A FEW MONTHS ago in China, Gao Xiaojun confessed that she had been severely assaulted by her ex-husband for several years. In France, Jacqueline Sauvage shot her own husband, who had been physically abusing her for years. She stated that it was an act of “self-defense.” The news media these days are full of domestic abuse cases, homicides, and psychological counseling. The unfortunate reality is that behind the veil of family, millions of women are being abused by their own husbands, and many of them are restrained from calling out for help. Even though domestic violence is rising as a global phenomenon, people tend to underestimate its gravity so the voices of victims often go unheard. More awareness over the topic is thus needed, and the world must act together to curb further domestic violence against women.
Domestic violence, much more than you think
According to UNICEF, domestic violence occurs between intimate partners or other family members through physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse. Also, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s fact sheet in 2016 states that intimate partner violence is mostly perpetrated by men against women. Contrary to what many people believe, physical abuse is a comprehensive term that includes forced marriage, prostitution, pregnancy, sexual harassment, and rape. There are also indirect types of abuse, which take the form of non-physical constraint or threat. For instance, withholding one’s partner from accessing economic resources, such as food and money, is categorized as domestic abuse. Embarrassing or insulting a partner either inside or outside the home is also considered domestic abuse. Unfortunately, many fail to understand the broad scope in which domestic abuse can be applied, so they justify abuse as simple discipline or quarrel.
According to the WHO, almost 30% of all women worldwide are reported to have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their intimate partners. Domestic violence poses a huge threat to international human rights as it causes immediate risk to an individual’s security. Also, domestic violence is pernicious because the victims themselves may fail to recognize that they are being abused. In other cases, they are overwhelmed by fear of being retaliated by their abusers or are physically withheld from reporting their abuse. As a consequence, the harm inflicted upon these victims is not easily curable.
Examining domestic abuse from East to West
There are common psychological and societal factors that increase the risk of domestic violence, including low level of education, past experience of maltreatment, antisocial personality disorder, overuse of alcohol, and marital discord and dissatisfaction. Domestic abuse is especially prevalent in countries where women are strongly perceived as *inferior* to men. Also, according to The Washington Post, domestic violence rates are high in countries with weak legal protection against violence on women. These countries are mostly located in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
In the Middle East and African countries, violence against women is often justified, mainly because the notion that men’s role is to discipline women is deeply rooted in their culture. Also, women are perceived as weak members of society and thus are often vulnerable to violence. One common form of violence against women in the Middle East and Africa is female genital mutilation, a ritual removal of women’s external genitalia. The ritual is considered necessary in raising daughters, in many cases to prevent them from engaging in extramarital sexual acts. Honor killing is also widely practiced in areas such as the Middle East and South Asia, where family members, mostly women and girls, are murdered based on the belief that they have dishonored or shamed the family. They are killed for engaging in sexual relations with unmarried men and for refusing to marry the man chosen by their family. The WHO considers such practices as a violation of human rights as they “reflect deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitute an extreme form of discrimination against women.” Despite such criticisms, many women and girls continue to be sacrificed by their own family members, due to religious and traditional beliefs.
In Latin America, because legal protection systems are unstable, many abused victims refuse to report their cases to the police, who are often corrupt. Even though the victims report their abuse, the case may end up unresolved because the police are bribed. Moreover, a stereotype called machismo is deeply rooted in Latin American culture. The Economist defines machismo as “a chest-thumping sort of masculinity that can either smother women in domesticity or degrade them.” The word embraces a traditional view of women as being vulnerable and submissive. In fact, there are men in Latin America who justify violence against their spouses through machismo. For instance, 18 years ago in Colombia, Gina Potes was attacked with acid by acid-wielding assailants hired by her husband. In an interview with BBC in 2012, she said, “when they threw acid at me they also told me: ‘It is your fault for being so pretty.’” Apparently, the macho culture condones violence against women as male perpetrators blame these victims for the attacks, and women are each time subjected to violence.
Collaborative effort to break the silence
Every year, countries around the world strive to raise awareness over domestic violence. International organizations are gathering collective efforts to prevent abuse and support victims in different ways through various campaigns, organizations, and funds. For instance, UN Women has adopted the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 to protect women rights and to prevent further abuse against women. With 189 countries that have ratified so far, the convention holds regular sessions to update and prescribe measures that ensure all women will enjoy their entitled rights. However, the convention also faces a number of limits. CEDAW holds the greatest number of reservations, especially made by Islamic countries on issues concerning equality of women in marriage and family life. Most of these reservations challenge one of the central principles of the Convention, which condemns discrimination against women in any forms. Such lack of unity leads to failure to create an international standard for protection of abused women around the world, hindering international collaboration.
In fact, the lack of worldwide collaboration is not the only problem. Victims are overwhelmed by fear and are often reluctant to report their abuse to human rights organizations, police, and courts. Women and girls are sometimes detained in their homes by their partners. Some of these victims are thus financially deprived and fear retaliation by their abusive partners. According to a 2010 report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), victims’ lack of awareness and distrust of legal systems lead to the ongoing insecurity of abused women. Therefore, the main objective of international organizations is to regain the credibility of services provided for victims.
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Domestic violence is indeed a violation of human rights. Whatever it takes, further domestic abuse must be prevented. The only effective way is to raise the victims’ trust towards protection agencies and to increase awareness around the globe on problems of domestic violence. International organizations need to inform the world how prevalent domestic violence is and how hard it is to curb it without active worldwide support. The world should effectively collaborate to hear the victims’ silent cry for help.