December 16th, 2009 | Posted in Gender
by Karin Ringheim, senior policy advisor, International Programs
One has only to read a single issue of The Washington Post to be painfully reminded of the tremendous toll that violence against women takes, both in the U.S. and across the globe. On a single day, the Post’s Metro section referenced the violent deaths of seven women in the DC metro area:
- “Doctor gets 30 years for killing wife”
- “Kensington man [who] killed his wife’s elderly aunt with a 40 lb dumbbell” sentenced
- “Man convicted of killing his teenaged girlfriend over $2 three weeks after she had given birth to his child.”
- “Man who strangled his girlfriend and hid her body…. sentenced.”
- “Virginia woman [who] predicted her death had dropped the restraining order against her husband the day before she was found dead.”
- “Investigators in Rockville stabbing look at relationship with husband”
- “Man convicted of killing wife in Montgomery.”
The front section of the same paper referenced both national and international violence against women:
- A Colorado man convicted of “kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 25 year old woman” gets a new sentence hearing
- In Chicago, “the boyfriend…was charged with murder after he admitted beating her the night she died”
- According to the General Accounting Office, sexual abuse of women and girls “is pervasive and present in almost all refugee settings” in which millions of women and children live
- In Afghanistan, “hundreds of human rights organizations report that women and girls who dare to walk the streets alone are subject to harassment and violence.”
This issue of the Post was not atypical. Globally, violence accounts for 7 percent of deaths among women ages 15 to 44, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly half of all women who die by homicide are killed by a current or former spouse or boyfriend. But deaths from homicide do not begin to reflect the contribution that violence makes to women’s death from other causes, including suicide, maternal deaths, and HIV/AIDS. Nor does it convey the tremendous emotional and physical toll on women of experiencing physical, sexual and emotional violence throughout their lives, including during pregnancy.
Violence against women is generally more prevalent in societies in which women have little power and where rigid gender norms condone controlling behavior among men and submissive behavior among women, but the United States does not stand up well in comparison to most of the developed world or even to some developing countries. In the United States, eight times as many women are victims of homicide each year as is true in Great Britain.
A new survey underway or completed in a number of countries, the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), is shedding light on men’s attitudes and behaviors on a wide range of issues, including gender-based violence. Initial findings from IMAGES show that among the factors associated with men’s perpetration of violence against women are a childhood experience of violence, men’s belief in inequitable gender norms, and men’s economic disempowerment, stress or shame due to underemployment or unemployment.
The first two factors are actionable by parents, to assure that children of either sex do not experience or witness verbal or physical abuse in their own homes, and that daughters are raised on an equal footing with sons. Teachers, coaches and communities can implement gender equitable practices and zero tolerance for disrespectful treatment of girls. The third factor, men’s economic disempowerment, requires structural change, whether in developing countries or here in the United States. While perpetration of violence crosses all boundaries of race, income and social class, black men are clearly at greater risk based on economic disempowerment. Official unemployment among black men age 20 and above in the U.S. is nearly 17 percent and more black men are in prison here than are in college. Early investment in helping boys succeed in school and emerge with marketable job skills is a big part of the investment needed to reduce future violence against women.
On December 3, as part of the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, PRB and PATH sponsored an event at the National Press Club. An upcoming blog post will focus on strategies offered by the four presenters, champions of work with men to stop violence against women in the United States and globally.