Turning the Tide: Part 1

Posted in abortion, activism, child abuse, child marriage, child molestation, child pornography, child prostitution, child rape, Defining Violence, domestic violence, dowry crimes, elderly abuse, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, HIV, honour crimes, human rights, India, intimate partner violence, mail-order brides, male perpetration, men, misogyny, molestation, pedophile, pedophiles, pedophilia, politics, porn, Pro-Feminist Men, Prostitution & Trafficking, rape, reproductive rights, sati, school violence, sex selective abortion, sex trafficking, sexual assault, sexual harassment, single mothers, slavery, social work, son preference, united nations, war, widow cleansing on December 6, 2007 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed

The fight to end violence against women is both historic and universal. Historic, because gender inequality, which lies at the root of this violence, has been embedded in human history for centuries and the movement to end it challenges history, custom and, most critically, the status quo. Universal, because no society is an exception to the fact that violence against women is perpetrated through social and cultural norms that reinforce male-dominated power structures. The struggle is nothing less than a demand for full human rights to be unconditionally extended to all people everywhere.Those engaged in this struggle recognize that despite important advances that have laid the foundation for universal human rights, the work has only just begun. In October 2004, on the 25th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the committee monitoring international implementation stated, “In no country in the world has women’s full de jure and de facto equality been achieved.”

In most countries, in fact, the reality remains bleak. Discriminatory social norms and practices continue to impede women’s full enjoyment of their human rights. Insufficient political will, the extensive under representation of women in decision-making positions and a lack of resources to address the issue are further impediments to progress.

Asserting human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted without dissent by the United Nations in 1948, recognizes the “equal and inalienable rights” of all people, “without distinction of any kind.” Violence against women contravenes a number of the fundamental human rights laid out in this Declaration such as the right to security of person; the right not to be held in slavery or subjected to inhuman treatment; the right to equal protection before the law; and the right to equality in marriage. Nevertheless, states sometimes deploy the argument of cultural relativism to defend practices that abuse women. According to the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, “The universal standards of human rights are often denied full operation when it comes to the rights of women.”

This book highlights through written description and visual representation many of the persistent expressions of gender-based violence. The testimonies of women and girls emphasise that there is no room for complacency or a false sense of rapid progress in the fight against inequality. To the countless women still suffering today, any positive changes that have been achieved must bear little relevance to their immediate reality. Nevertheless, remarkable developments have taken place in recent years, due in large part to the commitment of a few to change the behavior of many. In the face of formidable forces maintaining the patriarchal systems that give rise to both discrimination and violence against women, there is evidence that the tide may be turning.

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Female Genital Mutilation: Part 2

Posted in activism, child abuse, female genital mutilation, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, politics on January 18, 2007 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed”: 

“Attitudes sustaining the practice

Custom, religious belief and, at the heart of these, the desire to maintain a woman’s purity by restraining her sexuality have prevailed over negative health effects of FGM to perpetuate the practice. A female circumcisor from Kenya explained that the ritual is a way to ensure purity and fidelity:

“When you cut a girl, you know she will remain pure until she gets, married, and that after marriage, she will be faithful. … But when you leave a girl uncut, she sleeps with any man in the community.”

While there is no definitive evidence documenting why or when FGM began, many theorize that it provided families a means to ensure virginity before marriage. Infibulation scars in particular form a “seal” that both guarantees and confirms a bride’s chastity, and even the less severe forms of FGM may diminish girls’ and women’s sexual desire, thus decreasing the likelihood of premarital relations.

Social control of women and girls remains a primary argument for FGM even today. According to a demographic and health researcher in Eritrea, the most common defence for FGM among survey respondents was that “Chastity is a woman’s only virtue and all measures have to be taken to maintain it. … Women have to be protected, and infibulation is the defense mechanism.” Chastity is not a universal goal, however. In some communities in Kenya, Uganda and select West African countries, a girl may be expected to produce a child before marriage to prove her fertility. If she successfully delivers a baby, she will then undergo FGM and be married. In these atypical examples, FGM is practiced on older girls and women.

