Global: For millions of women, the family home is the cradle of men's violence-far too often lethal Print E-mail
 NI 516 - November, 2018

Keeping women in their place

As 25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Joni Seager maps the stark reality faced by women in every corner of the world - from Belarus to Brazil.

Women are 'kept in their place' in myriad ways - by economic discrimination, by legal structures that treat women as lesser beings, by denying them reproductive rights. However, it is violence, or the credible threat of it, that is by far the bluntest instrument deployed by men to control women.

Murder is the extreme culmination of the ubiquitous violence that women face every day in every part of the world. Despite its shocking ordinariness, the murder of women by men also has distinctive manifestations: femicide clusters in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Russia; dowry murders in India and Pakistan; 'honour' killings in Syria and Afghanistan. Indigenous women are at particular risk in Canada and Australia; sex workers are more vulnerable to all types of violence; and in the US, a society saturated with guns, women are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than in other high-income countries.

Margaret Atwood is widely credited for the wry observation that 'men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them'. So, while men are murdered too, often in greater numbers, women are killed because they are women.

 For millions of women, violence starts at home. Far from being a place of safety, the family is often a cradle of violence. Domestic violence is the most ubiquitous constant in women's lives around the world. Violence from a partner often escalates if a woman tries to leave the relationship - which is when men are most likely to turn to murder.

Statistics on domestic violence are notoriously unreliable. To some extent that's because violence against women is often ignored or even condoned by the state on the grounds that it is a 'private' matter. However, a rough global estimate from the World Health Organization indicates that about one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. For the majority of women, the abuse is repetitive. This may build up over time to murder. Typically, fewer than half of women who experience violence seek help, and only a small proportion of those seek help from police or through 'official' channels.

Anti-violence and feminist human rights activists are slowly shifting the structures and institutions of law, policy and government that have for centuries enabled male violence. Legal protections for women, legal sanctions against violent men, networks of women's shelters and safe houses, Take Back the Night rallies, and a stubborn insistence in calling out violence and talking about it in public have brought violence out of the shadows. But for the hundreds of thousands of women killed each year, these are insufficient defences against systemic misogyny.
Joni Seager is Professor of Global Studies at Bentley University in Boston, a geographer and global policy expert. She is consultant to the UN on gender and environmental policy. Her latest title,  (Myriad).