolatry is the obsessive use of “father” to refer to God as well as our support of the very male obsession with violence and war.

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