Both men and women who embrace the practice say that FGM promotes cleanliness, attractiveness and good health. Implicit in their view is the perception that female genitalia are dirty, unsightly and, if left in their natural state, may breed disease or be susceptible to other maladies. The tradition also increase marriage ability. FGM is believed to confer a sense of general calm on its initiates and, insofar as it decreases sexual desire, to limit the risk of extramarital affairs. In the words of one tribal elder in Kenya, “A circumcised woman will choose a partner for love, not for sex.”

In some communities, in fact, FGM is a prerequisite to marriage. Failing to comply with the tradition may constitute grounds for divorce and/or forced excision. In others, bride price may be significantly lower for an uncircumcised woman. A smaller vaginal opening is thought to increase a husband’s sexual pleasure. Despite this, FGM cannot be assumed to be solely “male-driven”. Some men currently are acknowledging the negative impact of FGM and speaking out against it, even as societies of women continue to insist that FGM is a critical rite of passage for girls.

Practiced by followers of Christianity, Islam and traditional or animist faiths, as well as some Ethiopian Jews, FGM transcends religious belief. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the fact that FGM predates Islam, research suggests that Muslims in particular associate FGM with sunnah, or “required practice”. In fact, clitoridectomy is referred to as “sunnah circumcision” in Arabic. Although most Islamic clerics actively discourage infibulation and an increasing number of imams are speaking out against any form of FGM, some maintain that lesser forms are acceptable. For example, one cleric from Ethiopia, speaking at a regional conference on female genital mutilation concluded, “This conference, and the medical research associated with it, does not show that the sunnah circumcision – cutting only the outer part of the clitoris – has caused any medical complications. … I believe that Islam condones the sunnah circumcision; it is acceptable.”

Across cultures, religions and continents, one common feature of the practice of FGM is the social conditioning of women and girls to accept and defend it. Longstanding traditions and social norms have ordained FGM as a social imperative that promotes the future wellbeing of girls. In most communities, song and poems are used to deride and taunt unexcised girls. Myths similarly help to ensure FGM’s perpetuation. In Nigeria, for example, some communities believe that if a baby’s head touches the clitoris during delivery, the infant will die. Community and family pressure to conform to traditional practices is great for both mothers and girls, and mothers are often the primary actors responsible for their ‘daughters’ mutilation. In the words of one mother who was interviewed at a refugee camp in Kenya, “The practice adds to a family’s prestige in the community. Who would not want to bring honour to her family?”

There are economic aspects to FGM as well. The practice is an important source of income for cicumcisors, who most often are female. In impoverished settings, the financial impetus can be strong. The social support of secret societies also can be compelling, as one 26-year-old female cicumcisor explained: “I was circumcised at 13 and have myself circumcised 23 girls since then. This is the only way I earn a living and feed my children. I was a school when my parents were killed – I had nobody to take care of me and entered the secret society. It was from there I got married.”

Response: from legislation to prevention

In the 1970s and 1980s, FGM gained international attention as a critical health issue for women and girls. As a result, women’s advocates have broadened the discourse surrounding FGM to include gendered considerations of women’s subordination and oppression, acknowledging FGM as a violation of internationally recognized human rights, including the rights to life, liberty and freedom from torture. Largely in response to the worldwide action of numerous local and international organizations, the WHO launched a 20-year-old plan in 1997 to accelerate the elimination of FGM. Since its inception, the WHO initiative has informed individual country plans to eradicate the practice.

Implicitly denounced in several international treaties and conventions that condemn harmful traditional practices, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), FGM is explicitly condemned in the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination Against Violence Against Women (1993), the Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and its Protocol on Women’s Rights (2003).

Many Western countries receiving immigrants from settings where FGM is customary have passed laws forbidding the practice, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. France has used existing legislation to prosecute FGM cases.

At the national level, 14 of the 28 African countries with cultures that perform FGM have instituted legislation prohibiting the practice, most in the last decade, including Benin (enacted in 2003), Burkina Faso (1996), Central African Republic (1966), Chad (2003), Cote d’Ivoire Kenya (2001), Niger (2003), Senegal (1999), Tanzania (1998) and Togo (1998). Nigeria has state laws outlawing FGM (1999-2002), and Egypt’s health ministry declared FGM unlawful and punishable under the penal code (1996).

