Breast bruised, brains battered,
Skin scarred, soul shattered
Can’t scream-neighbors stare,
Cry for help, no one’s there
Stanza from a poem by Nenna Nehru, a battered Indian Woman
Despite differences in cultures and ideologies, women seem to face a consistent bias regardless of where they live. Tied to the social expectations of feminine behavior, victimization of women reflects a universal value placed upon them by men.
Violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle: Pre-birth is marked by sex selective abortion (China, India); battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on woman, effects on the birth outcome); and coerced pregnancy (i.e. mass rape in war). Infancy carries the threat of female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse; and disparity in access to food and medical care for girl infants. Adolescents can be scarred by child marriage; genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; more disparity in the access to food and medical care; and child prostitution. Dating and courtship violence (i.e. date rape in the United States, acid throwing in Bangladesh) as well as economically coerced sex ( Africa); sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment, forced prostitution; trafficking of women. The reproductive age carries the risk of abuse of women by intimate partners; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities. Being older does not reduce the risk of victimization. In the U.S. the only country where records exist, elder abuse affects mostly women.
Quite consistently, women are, “defined according to traditional patriarchal images and within the patriarchal ideologies and structures of national and international relations”. Judith Zinsser, researcher for the United Nations.
Crimes against women are based on their role in society, as a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. Women are never judged as persons, and always judged as passive to their roles. A man is evaluated as a man, aggressively responding to his situation, within his roles in life, as father, son brother, husband, secondary to his gender.
This subjectivity to patriarchy is well illustrated in dowry burnings, popular in India. Murder, generally accepted as a crime against humanity takes on a different persona when related to brides who for one reason or another, experience with their husbands and husband’s families conflict over their dowries. In areas that require a marriage settlement, dowries become a powerful tool for moving up through social strata. In a firmly patriarchal society, the esteem of the male depends on the “purity” of the female. Not only a financial inheritance, the dowry reflects the moral purity of the bride. Indian dowry effectively functions to disinherit women and promote their economic dependency on men which is the real crux of dowry murders. When the dowry is no longer satisfactory, the bride becomes vulnerable to harassment, assault, and death.
Murder is illegal, but social norms in India validate the acceptance of such practice, marking it virtually impossible to punish anyone participating. Families involved in this practice place tremendous significance upon the material value of the union between two families and a financial gain for at least one. When the woman is sacrificed, the families protect each other from civil prosecution, further ingraining the value of men and valuelessness of women.
Think about rape. In our culture evidence of rape is evaluated by a perceived participation by the woman (i.e. how was she dressed, did she invite sex and then change her mind, was she using drugs). A recent story of a young girl in Pakistan who became pregnant as the result of rape. Unable to convince the court that rape had occurred and since her pregnancy was taken as proof that sexual intercourse outside of marriage had taken place, she was thirty lashes and three years imprisonment. She gave birth to the child in prison (a girl). Because of this situation, women are more afraid than before to bring a case of rape to court, and in turn this could, of course, encourage rapist. There is an easy transformation from victim to offender. Her actions did not change, only the subjective political observation of them. In the United States, a woman illustrated how she was victimized into criminalization:
“She was a Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven; a victim of brutal domestic violence that caused her to miscarry twice; a drug user addicted first to heroine then to the so called cure, methadone; finally a mother forcibly separated from her daughter on account of her convictions and incarceration, and, finally, a woman who died in prison of a brain hemorrhage, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of beatings”.
Written from her death bed.
I hope to have shed some light on the epidemic of violence being perpetrated by us (men). I hope that we will no longer live by a “criminal code” of silence and non action. Its not what you say and do when women are around. Its what you say and do when they are not. Take a stand in the fight to end violence against women.