NOVEMBER 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day was recognized by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1999 with a view to raising public awareness of violations of the rights of women. Why was this step deemed necessary?
In many cultures women are viewed and treated as inferior or as second-class citizens. Prejudices against them are deep-rooted. Gender-based violence in all its forms is an ongoing problem, even in the so-called developed world. According to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “violence against women is global in reach, and takes place in all societies and cultures. It affects women no matter what their race, ethnicity, social origin, birth or other status may be.”
Radhika Coomaraswamy, former UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, says that for the vast majority of women, violence against women is “a taboo issue, invisible in society and a shameful fact of life.” Statistics issued by a victimology institution in Holland indicate that 23 percent of women in one South American country, or about 1 in 4, suffer some form of domestic violence. Likewise, the Council of Europe estimates that 1 in 4 European women suffers domestic violence during her lifetime. According to the British Home Office, in England and Wales in one recent year, an average of two women each week were killed by current or former partners. The magazine India Today International reported that “for women across India, fear is a constant companion and rape is the stranger they may have to confront at every corner, on any road, in any public place, at any hour.” Amnesty International describes violence against women and girls as today’s “most pervasive human rights challenge.”
Machismo—A Global Problem
Latin America has given the word “machismo” to the English-speaking world. It refers to aggressive masculine pride and implies an abusive attitude toward women. But machismo is by no means confined to Latin America, as the following reports indicate.
Egypt: A three-month study in Alexandria indicated that domestic violence is the principal cause of injuries to women. It is the cause of 27.9 percent of all visits by women to local trauma services.—Résumé 5 of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Thailand: In Bangkok’s largest suburb, 50 percent of married women are beaten regularly.—Pacific Institute for Women’s Health.
Hong Kong: “The number of women who say they have been beaten by their partners has soared by more than 40 per cent in the past year.”—South China Morning Post, July 21, 2000.
Japan: The number of women seeking shelter rose from 4,843 in 1995 to 6,340 in 1998. “About one-third said they were seeking shelter because of violent behavior by their husbands.”—The Japan Times, September 10, 2000.
Britain: “A rape, beating or stabbing occurs in a home somewhere across Britain every six seconds.” According to a Scotland Yard report, “police receive 1,300 calls from victims of domestic violence every day—more than 570,000 a year. Eighty-one per cent are female victims attacked by males.”—The Times, October 25, 2000.
Peru: Seventy percent of all crimes reported to police involve women beaten by their husbands.—Pacific Institute for Women’s Health.
Russia: “In one year, 14,500 Russian women were killed by their husbands, and a further 56,400 were disabled or badly injured in domestic attacks.”—The Guardian.
China: “It is a new problem. It’s rapidly increasing, especially in urban areas,” says Professor Chen Yiyun, director of the Jinglun Family Center. “Pressure from neighbours no longer checks domestic violence.”—The Guardian.
Nicaragua: “Violence against women in Nicaragua is soaring. One survey claimed that last year alone 52 per cent of Nicaraguan women suffered some form of domestic violence at the hands of their men.”—BBC News.