Infibulation was outlawed in Sudan in 1946 and again following Sudan’s independence in 1956, but the 1993 penal code does not explicitly prohibit FGM. Nor do several other countries with a high prevalence of FGM have laws proscribing the practice, including Eritrea (95 percent prevalence), the Gambia (60 percent to 90 percent), Guinea Bissau (50 percent), Liberia (50 to 60 percent), Sierra Leone (90 percent) and Mali (90 percent). Although no laws in Mali prohibit FGM, the Ministry of Women, Children and Family has developed a national plan for eliminating the practice by the year 2007.

Despite progress in legislation, enforcement of anti-FGM laws in countries where they exist is often poor. Even more importantly, according to the president of the Research , Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women (RAINBO), “Social change will not be attained through legal or punitive action alone.” Many experts argue that laws preventing FGM are valuable for underpinning education efforts and giving credibility to those working to eradicate harmful practices, but criminalizing FGM practitioners can inhibit critical discussion and encourage those involved to “go underground” in order to continue the practice, making an already dangerous procedure even more perilous.”

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Male perpetration: Part 3

Posted in activism, domestic violence, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, honour crimes, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, politics, rape on January 1, 2007 by breatheinspirit

 The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

“A dangerous catalyst

Studies of the link between intimate-partner violence and rape and substance abuse indicate that “a larger proportion of incidences of physical and sexual violence involve alcohol or drug use by perpetrator, victim or both.” Research has shown that sexually aggressive dates are more likely to drink heavily or use drugs. Other studies mention that while the consumption of alcohol may lower inhibition for some men who are predisposed to sexual aggression, the pharmacological effect of alcohol on physical arousal may actually impede a man’s ability to complete a rape.

Numerous testimonies from battered and sexually abused women confirm that alcohol – while not a cause of violence – can be a common catalyst to abuse. Research indicates an association between heavy alcohol consumption and sexual and physical violence against women, but it is unclear, however, how alcohol increases the risk of violence. Drunkenness can provide an excuse for antisocial behavior, such that men feel they will not be held accountable for their actions. There is evidence that men with alcohol problems tend to be violent more frequently and inflict more serious injuries on their partners.

Dishonouring women and girls

“Pakistani police have arrested five men on charges of kidnapping and gang-raping a woman in the latest of a string of so-called honour crimes. The married women was attacked because one of her male cousins had an affair with a woman whose father disapproved of the relationship, police said…”

Despite popular perceptions, the concept of “honour” as a pivotal force around which family and society are formed is by no means the monopoly of muslim culture. Research in Latin America, Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East, as well northern and sub-Saharan Africa, shows that patriarchal models of honour dominate cultural and social arrangements. The threat to women’s basic human rights and personal safety is severe in these environments, where perpetrators of honour-restoring violence neither see themselves as wrongdoers, nor as seen as wrongdoers by their society. In the preceding example from July 2005, the perpetrators were required to carry out the judgment on orders from a village council in a rural area in Pakistan where tribal customs still hold sway.

Honour crimes have been described as a “retrogressive patriarchal tradition”/. They are based on the idea that a man’s honour is predicated largely on his ability to control the behavior, especially sexual, of his womenfolk. Institutions that foster male domination and sexual segregation have accordingly become fundamental to the social order in such societies.

In a context that would be considered extraordinary outside of these communities, a father, a brother or uncle may be the perpetrator of femicide and not consider it a crime or anything other than the right thing to do. “This is my daughter’s wedding night and those people are pretending my daughter is not a virgin,” an Algerian father shouts to doctors at 3 a.m. in a hospital emergency room. “I want you to examine her and clear my honour. I swear if she is not a virgin I will kill her right now.” Loss of virginity, or perceived loss of virginity, brings permanent dishonour to an unmarried woman and her family. The only way to cleanse the family honour is to kill the woman.

In these cultures, the police and judiciary display gender bias in favour of men who have killed women or girls for alleged breaches of honour. Where there is legislation, it is often ineffective in prosecutions and frequently regarded as Western or modern/urban by communities that predominantly live according to centuries-old customary law and informal tribal jurisdiction.

Documented cases from Brazil, Palestine, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon (amongst many other countries) illustrate present-day examples of lenient judgments for wife murdering. This exists on a universal scale and therefore does “not result from religious or cultural factors but from a shared attitude to do with a woman’s worth and their proper role in society. In such cases the perpetrator may even be exonerated.

