Soraya Chemaly Headshot

Violence Against Women Is a Global Pandemic

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DOMESTIC ABUSE
alamy

Violence against women is a global pandemic? Like H1N1? Like in Contagion? No way. Think of your instinctive response to the idea of a worldwide bio-terror -- that's what your response should be to the normalized level of violence against women around the world. Because, here's the thing: women are not a special interest group and fighting for the ability to live without violence is not a pet project.

Think I'm exaggerating, don't you? Until I became aware of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which kicked off on November 25, I might have thought so, too. That's because we, as a culture, embrace the glamourization of misogyny instead of considering its ill effects and trying to change norms. As far as collective awareness goes, we'd rather pass -- sexy is so much more fun than sad.

Case in point: anyone else find it interesting that the 16 Days campaign is bookended by the releases of Breaking Dawn, a movie that pivots on male/female violence, love, pain, sex and death and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not the original name of the series, the title was changed for the English language market from Men Who Hate Women. Steig Larsson's trilogy, packed with explicit scenes of sadistic gender-based violence, is a global female vigilante revenge fantasy against male perpetrators of rape, trafficking and murder. The story, which features a man-repellant protaganist, was not originally designed to glamorize violence against women -- hence the original name, which was simple and honest. However, the intent has been subverted by the name change and at least the initial marketing of the American version of the film, which Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, described as the "pornification of Lisbeth Salander" when the first poster for the movie featured a naked, nipple-pierced, Mara Rooney as the violent and distinctly not stereotypically female heroine, being protectively embraced by a scowling Daniel Craig (whom I actually love for his cross-dressing We are Equals campaign).

The original name left nothing to the imagination or interpretation. Was the blunt and accurate title, with it's unsettling and intense misogyny, too harsh, too indicting, too real?

Was "hate" too strong a word? Think there aren't men who really hate women or think of them, because they are not male, as subhuman, which makes violence somehow more acceptable or inevitable? Maybe you think this is a third world problem, a race or a class specific problem? I know that there are readers who will immediately assume that I'm condemning all men for the actions of a few. In any of these cases, you might want to consider these statistics*:

Consider femicide, which is the murder of women because they are women:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by an intimate partner.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India in 2007, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Honor killings, the murder of women for bringing shame to their families, happen all over the world, including the US.

What about slavery, which is what trafficking is?

  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • This number is on the low end. The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.5 million people worldwide are victims, of which over half live in Asia Pacific.
  • Trafficking, in the form of the importation of female sex slaves and use of children as sex workers, is on the rise in the U.S. and internationally has reached epic proportions.
Still not outraged? Because if not, there are always euphemistically titled "harmful practices" -- which are violent forms of torture and rape. For example:
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting. Every year more than 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of the practice.
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, another euphemism if I ever heard one, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • These numbers don't include bride burning, suspicious dowry-related "suicides" and "accidental" deaths or other hateful acts.

Now we're at plain old domestic and sexual violence:

  • Every nine seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
  • As many as one in four women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy, for example, which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion.
  • Up to 53 percent of women in the world are physically abused by their intimate partners - defined as either being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is so much fun to visit, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 per cent of cases.

According to the US Department of Justice, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. (overwhelmingly women). One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That is almost 20 percent of our population and the US Justice Department acknowledges that rape is the most underreported crime in the nation.

Worldwide, the numbers are staggering for rape and sexual assault. Especially when you take a look at rape as a tactic and weapon of war. Millions of women (and children) have been raped as the result of the systemized weaponization of men to "dishonor" their enemies. Most recently, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo alone, more than 400,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented -- a rate of 48 women an hour.

Getting tired, depressed? Almost done.

At the end of the spectrum is relatively "benign" harassment, including sexual harassment at work and street harassment, which I've written about extensively in the past two months.

  • Between 40 and 50 per cent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. Sexual harassment and street harassment are symptoms of a much deeper problem made viscerally evident by the statistics above.
  • In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools. . Worldwide between 87% and 98% of women surveyed report persistent, aggressive street harassment that alters the course of their day, their ability to earn a living, go to school, feel safe, achieve equality.
What You Can Do About It?

The goal of this year's 16 Days campaign is simple: to study, make known and help abolish the causes of violence against women. This year, the campaign's emphasis is challenging militarism.

I refuse to believe that boys are born to grow up and hurt women and that girls and women are born to be victims. At the very least, we can all be more aware of the spectrum of violence against women, the subtlety of a culture that promulgates it, and its prevalence in the lives of all women. Don't ignore it, don't trivialize it and don't let your representatives in government do it either.

Whether you are a man or a woman, learn more about the Say No-Unite campaign to end violence against women. The web site includes a detailed list of actions for Individuals, Students and Teachers, Governments and Parliamentarians, Civil Society Organizations and Community Groups, Businesses and Corporations.

There are also many organizations, far too many to list here, like Women for Women International, We Are Equals and UNWomen, dedicated to everything from helping individual victims of violence to changing the culture. A simple search for resources at local, regional, national and international levels will yield a good list.

If you are a man and interested specifically in what you can do, there are many resources. For example, please take a look at Dr. Jackson Katz's 10 Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence or Stanford University's Men Against Abuse Now or Men Can Stop Rape. The on-campus Anti-Violence Project also has a great resource page, as does RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Web sites like The Good Men Project and A Call to Men are also committed to redefining masculinity in a way that doesn't incorporate violence against women as a biological imperative.

I know, as I wrap this up (phew, aren't you happy about that if you made it this far), that there will be countless responses to this article about violence against men, about women who murder men or are the perpetrators of domestic abuse, about men who are raped when incarcerated or sexually abused by women. I know that these things happened and they are horrible and violent and dehumanizing. That's not the subject of this post.

This is the subject of this post: Exactly how people have to be beaten, sold, raped or die just for being born female? How many will it take for the issue not to be marginalized or considered an inconvenient side show to what is "really important" in the vein of "gender issues have to take a back seat to other priorities...There is not way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project."

And, just for the record, this is not a wilting violet "woe is me," "woe are women" post. This is an outraged get-up-and-do-something "woe is us" post.

* All statistics cited can be found, with detailed sourcing, here at SAY NO-UNITE. When I have are referenced other statistics within the bulleted lists, I have linked directly to the referenced source.