Violence Against Women: A Hidden Pandemic (Part I)
Why is violence against women such a global problem?
- Some studies conducted in the United States reveal that each year approximately 4 million women are physically attacked by their husbands or partners.
- Worldwide, violence is as common a cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age as cancer — and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria together.
- Domestic violence affects women regardless of age, education or socioeconomic status. Its victims are women in developing nations and Western countries alike.
- In Russia, estimates put the annual domestic violence death toll at more than 14,000 women.
That violence against women is considered accepted behavior in many countries does not diminish its seriousness or its negative impact on the physical and mental health of women worldwide.
Its persistence throughout the world — despite other obvious social measures of progress — indicates the need to confront it with more effective policies.
In every country where reliable studies have been conducted, statistics show that between 10% and 50% of women report that they have been physically abused by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, the most devastating effect of gender violence worldwide is that violence against women claims almost 1.6 million lives each year — about 3% of deaths of all causes.
Domestic violence, violence that occurs in the home or within the family, is the most common kind of gender violence. It affects women regardless of age, education or socioeconomic status. Its victims are women in developing nations and Western countries alike.
The situation has led public health experts to consider violence against women a global public health issue — one requiring a public health approach.
Worldwide, violence is as common a cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age as cancer — and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria together.
Few precise figures on violence against women exist, but some of the numbers can be shocking.
According to Mexico's Health Ministry, about one in three women suffer from domestic violence, and it is estimated that over 6,000 women die in Mexico every year as a result. According to a 2006 study of women in Mexico sponsored by the government (Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares 2006), 43.2% of women over 15 years old have been victims of some form of intra-family violence over the course of their last relationship.
Domestic violence is rife in many African countries as well. In Zimbabwe, according to a United Nations report, it accounts for more than six in ten murder cases in court. According to surveys, 42% of women in Kenya and 41% in Uganda reported having been beaten by their partners.
Although some countries such as South Africa have passed women's rights legislation, the big test — full implementation, with teeth — has not been passed.
In China, according to a national survey, domestic violence occurs in one-third of the country's 270 million households. A survey by the China Law Institute in Gansu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces found that one-third of the surveyed families had witnessed family violence — and that 85% of victims were women.
In Japan, as in many other countries, the number of reported cases has increased in recent times. According to some advocates working to end domestic violence, this may signal that victims may be overcoming cultural and social taboos that once forced them into silence. According to the National Police Agency, reported cases reached an all-time high of 20,992 in 2007, mostly women in their 30s.
The changes associated with the transition period in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union — such as increases in poverty, unemployment, income inequality, stress, and alcohol and drug abuse — have led to an increase in violence in those societies, including violence against women.
In Russia, estimates put the annual domestic violence death toll at more than 14,000 women.
Natalya Abubikirova, executive director of the Russian Association of Crisis Centers, in a statement to Amnesty International drew a dramatic parallel to capture the scope of the problem: “The number of women dying every year at the hands of their husbands and partners in the Russian Federation is roughly equal to the total number of Soviet soldiers killed in the 10-year war in Afghanistan.”
In a study conducted by the Council for Women at Moscow State University, 70% of the women surveyed said that they had been subjected to some form of violence — physical, psychological, sexual or economic — by their husbands. Some 90% of respondents said they had either witnessed scenes of physical violence between their parents when they were children or had experienced this kind of violence in their own marriages.
Research carried out in several Arab countries, shows that at least one out of three women is beaten by her husband. Despite the serious consequences of domestic violence, and the increasing frequency of violence against women, not enough is done by the governments of Arab and Islamic countries to address these issues.
As the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has stated, “To date, there is no comprehensive and systematic mechanism for collecting reliable data on violence against women in Arab countries.”
In many Islamic countries, or in countries with a substantial Muslim majority, passages from the Koran are sometimes used to justify violence against women. Yet many religious experts state that Islam rejects the abuse of women and advocates equality in the rights of women and men.
In many cases, violence against women — including killings — are based more on cultural than religious grounds and are justified by the need to protect a family's honor.
This pattern of abuse is similar for industrialized countries.
Some studies conducted in the United States reveal that each year approximately 4 million women are physically attacked by their husbands or partners.
According to the WHO's “World report on violence and health,” between 40% and 70% of female murder victims in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States were killed by their husbands or boyfriends — often within the context of an ongoing abusive relationship.
According to a U.S. study, violence against women is responsible for a large proportion of medical visits, and for approximately one-third of emergency room visits. Another study found that in the United States, domestic violence is the most frequent cause of injury in women treated in emergency rooms, more common than motor vehicle accidents and robberies combined.
In the United States, 25% of female psychiatric patients who attempt suicide are victims of domestic violence, as are 85% of women in substance abuse programs. Studies carried out in Pakistan, Australia and the United States show that women victims of domestic violence suffer more depression, anxiety and phobias than women who have not been abused.
As Noeleen Heyzer, former executive director of UNIFEM has stated, “Violence against women devastates people's lives, fragments communities and prevents countries from developing.”