In these contexts what can we say of the perpetrators? Are they individuals guilty of gross human rights abuses and murder or are they part of a culture, a system which is collectively perpetrating these abuses?”

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Dowry crimes and bride-price abuse

Posted in Asia, Defining Violence, domestic violence, dowry crimes, gender stereotypes, gender violence, India, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, politics on December 17, 2006 by breatheinspirit

 The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

“The persistence of dowry crimes

As many analysts and women’s activists are quick to point out, femicide by husbands is not unique to India, nor is it more prevalent there than in many other parts of the world. The rate of intimate-partner violence in the United States, for example, is at least commensurate with that of India when compared on the basis of population. The women’s movement in India, however, has gone to great lengths to publicize this particular form of violence against women, shedding light on the combined forces – including the lack of basic human rights and the tolerance of violence against them – that put some women and girls in mortal danger at the hands of their partners.

Although India outlawed the modern dowry system in 1961, the practice has escalated among the expanding middle class, crossing religious, socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries. The National Crimes Record Bureau of the Government of India recorded 6,917 dowry-related deaths in 1998, a 15 percent increase over the number reported in 1997. Because incidents are grossly underreported, these statistics probably represent only a small sampling of the violence occurring across India every day. In 1999, the founder of the International Society against Dowry and Bride Burning in India estimated that 25,000 brides are killed or maimed each year as a result of dowry disputes. In 2000, a United Nations report estimated that on average five Indian women a day were killed in “accidental” kitchen fires by husbands whose demands for dowry payments had not been met. “Mina” is one of these statistics.

Beaten and harassed by her husband for almost four years for not bringing in enough dowry, Mina eventually left him and filed a harassment case with the local police. Her husband convinced her to return to him, however, and shortly thereafter she suffered a fatal “accident”. According to her husband and his family, Mina “fell on a chimney.” As she lay dying from the burns that covered more than 94 percent of her body, Mina was asked by police – as is customary – to make a declaration regarding the accident. She did so, absolving her husband and his family of any responsibility for her death.

From empowerment to exploitation

A chief historic motivation for bestowing dowry, as practiced in ancient Greece, Rome, India and medieval Europe, was to provide a degree of financial autonomy to a bride, how otherwise had little or no right to property after marriage. According to various traditions, dowry might flow from the groom and/or his family to the bride – thus ensuring her economic wellbeing in the event of her husband’s death or the dissolution of the marriage – or from the bride’s parents to the bride and her new husband, as a form of bequest, or premortem inheritance, for their daughter.

Now practiced primarily in Asian cultures, dowry payment in its current manifestation typically involves the transfer of wealth from the parents of the bride to the groom and his family. Although women and girls are no longer the direct beneficiaries, some researchers maintain that the practice still confers benefits to the bride by enhancing her status in the marital home. Evidence from India, however, indicates that the positive effects of dowry for wives have more than diminished. Once considered a beneficent and even spiritual act observed only by the wealthiest and holiest castes (with the lower castes practicing the more pragmatic tradition of bride price, involving compensation by the groom’s family to the bride’s family for the loss of human capital), the dowry system today often functions more as a commercial transaction and has been resolutely embraced by the middle and lower classes.

India’s modern dowry: groom price

Several theories have been advanced to explain why the middle and lower classes in India replaced the custom of bride price with the dowry system. Some suggest that it was an attempt by lower casts to emulate higher castes. Dowry payment became a status symbol, one that bestowed greater respectability on the bride and her family and increased the likelihood of the bride “marrying up”. It continues today because of caste-related systems of wealth dispersion. Another hypothesis contends that the interrelated influences of colonialism and the rise of a male-dominated market economy led to the devaluation of women, who lost their productive worth.

Others cite demographic shifts in South Asia as a possible reason for the change. Reductions in overall mortality that began about 60 years ago have resulted in there being more young people than old in the region. Because women are likely to marry at a younger age than men, there is a surplus of marriageable women. Increasingly inflated dowry payments are sometimes six times the bride’s family’s annual income. These dowries now function as a groom price – a means for young women to compete for respectable husbands. According to this hypothesis, recent declines in fertility and increases in sex-selective abortions should reverse the trend of escalating dowries over time and may even result in a return to bride price as the shortage of eligible women and girls results in men competing for wives.”

