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2:30 am - Tuesday September 2, 2014

Violence against Women – Half the sky?

Violence against WomenThe gang-rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi and her subsequent death demand a glimpse into the world scenario on the spectrum of institutionalised violence against women. TWF correspondent Shoma A Chatterji looks at some other cultures that vindicates this unsavoury truth.

The gang-rape of the paramedic student and the unthinkable violence against her leading to her death in Delhi has shocked the nation and spontaneously launched public demonstrations against the powers-that-be.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rape cases registered in India has increased by 873.3 per cent between 1971 and 2011. Startling proof that with all the so-called improvement in educational level and better economy in the country, the violence against women has not decreased at all, but has increased manifold. This does not even cover other forms of violence against women in the country.

However, violence against women is cross-cultural because patriarchy has survived history and evaded evolution to remain a gruesome and perpetual fact to the present. “This reality is not a mere crossing from one borderline to the other, but a reality that involves the crossing of an indeterminate number of borderlines, one that remains multiple in its hyphenation” writes Trinh T. Minh-Ha, professor in Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to a 2000 Report on Violence Against Women released by the Department of Justice, USA, of the 17.6 percent of all women surveyed said they had been the victim of a completed or attempted rape at some time in their life, 21.6 percent were younger than 12 when first raped, and 32.4 percent were ages 12 to 17.
One analysis of over 30,000 police records in Britain shows that 25 per cent of all violent crimes is wife-assault. Another survey of 1000 women shows that one in six has been raped, one in three has been sexually assaulted, and one in five has been raped or sexually assaulted as a child.

One of the most horrible violence against Pakistani women is “Honour Killing” – killing in the name of honour. Men of a woman’s own family like brothers, husband or father kills a woman in the name of honour. These murders are carried out supposedly as penalty for extra-marital relationships or refusal to abide by parents’ choice of husbands. The tribal decision makers take these decisions and even the state laws are weak to offer any protection to the victims.
If we go back to the past decades, then we see equally horrific statistics. In the late 90s, a survey in Chile found that 80 per cent of the women were victims of violence in their own homes.

A retrospective study of 170 cases of murdered women in Bangladesh in 1983-85 revealed that 50 per cent of the murders occurred within the family. Attacks directed at the stomach and genitals of pregnant women causing miscarriage or a ruptured spleen are not uncommon.
Sexual assault is a huge crisis in South Africa. Currently cited statistics place the rate of rape among women and the girl child at one in three, meaning that at least 33 per cent of all women have experienced some form of sexual violence.

Prevalent ‘myths’ or attitudes about rape make it easy to perpetrate, and difficult for survivors to get community support. Most of these beliefs centre on blaming the victim. The belief that women are the property of men and ideas about men’s right to regulate and determine women’s sexuality are at the root of the problem.

Rape is often used as a weapon of war against which women have little strength. Most conflicts have their share of human migration and displacement of people (in most cases women, children and vulnerable groups). This comes with its share in host countries to set up camps where women form a majority of the population.
Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war by most of the forces involved in the conflict in the Kivu in Eastern Congo. Combatants abducted women and girls and held them for up to a year and a half, forcing them to provide both sexual services and gender-specific work.

According to the Centre for the Protection of Women and Children in post-conflict Kosovo, between 2000 – 2003 they registered 5350 victims in general, and the break-down of the violence against these victims is includes domestic violence, trafficking and forced prostitution, and institutional violence.
Feminist Gloria Steinem and Patricia Ireland, director of the National Organisation of Women point out how violence against women has been allowed and accepted throughout history. They argue that violence against women can be traced to a two thousand- year old culture that encourages male domination.

Wendy Wade of the US, a rape victim, talks about being defecated upon, bruised, raped and sodomized by two men in May, 1996 through Rophynil, the “Date Rape Drug” when she was a participant at a stock trader’s conference in Monterey, California. The urine samples she gave the doctor two days later revealed that she had been drugged with Rophynil mixed in her drink. This drug temporarily puts the victim into a semi-conscious state.

The after-effects are dangerous. The victim suffers from repeated spells of unconsciousness followed by hallucinations, and a possible degeneration of the nervous system. Her family’s first question to her after the incident was, “What were your wearing?” The detective from the homicide team in Monterey, California, helped her because his sister was raped and was going to die. So, Wade says, “He had an investment in catching these guys.” Though her two rapists were consequently nabbed through similar crimes elsewhere in the States, Wade’s life has changed forever. She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome as well as Fibromyalgia and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Biological sociologist Michael Ghighlieri argues that testosterone acts as a kick-starter for male aggression, and that violence is universal from species to species and culture to culture as a “male strategy”.

Women, as Mao Ze Dong famously said, “Hold up half the sky”. Unfortunately, the violence in many forms against women that continues into the 21st century belies those insightful words.
Women have to think constantly about personal safety. Fear overrides many of their decisions- where to live, where to walk, even what to wear.
Today when the media has morphed into a collective storyteller, the story it tells, over and over again, is that there is seemingly no safe place for a woman – in public space or private.
The Delhi violent gang-rape is just a small drop in the ocean which people call “our world”.

Posted in: Editorial

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