UN DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
When the UN Secretary General addressed the Security Council’s annual debate on women, peace and security last month, he spoke of the rising rates of violence and misogyny experienced by women and girls in every society and warned that the clock on women’s rights had not stopped but was now moving backwards (1). The Women, Peace and Security Index 2021/22 (WPSI), published earlier this year by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Peace Research Institute Oslo (2), paints a detailed picture. This study of women in 170 countries makes grim and, in some places, shocking reading, exposing the ever-widening gap between women in the worst-placed countries and those of the ‘developed world’, many of them former colonial and present neo-colonial states, including Britain, which top the index.
As was feared, women around the world are shown to have been at greater risk of intimate partner violence during COVID, while at the same time being less able to extricate themselves due to loss of independent income and the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic. Women’s predicament was compounded in many countries by years of austerity cuts to the support services on which those fleeing abusive relationships rely. Undoubtedly, very much more is yet to emerge on the scale and impact of abuse of women and girls before we have a full picture of what has taken place.
A survey of 2,500 women in Iran showed that an already high rate of domestic violence (54%) before COVID rose to 65% within the first six months of the pandemic and highlighted the increased likelihood of abuse where either the woman or her partner had lost their job. Large numbers of women reported being subjected to intimate partner violence for the first time in this period, while already abused women reported an increase in the severity of the attacks (3).
The WPSI noted that across the world “measures to address violence against women have been uneven and often inadequate” and stressed the vital role that women’s organisations have played in supporting women and girls. Such progressive organisations have taken shape and developed during the pandemic, despite the concerted attacks on women’s livelihoods and rights, and Liberation has heard much about them through its international contacts. They need our support and solidarity.
Women’s perceptions of being safe in their own neighbourhoods was shown to be a major issue affecting everything from whether women feel able to go freely about their lives to the specific multiple daily decisions on, for example, which routes to take to reduce the risk of attack and how to alert friends and family if they are in danger. This severely restricts women’s lives and hence their potential to participate in the economic, political, social, and cultural spheres.
Across Latin America, according to the WSPI, two thirds of women felt insecure outdoors in their locality, while Afghanistan the country where women perceived themselves to be least safe out and about in their immediate surroundings. It was in Afghanistan too that some of the most misogynistic attitudes to women came to light. In parts of the country between 67% and 97% of men considered wife-beating ‘a norm’ and, unsurprisingly, a correspondingly large number of women reported that they had experienced domestic violence during the previous year. This was before the US-negotiated Taliban return to government and highlights that the years of occupation and conflict did nothing to alleviate and much to entrench the oppression of women in that country, whatever the mass media may try to tell us.
The UN Secretary General told the Security Council recently that the world was stuck in reverse gear, with the reappearance of military coups, take-overs of power by force, a new arms race and nuclear escalation. And there was, he said, a direct relationship between increased investment in the tools of warfare and raised levels of insecurity and inequality for women.
The number of wars and conflicts across the world have increased in the past twelve months and the WPSI shows how this has taken a huge toll on women and children “beyond the battlefield” as well as in it.
According to the study, intimate partner abuse in the home is much higher in war-ravaged zones, with women’s exposure to violence being exacerbated by disruption of their means of livelihood, food shortages and breakdown of public services. Where there is forced displacement – and women and children make up the majority of the world’s 90+ million refugees and internally displaced persons – the risk of all forms of gender-based violence is higher, with women in camps and temporary shelters are in particular danger. Studies of displaced women in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan by comparison with women in those countries who are not displaced have shone a spotlight on the problems faced. All this highlights yet again that the struggles for lasting peace and women’s equality are inseparable.
It is salient to note that of the twelve countries in which women fared the worst, nine were former British colonies and/or have been the targets of its neo-colonial economic and military strategies – Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Palestine, and Somalia – and others such as India and Bangladesh are not much higher on list. As Liberation consistently exposes – US, British and other imperialists focus on investment and profits at the expense of all else, and their collaboration with the most reactionary regimes to secure resources, cheap labour and markets including by military means, leaves the women of many countries trapped in a cycle of misogyny, cruelty, oppression, and exploitation.
The interconnection of between violence, poverty, and exclusion are stark. The World Bank classifies 10 of the bottom 12 countries as “fragile states”. Baluchistan (Pakistan), tragically, exemplifies the link. Less than one in ten women does a paid job, with only one in 25 completing secondary education. The province is the scene of military conflict and disruption and there is little by way of a public service infrastructure. The pressure on women is enormous and level of domestic abuse correspondingly high.
None of the violence against women, which populates the pages of the WPSI, need continue for another day but, if it is to be eradicated as the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women calls, then its true origins in the insatiable greed for profit must be recognised and called out and solidarity built with women’s and progressive organisations everywhere which are finding new strength and developing new strategies in the struggle for equality and justice.
Liz Payne is a member of the National Assembly of Women’s Executive and of Liberation’s Education Sub-Committee
1 https://www.un.org/sg/en/node/260228 Accessed 24 November 2021
2. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Peace Research Institute Oslo (2021) Women, Peace, and Security Index 2021/22: Tracking sustainable peace through inclusion, justice, and security for women, Washington, DC.
3. Fereidooni Reza, Jennifer Mootz, Rasoul Sabaei et al (2021) “The Covid-19 Pandemic, Socioeconomic Effects, and Intimate Partner Violence Against Women: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Iran.” In The Lancet, January 26, 2021.
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