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Sexual Assault and Harassment: Part 2

Posted in child marriage, child rape, Defining Violence, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment on December 4, 2006 by breatheinspirit

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed“:

“Generating reliable data on sexual violence

According to a sexual violence expert from the United States, “rape appears in many guises” and, as such, requires careful investigative methods that capture the range of women’s and girl’s experiences. When researchers use narrow definitions of sexual violence, the reported rates of sexual crimes are likely to be relatively low. Crime-victim surveys reflect this: While they are useful because of their broad scope and comparable methodology, questions on sexual violence may not discriminate between different types of sexual assaults and/or perpetrators. In data presented by the WHO on a select number of crime-victim surveys, rates of reported sexual victimization (recorded in the five years to each survey) range from less than 2 percent in Bolivia, Botswana, China and the Philippines to 5 percent or more in Albania, Argentina, Brazil and Columbia.

Although still scarce and somewhat difficult to compare because of differences in data-collection techniques and definitions used, more targeted sexual violence surveys typically generate higher rates of reporting among participants. A variety of such surveys from the United States, for example, suggest that between 14 percent and 20 percent of the general population of women in that country will be raped at least once in their lifetime. In the Czech Republic, 11.6 percent of women responding to a national survey reported that they had experienced forced sexual contact, most commonly in the form of vaginal intercourse. Forty percent of a random sample of 420 women in Toronto, Canada, reported at least one episode of forced sexual intercourse since the age of 16. Specific subgroups are at an even greater risk. Research from the United States on women with disabilities, for example, indicates they are at one-and-a-half time greater risk of sexual victimization than women without disabilities.

The use of explicit questions in these surveys helps to overcome underreporting related to biases or preconceptions associated with the semantics of rape. Even employing the language of forced or coerced sex, rather than rape, can produce more accurate estimates of women’s and girl’s exposure to sexual violence. In a South African Study, 11 percent of the adolescents surveyed said they had been raped, but further 72 percent reported being subjected to forced sex. A survey of unmarried adolescents seeking abortions in 17 hospitals in China found that 48 percent had experienced sexual coercion at least once.

An increasing number of studies have focused on the issue of coerced or forced sexual initiation among adolescent girls. Average estimates of coerced first sex among adolescents around the world range from 10 percent to 30 percent, but in some settings, such as Cameroon and Peru, the number is closer to 40 percent. In a survey of high school students in Korea, 39 percent of sexually active females reported that their first experience of sex was the result of force or pressure from their partner. Studies of nine countries in the Caribbean estimated that incidents of forced first intercourse were as high as 48 percent.

 Identifying the Perpetrators

Many studies have confirmed that most perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the victim. In fact, according to the WHO, “One of the most common forms of sexual violence around the world is that which is perpetrated by an intimate partner.” In a recent study of a representative sample of married and unmarried young men and women in Kenya, more than one in five sexually experienced young women had been subjected to nonconsensual sex. Those who had been married were at a greater risk of coercion than respondents who had never been married, and husbands were often identified as perpetrators. Other studies from around the world that have specifically investigated intimate-partner violence suggest that on average one in five women has been forced to have sex by her partner – in some settings those numbers are much higher. In general, sexual assaults by intimate partners are reported tow to eight times more often than assaults by strangers.

One sexual violence expert concluded, “The most important lesson learned about interpersonal violence in the past 20 years is how frequently it is perpetrated by apparently normal individuals.” Rather than verifying assumptions that rape is committed by a small number of disturbed men, research suggests that many men around the world share the attitudes and beliefs necessary to commit an act of sexual violence. In other words, the “high prevalence of rape largely reflects a high level of social tolerance of the crime.”

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Sexual Assault and Harassment: Part 1

Posted in feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment on November 20, 2006 by breatheinspirit

 The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed”:

“Debunking the Rape Myth

Common myths and assumptions related to sexual violence are shared the world over. They often reflect and reinforce social attitudes and customs that aggrandize male aggression while at the same time purporting female passivity. In many settings, sexual activity is popularly represented as a “battle of the sexes”, in which sexually driven men are expected to compel sexually hesitant women. The implicit message is that it is socially acceptable for sexual transactions between men and women to involve some degree of force. The explicit outcome is that the majority of victims of sexual violence around the world are female, and the majority of perpetrators are male.

