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Why is violence against women still so pervasive?

  • Published at 12:05 am December 14th, 2019
Gender equality women men
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We need to raise a generation of children who will not tolerate gender inequality

Gender-based violence is on the rise around the world. Recognizing the menace of GBV, every year on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed followed by a 16 Day Activism campaign against GBV. 

A lot of activities are performed every year to create a safer environment for women. But the trend of GBV worldwide is rampant; one in three women face GBV in their lifetime. 

In Bangladesh, GBV is a pervasive problem. A UNFPA survey in 2011 found that 87% of married women experienced some sort of violence in their lifetime. 

Recently, BRAC revealed a more gruesome picture. During July 2018-June 2019, they provided support towards more than 12,000 women and girls inflicted with GBV. 

Perplexingly, family members were the perpetrators for a maximum of these GBV incidences (77.1%). Therefore, a reality check of the persistence of GBV is essential.

To reveal the psychological imperatives of the perpetrators of GBV, a paradox must be solved. Sometimes, women’s oppressions are attributed to religious practices in Bangladesh that purportedly limit women’s engagement with the outer world through the ideals of seclusion. 

But this understanding of religion and GBV is partial. For instance, Islam declares “heaven for a child is underneath mother’s feet” and in Hinduism, there are many goddesses. Moreover, women in our society are the epitome of honour and prestige. 

Thus, GBV’s roots could be unravelled through answering the following three questions: Why are victims subjected to violence? What are the supposed gains of the perpetrators? And why do women not report these abuses to law enforcers?

To answer the first two questions, one should first try to realize what the victims supposedly lose and what the perpetrators gain from GBV. Insights will be missed out if GBV is regarded as only a “sexual act.” 

Within cultural contexts, GBV inflicts the loss of chastity or honour for women. Thus, from a perpetrator’s perspective, GBV is an expression and exhibition of power. 

Within a particular value system, different forms of GBV, for instance, sexual violence or rape can be an intrusion in the most intimate sphere of a woman or, in some cases, of the family, clan, or even an entire nation.

The origin of the emphasis on chastity or honour, which GBV is supposed to violate, can be illuminated if we have a look at the history of the evolution of marriage and the origins of the family. 

As Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State has argued, monogamy was not practiced during the earliest times of humanity. Exclusive sexual rights to a woman or man evolved historically. 

The sexuality of a person has become an exclusive right to be obtained. Eventually, women’s sexuality came to be under the male’s control. The goal was to ensure inheritance to man’s offspring and women were restricted within the homesteads. 

With the origin of private property and the spread of capitalistic ideas, women’s subjugation became a stronghold. 

Finally, why do women not report GBV and seek help from law enforcers? 

In short, women do not speak up regarding GBV in public places as it is regarded socially improper and sometimes, women accept that if they are not physically violated, they should just ignore derogatory comments directed towards them. 

In cases of GBV inflicted by family members, women do not speak up to keep their marriage intact and preserve the family’s honour. These are social values that encourage men to display authority through GBV and inhibit women from speaking up against it.

At this point, it can be firmly argued that the elimination of GBV can only be a reality if considered as mostly a men’s issue. We must, in particular, focus on eliminating values that justify unequal positions for women in society. 

Generally, for eliminating GBV, women’s empowerment and economic inclusion are identified as prime means. These are undoubtedly important avenues, but must be supported by men’s involvement and changed ideals. 

Men must learn that giving women their due privileges do not reduce men’s importance in society. Rather, women’s advancements indicate society’s progress at large. 

Women coming out of the “home” are not an intrusion in the men’s sphere. Rather it is the long due course of action that we should have been achieved years ago. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this natural phenomenon is frowned upon by many.

For example, on public transport, there are very few seats that remain reserved for women, the elderly, and the disabled.

Another example: While men take rest after returning from office, women must take care of the household tasks. As if women must do all household chores perfectly to cover up her engagement in the outside world. 

Children also learn very early that when parents return home, the mother is supposed to take care of them while the father should take rest. 

These discriminatory values have been practised for thousands of years and thus have become ingrained within us. Every family knowingly or unknowingly creates hurdles in the pathways of women. 

Thus, laws alone will not be enough to reduce GBV, and we cannot get effective reduction through economic empowerment alone. Rather, what we need is to abolish the idea of there being a “men’s sphere.” 

This can be materialized if we raise a generation of children who would not go through the unequal gender relations practiced today. Only then we can hope to eliminate gender-based violence. 

Mohammad Tareq Hasan is an anthropologist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.