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26 Sep, 2010

Domestic violence against women must be stopped

Originally Published: 26 September 2010

About 30 representatives from Asia-Pacific national statistics offices, ministries responsible for women’s affairs and non-governmental organizations met at the UN’s regional commission in Bangkok last week for a workshop designed to help improve gathering of data on the widespread but largely unreported prevalence of incidence violence against women and children.

In her opening statement, Ms. Nanda Krairiksh, Director, Social Development Division, UN Economic & Commission for Asia and the Pacific, called such violence “one of the gravest violations of human rights.”

She said, “The evidence worldwide shows compellingly that violence against women affects not just the many millions of women who are victims every year, but also families, communities and whole societies. Through undermining the active participation by women in society, it seriously undermines national development efforts, including the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.”

Mrs Nanda quoted a World Health Organisation report as saying, “Intimate partner and sexual violence affect a large proportion of the population – with the majority of those directly experiencing such violence being women and the majority perpetrating it being men. The harm they cause can last a lifetime and span generations, with serious adverse affects on health, education and employment.”

Due to domestic family, social and cultural stigmas, domestic violence against women and children largely goes unreported. This, according to Mrs Nanda, makes it difficult for governments to formulate effective policies, prevention programmes and responses to help the victims. Governments need such data to protect women and to hold perpetrators accountable, she said.

The scale of the problem was clearly highlighted in the results of a study against violence against women and children conducted in the Solomon islands. Researchers visited 3,552 households, randomly selecting only one woman in each to be interviewed from eligible women 15-49 years of age. The survey used female interviewers, and supervisors trained using a standardized three week curriculum. The results showed:

(+) 64% ever partnered women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner;

(+) 42 % reported experiencing physical and /or sexual partner violence in the last 12 months;

(+) Generally, levels of intimate partner violence were higher in Honiara, the capital city, than in the provinces. These higher levels could relate to the wider availability of alcohol and social problems such as unemployment, overcrowding and high cost of living in the capital city, which may make women more vulnerable to abuse;

(+) 56% of women, who had ever been in a relationship, reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner at least once;

(+) More than half (58%) of ever-partnered women reported experiencing at least one form of controlling behaviour by an intimate partner;

(+) 18% reported experiencing physical violence by someone other than an intimate partner and 18% reported experiencing sexual non-partner violence;

(+) 37% had been sexually abused before the age of 15, with girls at risk of sexual abuse by male acquaintances and male family members. Among women who reported that they had ever had sexual intercourse; 38% reported that their first sexual experience was either coerced or forced. The younger the girl at first sexual encounter, the more likely sex was forced;

(+) Of women who had ever experienced physical or sexual partner violence, 30 % reported being injured at least once;

(+) Of women who have ever been pregnant, 11% reported being beaten during pregnancy. Among those, 18% had been punched or kicked in the abdomen when pregnant;

(+) The majority of those beaten during pregnancy had experienced physical violence before, and 63% reported that the violence was less severe during pregnancy, indicating that pregnancy may be a protective time;

For many women, the interview was the first person they had spoken to about their partner’s abuse. Of women who had experienced physical or sexual partner violence, or both, 70% reported that they had not told anyone about the violence.

Many women reported that they had never sought help from formal services (health services, legal advice, shelters) or from people in positions of authority (police, NGOs, religious or local leaders). Most of the women reported that they did not seek help because they believed that the violence was ‘normal’ or ‘not serious’.

The survey also sought to establish the most common reasons given by abused women for leaving, returning to or staying in an abuse relationship.

• Most common reasons for leaving: Could not endure anymore, badly injured, he threatened or tried to kill her and saw that children were suffering;

• Most common reasons for staying: Forgave him, loved him, didn’t want to leave children and sanctity of marriage;

• Most common reasons for returning: Violence is not normal/not serious, forgave him, loved him and for the sake of the children.

Male perpetrators reported that they most often got angry with their wife when, in their eyes, she did not live up to the gender roles that society imposes on women. For example, men reported that they became angry for these reasons – their wife did not prepare food on time, she did not complete the housework, he was jealous because she spoke with other men, or she left the house.

The most common reason given by men for hitting their wives was disobedience and almost all said that they hit their wives as a form of discipline.

The Solomon island study researchers were keen to ensuring widespread dissemination of the results, especially to the younger generation so that they “stop using ‘culture’ as a reason or excuse for perpetuating violence against women and children.”

They also wanted to see the development and implementation of a national action plan to eliminate violence against women, with women themselves playing a key role in decision-making and efforts. One key objective was to sensitise law enforcement and judiciary personnel on issues relating to violence against women and build their capacity to serve victims of violence effectively.

Last week’s workshop, jointly organised with the ESCAP Statistics Division, included a presentation of an overview of global initiatives to boost compilation of statistical data and indicators of violence against women. Participants shared experiences, information and lessons and were briefed on a survey module developed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

A key target outcome of the UN project is to create a knowledge community and website/electronic workspace for information-sharing and collaboration on gathering of statistics on violence against women and related information.