Archive for December, 2006

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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