Ideas about what constitutes “unacceptable” sexual behavior between men and women more often serve to protect the status quo of male dominance, such that “the volition, perceptions, and feelings of the woman or girl: are “amazingly absent from most cultural definitions of violence.” Determinations of the moral, legal or social permissibility of a given sex act are more likely to focus on the context in which it occurs – “who did it to whom and under what circumstance” – rather than on “the act itself or its impact of the woman.” This failure to consider the rights and wellbeing of women and girls is vividly demonstrated in nearly universal attitudes towards rape.

According to conventional assumptions prevalent across cultures, rape primarily happens in dark alleys or other remote locations, is committed by strangers and involves physical brutality. The act of rape is a social aberration and, therefore, a rare event. Following this logic is the notion that the majority of rapists are sociopaths – mentally ill men who have uncontrollable sexual urges. If they are not part of the “lunatic fringe”, then they are men who have been unnaturally provoked by sexually promiscuous women. In the latter model, responsibility to prevent rape falls to the potential victim, a sentiment illustrated in the recommendations of a Malaysian parliamentarian who argued, “Women should wear purdah [head to toe covering] to ensure that innocent men do not get unnecessarily excited by women’s bodies and are not unconsciously forced into becoming rapists. If women do now want to fall prey to such men, they should take the necessary precautions instead of forever blaming the men.

Such delimiting characterizations of sexual violence support impunity for the average rapist, not only because they blame the victim, but also because they disguise the global reality: that sexual assault, including rape, is more often perpetrated by someone known to the victim and occurs in her own home or in another familiar environment. Rape does not necessarily involve physical force, and the perpetrator need not be pathological. Evidence from countries around the world confirms that while the classic “stranger” rape does exist, it represents only the “tip of the iceberg” of sexual assault. Understanding the true extent of sexual violence is fraught with a number of challenges, not least of which is defining exactly what it entails.

Coercion, consent and choice

In the last 20 to 30 years, women’s rights activists have emphasized the basic human rights of women and girls – and the accountability of men and boys in respecting those rights – when differentiating between acceptable sexual contact and sexual violence. They suggest that force is not inevitable of control over women. Their work has informed contemporary definitions of sexual violence, which increasingly challenge conventional stereotypes that interpret “real” sexual violence only in the context of stranger rape.

In a 2002 global report on violence and health the World Health Organization (WHO) defined sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence involving bodily contact. Rape is a further delineating form of sexual assault that entails “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.

A key determinant of sexual violence within this definition is the issue of coercion – which may involve physical force but also can involve “psychological intimidation, blackmail or threats – for instance the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when the person aggressed is unable to give consent – for instance, while drunk, drugged, asleep, or mentally incapable of understanding the situation.:

By emphasizing the concept of coercion rather than physical force, the WHO definition of sexual violence calls attention to the potentially wide range of behaviors that violate the rights of the victim. A definition based solely or even primarily on coercion presents challenges, however, because what amounts to coercion may be highly contested by those involved: A victim may experience behaviors as highly coercive when the perpetrator does not. To overcome ambiguities inherent in interpretations of coercion, many women’s rights activists have stressed the primacy of consent.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has described consent as the “legal dividing line between rape and sexual intercourse.” Another expert explained that a definition of sexual violence based on consent “recognizes and ratifies a simple principle … [which is] our personal sovereignty. We have the right not to be acted upon unless we wish to be acted upon and communicate that wish to the actor. Our silence is not our permission.”

Other feminist theorists prefer the concept of choice to that of consent because “it does not implicitly assume that men initiate all sexual overtures.” The language of choice, even more so than consent, underscores and promotes female autonomy in sexual relations.

Choice is the exception, rather than the rule, however, for many women and girls around the world. A teenage girl in South Africa observed, “Forced sex is the norm. It is the way people interact sexually.” In qualitative research in Zimbabwe, young women acknowledged their powerlessness in sexual relationships: “A woman can refuse, but then this woman will run the risk that she will be forced into sex. I would like to change it, but it cannot be done because a woman needs to follow the man.”

