Violence against women

Violence against women (VAW), also known as gender-based violence[1] and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)[2] are violent acts when they are primarily or exclusively committed against women or girls. Such violence is often considered a form of hate crime,[3] committed against women or girls specifically because they are female. VAW has a very long history, though the incidents and intensity of such violence has varied over time and even today varies between societies. Such violence is often seen as a mechanism for the subjugation of women, whether in society in general or in an interpersonal relationship. Such violence may arise from a sense of entitlement, superiority, misogyny or similar attitudes in the perpetrator, or because of his violent nature, especially against women.

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states, "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women" and "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men."[4]

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared in a 2006 report posted on the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) website:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.[5]

Violence against women can fit into several broad categories. These include violence carried out by individuals as well as states. Some of the forms of violence perpetrated by individuals are: rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive coercion, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, obstetric violence, and mob violence; as well as harmful customary or traditional practices such as honor killings, dowry violence, female genital mutilation, marriage by abduction and forced marriage. Some forms of violence are perpetrated or condoned by certain states[which?] such as war rape; sexual violence and sexual slavery during conflict; forced sterilization; forced abortion; violence by the police and authoritative personnel; stoning and flogging. Many forms of VAW, such as trafficking in women and forced prostitution are often perpetrated by organized criminal networks.[6]

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its research on VAW, has analyzed and categorized the different forms of VAW occurring through all stages of life from before birth to old age.[7]

In recent years, there has been a trend of approaching VAW at an international level through means such as conventions or, in the European Union, through directives (such as the directive against sexual harassment, and the directive against human trafficking).[8][9]

Definition

A number of international instruments that aim to eliminate violence against women and domestic violence have been enacted by various international bodies. These generally start with a definition of what such violence is, with a view to combating such practices. The Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) of the Council of Europe describes VAW “as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women“ and defines VAW as "all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.[10]

The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of the United Nations General Assembly makes recommendations relating to VAW,[11] and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action mentions VAW.[12] However, the 1993 United Nations General Assembly resolution on the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was the first international instrument to explicitly define VAW and elaborate on the subject.[13] Other definitions of VAW are set out in the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women[14] and by the 2003 Maputo Protocol.[15]

In addition, the term gender-based violence refers to "any acts or threats of acts intended to hurt or make women suffer physically, sexually or psychologically, and which affect women because they are women or affect women disproportionately".[16] The definition of gender-based violence is most often "used interchangeably with violence against women",[17] and some articles on VAW reiterate these conceptions by suggesting that men are the main perpetrators of this violence.[18] Moreover, the definition stated by the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women also supported the notion that violence is rooted in the inequality between men and women when the term violence is used together with the term 'gender-based.'[17]

In Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence, the Council of Europe stipulated that VAW "includes, but is not limited to, the following":[19]

a. violence occurring in the family or domestic unit, including, inter alia, physical and mental aggression, emotional and psychological abuse, rape and sexual abuse, incest, rape between spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants, crimes committed in the name of honour, female genital and sexual mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, such as forced marriages;
b. violence occurring within the general community, including, inter alia, rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in institutions or elsewhere trafficking in women for the purposes of sexual exploitation and economic exploitation and sex tourism;
c. violence perpetrated or condoned by the state or its officials;
d. violation of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict, in particular the taking of hostages, forced displacement, systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and economic exploitation.

These definitions of VAW as being gender-based are seen by some to be unsatisfactory and problematic. These definitions are conceptualized in an understanding of society as patriarchal, signifying unequal relations between men and women.[20] Opponents of such definitions argue that the definitions disregard violence against men and that the term gender, as used in gender based violence, only refers to women. Other critics argue that employing the term gender in this particular way may introduce notions of inferiority and subordination for femininity and superiority for masculinity.[21][22] There is no widely accepted current definition that covers all the dimensions of gender-based violence rather than the one for women that tends to reproduce the concept of binary oppositions: masculinity versus femininity.[6]