Saturday, August 23, 2008

Facts & Figures on Violence Against Women

Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned. — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 8 March 2007

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 . Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, it devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development.

Statistics paint a horrifying picture of the social and health consequences of violence against women. For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability . In a 1994 study based on World Bank data about ten selected risk factors facing women in this age group, rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria . Moreover, several studies have revealed increasing links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Women who have experienced violence are at a higher risk of HIV infection: a survey among 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 percent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not .

The economic cost of violence against women is considerable — a 2003 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed US$5.8 billion per year: US$4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly US$1.8 billion . Violence against women impoverishes individuals, families and communities, reducing the economic development of each nation .

In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly established the UN Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women. The Trust Fund is managed by UNIFEM and is the only multilateral grant-making mechanism that supports local, national and regional efforts to combat violence. Since it began operations in 1997, the Trust Fund has awarded more than US$19 million to 263 initiatives to address violence against women in 115 countries. Raising awareness of women’s human rights, these UNIFEM-supported efforts have linked activists and advocates from all parts of the world; shown how small, innovative projects impact laws, policies and attitudes; and has begun to break the wall of silence by moving the issue onto public agendas everywhere.

Some facts and figures from around the world:

Harmful Traditional Practices

Harmful traditional practices are forms of violence that have been committed against women in certain communities and societies for so long that they are considered part of accepted cultural practice. These violations include female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM), dowry murder, so-called “honour killings,” and early marriage. They lead to death, disability, physical and psychological harm for millions of women annually.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM refers to several types of deeply-rooted traditional cutting operations performed on women and girls. Often part of fertility or coming-of-age rituals, FGM is sometimes justified as a way to ensure chastity and genital “purity.” It is estimated that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, mainly in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries , and two million girls a year are at risk of mutilation. Cases of FGM have been reported in Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, and it is thought to be performed among some indigenous groups in Central and South America . FGM is also being practiced among immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia .

Since the late 1980s, opposition to FGM and efforts to combat the practice have increased. According to the Secretary-General’s In-Depth Study, as of April 2006, 15 of the 28 African States where FGM is prevalent made it an offence under criminal law. Of the nine States in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula where female genital mutilation/cutting is prevalent among certain groups, two have enacted legal measures prohibiting it. In addition, ten States in other parts of the world have enacted laws criminalizing the practice .

"UNIFEM supported a project in Kenya, which involved local communities developing alternative coming-of-age rituals, such as “circumcision with words” — celebrating a young girl’s entry into womanhood with words instead of genital cutting. The project involved close cooperation with circumcisers, religious leaders, and men and boys in the communities . Another project in Mali, with support from the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, is currently working to foster dialogue and build capacities among government ministries, parliamentarians, civil society and traditional and religious leaders that can lead to changes in harmful practices and attitudes."

Dowry Murder

Dowry murder is a brutal practice involving a woman being killed by her husband or in-laws because her family is unable to meet their demands for her dowry — a payment made to a woman’s in-laws upon her engagement or marriage as a gift to her new family. It is not uncommon for dowries to exceed a family’s annual income.

While cultures throughout the world have dowries or similar payments, dowry murder occurs predominantly in South Asia. According to official crime statistics in India, 6,822 women were killed in 2002 as a result of such violence. Small community studies have also indicated that dowry demands have played an important role in women being burned to death and in deaths of women being labelled suicides . In Bangladesh, there have been many incidents of acid attacks due to dowry disputes , leading often to blindness, disfigurement, and death. In 2002, 315 women and girls in Bangladesh were victims of acid attacks ; in 2005 that number was 267.

“Honour Killings”

In many societies, rape victims, women suspected of engaging in premarital sex, and women accused of adultery have been murdered by their relatives because the violation of a woman’s chastity is viewed as an affront to the family’s honour. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual world-wide number of “honour killing” victims may be as high as 5000 women .

According to a 2002 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, “honour killings” take place in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and other Mediterranean and Gulf countries. It also occurs in countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom within immigrant communities. It is not only in Islamic countries or communities that this act of violence is prevalent. Brazil is cited as a case in point, where killing is justified to defend the honour of the husband in the case of a wife’s adultery .

According to a government report, 4,000 women and men were killed in Pakistan in the name of honour between 1998 and 2003, the number of women being more than double the number of men . In a study of female deaths in Alexandria, Egypt, 47 percent of the women were killed by a relative after the woman had been raped . In Jordan and Lebanon, 70 to 75 percent of the perpetrators of these so-called “honour killings” are the women’s brothers .

"In Sudan, the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women supported a project to combat “honour killings” in the Nuba Mountains region. The project trained local and religious leaders, women leaders and teachers to become advocates in their communities against “honour killings” and other forms of violence against women. They organized trainings and group discussions, as a result of which “honour killings” were for the first time discussed in public. The project led to positive changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices among community members who increasingly began to regard “honour killings” as a crime, rather than a legitimate means to defend a tribe’s honour."

Early Marriage

The practice of early marriage is prevalent throughout the world, especially in Africa and South Asia. This is a form of sexual violence, since young girls are often forced into the marriage and into sexual relations, which jeopardizes their health, raises their risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS and limits their chance of attending school.

Parents and families often justify child marriages by claiming it ensures a better future for their daughters. Parents and families marry off their younger daughters as a means of gaining economic security and status for themselves as well as for their daughters. Insecurity, conflict and societal crises also support early marriage. In many African countries experiencing conflict, where there is a high possibility of young girls being kidnapped, marrying them off at an early age is viewed as a way to secure their protection.

According to a 2006 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women on her mission to Afghanistan, an estimated 57 percent of girls in Afghanistan are married before the age of 16. Economic reasons are said to play a significant role in such marriages. Due to the common practice of “bride money,” the girl child becomes an asset exchangeable for money or goods. Families see committing a young daughter (or sister) to a family that is able to pay a high price for the bride as a viable solution to their poverty and indebtedness. The custom of bride money may motivate families that face indebtedness and economic crisis to “cash in” the “asset” as young as 6 or 7, with the understanding that the actual marriage is delayed until the child reaches puberty. However, reports indicate that this is rarely observed, and that young girls may be sexually violated not only by the groom, but also by older men in the family, particularly if the groom is a child too .

Copyright © 2007–2008 United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)


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