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Gender based violence

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Gender based violence is quite common in almost all the developing countries. Though mostly identical, yet, some of the customs, which are reflected in the culture of each of the particular societies differently, create important distinctions. The opponents to these customs have failed time and again to evoke the desired response despite the customs being reiterated again and again in many written works. In the present paper, some of the customs, prevalent for years in India, have been identified to reveal the gender-based violence in addition to the day to day harassment being faced by the women. Some recommendations that are always in the discussion at policy level but with no fruitful result have also been reviewed and an attempt has been made to put forward some simple suggestions to check gender-based violence, particularly, in the developing world.

It is a harsh reality that the woman in India has been ill-treated for ages in our male dominated society. She is deprived of her independent identity and is looked upon as a commodity. She is not only robbed of her dignity and pride by way of seduction by the men outside, but also, may become a victim of cruelty by her saviors, within the four walls of her own house. However, her trauma does not end here, it may even go up to the extent of forcing her to commit suicide or she may be burnt to death for various reasons including that of dowry. This type of violence transgresses the boundaries of caste, class, region or religion and is prevalent in almost all societies.

Global scenario

Gender based violence that threatens the well being, rights and dignity of women has only recently emerged as a global issue extending across regional, social, cultural and economic boundaries. According to state statistics, about 18% of women are being sexually abused in the U.S. According to the UN Report on violence against women, the condition in other developed countries such as Denmark, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom etc. is no better. In the U.S., the Department of Justice reported that, every year; 3-4 million women are battered by their husbands or partners. Even in Sweden, which ranks high in the gender-related index, 66% of the 18650 reported cases of violence on women in 1996 were of domestic assault. Further 45% of 681 offences of homicide recorded in England and Wales in 1996 involved women killed by their spouses or lovers. (Joshi 2002)

The data from developing countries like Antigua, Barbados, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and others reveals widespread prevalence of physical and sexual abuse on women. In a study of 796 women from Japan carried out by Domestic Violence Group (1993) 59% reported physical abuse, 66% emotional abuse and 60% reported sexual abuse. Studies from African countries, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania reveal that 42% women are subjected to physical abuse at their homes. In China, a conclusive evidence of wife battering has been reported among 57% women. (Joshi 2002)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) do enforce certain special rights and privileges for women. But it is amazing that only 44 countries have laws against domestic violence. Only 17 countries have made marital rape a criminal offence & only 27 countries have passed laws on sexual harassment. (Amin 2002)

The Indian scenario

The cherished womanhood, which has been extolled since long, had been eroded away with the influx of foreign and modern culture. Over the years, worldly pursuits have occupied maximized proportions because of which the traditional culture is withering away. The happiness and solace in the family have been snatched away by heart breaking acts like bride burning, dowry deaths, torture, cruelty and so forth. Even the female embryo is subjected to homicidal torture. The right of the female child is always staked to peril. For having born as a female child it is considered as a curse by some sections of the society. A look at the turn of century census reveals that there were 972 females per 1000 males in 1901 whereas the figure is 933 females per 1000 males in 2001. Still more significant is that in the 0 – 6 age group there are only 927 girls per 1000 boys. In some Indian states like Punjab the ratio is as low as 793 girls per 1000 boys.

Gender based violence and millennium developmental goals (MDGs)

The long term consequences of gender based violence, if not addressed specifically in national plans or poverty reduction strategy plans (PRSPs), can in fact undermine the achievement of the MDGs, which the international community has agreed are essential to accelerate the realisation of sustainable and just development. Undoubtedly, addressing gender based violence, a fundamental manifestation of gender inequalities, is central to realising MDG3 to promote gender equality and empower women. Equally, gender based violence has direct implications for progress on all the other MDGs.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

First and foremost, gender based violence can increase levels of hunger and child malnutrition, two important indicators for the first MDG goal. Studies from India indicate that experience of intimate partner violence has a strong association with the poor nutritional status of women and their children. Violence impacts on the economic stability of the family through lost work which in turn affects food security and results in increased hunger.