Even when choice is clearly absent, many women and girls who suffer sexual assault still may not view their victimization as rape because their experience is not represented in hegemonic definitions of sexual violence. Based on encounters reported by a national sample of college women in the United States, researchers concluded that from one-fifth to one-quarter of all college women are at risk of an attempted or completed rape during their college years. However, for those respondents whose experiences were categorized as completed rape according to the standard definition used by the researchers, only 46.5 percent believed the incident to be rape. Forty-nine percent said it wasn’t rape, and 4.7 percent said they did not know.

Any attempts to study sexual violence must understand this important distinction. As one women’s rights advocate noted, “Just because a woman doesn’t call it rape, doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel violated.”

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Honour Crimes

Posted in domestic violence, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, honour crimes, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, politics, rape on November 14, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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“A culturally condoned atrocity

A young Bangladesh woman was flogged to death by order of village clerics for “immoral behaviour”. An Egyptian man paraded the head of his daughter on a stick through the streets of his neighborhood after he killed her for besmirching his name. A teenager’s throat was slit in Turkey because a love ballad was dedicated to her over the radio. A Pakistani woman was gunned down by her own family in the presence of her human rights lawyer for pursuing a divorce from her abusive husband. A 13-year-old Turkish girl’s husband slit her throat in a public square after pulling her out of a cinema and accusing her of being a prostitute. A 35-year-old Jordanian man shot and killed his sister for reporting to the police that she had been raped. A Turkish girl was killed by her father for telling the authorities that she had been raped and then refusing his demand that she marry the rapist. A 29-year-old woman was dragged from her house in Afghanistan by her husband and local officials stoned her to death for committing adultery, while the man with whom she was alleged to have had an affair was whipped and then freed.

Each of these executions was committed within the past five years in the name of “honour”. Many of the perpetrators received no criminal penalties; others served only short sentences. Considered justifiable punishment for a wide range of perceived offences, contemporary honour crimes are based on archaic codes of social conduct that severely circumscribe female behavior while at the same time legitimizing male violence against women.

Honour crimes are typically engineered by male family members but often tacitly or explicitly condoned by the community and/or the state. In many countries the responsibility for the murder itself is assigned to an underage male, thus ensuring a (reduced) juvenile sentence in the event the case is prosecuted. In most instances, the murderer is hailed as a “true man”. It is also not unheard of for female family members to act as accomplices to the killing or even to carry out the murder itself.

Global prevalence

In recent reports, both the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial and Summary Executions have highlighted the egregious type of violence against women, citing incidents in Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India, Italy, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Yemen, as well as among migrant communities in Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Honour crimes also have been reported in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The actual scale of the problem is impossible to determine. In many cases deaths are not registered; in others murders are made to look like suicides, or women are forced or induced by their families to kill themselves. Burns or acid attacks not resulting in death often are attributed to accidents, a claim which victims may not refute for fear of further reprisals. In societies where these crimes occur, protection and support are often extended to the perpetrator rather than to the victim.

Despite the lack of reliable statistical data, estimates based on reviews of police reports and court dockets, newspaper articles and other sources in a variety of countries suggest that thousands of women and girls are murdered each year in the name of honour. Anecdotal evidence from Pakistan, for example, suggests that more than 1,000 women are victims of honour crimes annually. Over one-third of femicides in Jordan are thought to be such killings. In Turkey, an annual report of the Human Rights Association concluded that more than half of women killed by family members in 2003 were victims of honour crimes.

In 1997, the former attorney general of the Palestinian National Authority suggested that 70 percent of all murders of women in Gaza and the West Bank were honour crimes. In the same year, as many as 400 honour killings took place in Yemen, and 57 were reported in Egypt. In late 2004, 117 murders in the United Kingdom were being investigated as possible honour killings. In Lebanon, 36 honour crimes were reported between 1996 and 1998.

According to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, the number of honour killings “is on the rise as the perception of what constitutes honour and what damages it widens.” Its global prevalence suggests that honour crimes are not unique to specific cultures, religions or classes. In fact, the justification has its roots in various social and legal systems around the world.”

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