Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Violence against women has many manifestations. As Zoë Mullan, writing in the latest issue of The Lancet, points out, “gender-based violence is a pervasive global issue and takes many forms – some insidious; all devastating.”
In Mullan’s article, she highlights a worrying trend in which increasing incidences of such violence is accompanied by a decrease in the funds available to tackle the problem.
This is an issue that normally only hits the headlines when the world’s media latch on to sensational cases. One such incident occurred two years ago when a 23-year-old medical student was raped and beaten by six men as she traveled on a bus in India. The woman’s injuries were so severe she died shortly after. Then, earlier this year, two teenage girls were gang-raped and hanged when they used a field near to their homes as a toilet. This horrific case also took place in India.
The world’s press turned its spotlight on India and its perceived “rape problem.” But this is not just an Indian problem. Mullan points to various studies which demonstrate clearly that violence against women is rife in many parts of the world.
One Lancet study found that “an estimated 7% of women globally have been sexually assaulted by a person who was not their partner.” This paper found that research into all forms of gender-based violence is “highly skewed towards that from studies from high-income countries” and that the resulting evaluations tended to concentrate on responses to violence, including women-centered, advocacy, and home-visitation programs as well as programs aimed at changing the behavior of the perpetrators. There is some evidence that these interventions can be effective in reducing the risk of further violence.
However, in low-income and middle-income countries, research tended to focus on violence prevention. Again, there is “promising evidence” that programs such as group training for both women and men which involve discussion about gender relationships, the acceptability of violence, greater communication and shared decision making among family members, can lead to reductions in the level of violence. In spite of these promising findings, there is no doubt that much more investment is needed for both greater research and intervention.
Another study, which concentrated on the Asia Pacific region, discovered that, in some areas, the prevalence of non-partner single perpetrator rape may be incredibly high, reaching 27% in some parts of rural Bangladesh. This research covered the incidence of male perpetration of rape of non-partner women and of men, as well as the reasons for rape and associated factors across nine sites in six countries: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka.
While these statistics on non-partner violence and rape are truly alarming, most violence against women is perpetrated by partners. Some estimates suggest that as many as 30% of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner. A study by UNICEF found that around 125 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. In some communities in countries like Egypt, Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia UNICEF found that the number of women subjected to FGM can be as high as 90%.
Mullan also points to the problem of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war in ongoing conflicts.
Recent research, published in The Lancet Global Health, also establishes a link between HIV and intimate partner violence. This is a double-edged sword for many women – forced sex can increase the risk of HIV transmission, while, if a woman discloses that she is HIV positive, this can in turn lead to further partner violence. Contributory risk factors include social norms giving men power over women, having multiple sex partners, as well as alcohol and substance misuse.
Mullan’s message is clear. Violence against women is a complex and major global issue. It is an abuse of basic human rights. It is also a serious health issue associated with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and it can cause disability, mental health problems and unwanted pregnancies.
This year, November 25 was the International Day to End Violence Against Women which was intended to mark the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Welcome though that might be, it is nowhere near enough to make major inroads into the global problem. More research is desperately needed to provide evidence for what really works at the community level. More than 80% of existing evidence comes from more affluent, high-income communities, and two-thirds concentrated on intimate partner violence only.
The United Nations has its “UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women” but donor commitments to the fund have been falling and, according to UN Director-General Ban Ki-Moon, those commitments have decreased by 60% in recent years, even though demand for grants from the fund has doubled. Tackling this global blight will need a lot more funding, initially for further research to evaluate effective strategies, and the first step is raising awareness of the enormity of the problem.
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Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online