Goal 2: Achieve universal access to education

Progress in education, particularly girls” enrolment and retention in schools, is clearly constricted by the high prevalence of gender based violence within schools and the sense of insecurity that girls face on the way to and from school. Gender based violence also limits the participation of girls in specific educational/ vocational programmes if these ignore violence as a daily reality in many communities.

Goal 4 and 5: Reduce child mortality and improve maternal health

Gender based violence has direct impacts on child mortality and maternal health. Intimate partner violence, particularly in pregnancy, results in increased infant and foetal death, low birth weight and under-five mortality. The impact of gender based violence on maternal mortality is significant, accounting for 14% and 16% of maternal deaths in India respectively. Additionally, gender based violence leads to increased morbidity as abuse is linked to a range of gynaecological problems, chronic pain and psychological distress.

Goal 6: Combat HIV and AIDS

Gender based violence is widely acknowledged as a key risk factor for HIV and AIDS. Violence undermines the ability of women and girls to negotiate safe sex practices or to leave partners who engage in high risk behaviour. A study among women in antenatal clinics in South Africa found that women reporting violence were 50% more likely to be HIV positive.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Gender based violence also undermines progress in achieving the MDGs through its impact on participation of women in development. Women play a key role in agriculture in many developing countries and their reliance on forest produce for livelihoods results in knowledge of natural resources critical for environment sustainability programmes, at the community level. Women’s lack of participation due to violence can limit the success of natural resource management and environmental sustainability programmes, as this knowledge is not incorporated.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Due to violence, development efforts lose valuable input from women and other excluded/vulnerable populations. Co-operation and partnership between all those engaged in development is often undermined by gender based violence, thereby negating the very possibility of realising the rights based development that is the heart of the MDGs.

Policy recommendations

We urge all political leaders to:

  • Continue to highlight gender based violence in international fora as a fundamental human rights violation and as a priority issue to promote sustainable development and reduce poverty.
  • Promote clear leadership and continued action by the international community and government bodies to resource responses to gender based violence, implement and monitor international obligations, respect and enforce international law and promote a culture of zero tolerance of all forms of violence especially against women and girls.

We call on the broader development community including donor governments and development and human rights non-governmental organisations to:

  • Prioritise and fund prevention of and responses to, gender based violence as an integral part of all development programmes and as part of the larger efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. A full analysis of the risk and vulnerability as well as the impact of gender based violence on and by programmes must inform development work.
  • Commit resources to comprehensive and co-ordinated responses that strengthen women’s economic and social empowerment and that provide a platform for women to be equal participants in decision making processes that impact upon them. Support to women’s organisations is vital in this regard.
  • Prioritise the coordination of programmes and policies across sectors such as health, justice, social welfare and education to ensure that the composite needs of survivors of gender based violence are addressed.
  • Support effective responses for reduction and prevention of violence. Innovative economic programmes, education and awareness raising programmes and programmes that engage men can be highly successful in shifting gender norms and reducing and preventing violence. Donors, national government and NGOs need to support the scale up of such interventions with appropriate financial resourcing and establish clear accountability and monitoring mechanisms to track progress and demonstrate impact.

We call on national governments and international donors to:

  • Ensure that responses to gender based violence are fully integrated into national development plans with appropriate resource allocations, explicit definition of roles and responsibilities and clear benchmarks of progress.

Gender based violence is an abuse of human rights and failure to address it amounts to complicity. It is also unquestionably a critical development issue that needs to be addressed for the effectiveness of poverty reduction plans and strategies. The cost of not addressing gender based violence is significant both socially and economically. The current economic crisis threatens to undermine hard-won advances in human rights and accelerate an increase in gender based violence in countries most seriously affected by the downturn. Gender based violence needs to remain high on the political and development agenda at all times including during periods of economic hardship. Continued commitment and greater action is vital to build on existing efforts, scale up successful interventions, integrate considerations of gender based violence across all programming and strengthen co-ordination and learning across programmes and sectors.

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