Monday, March 29, 2010

Surviving in a Man's World

“Violence against women is a violation of human rights that cannot be justified by any political, religious, or cultural claim.” ( Amnesty International )

Are women’shuman rights given the importance they deseve?

Discrimination against, and exploitation of, women is rife in many societies of the world be they developed, developing or under-developed. Unfortunately, violence against women is also the most socially tolerated form of abuse in cultures across the globe.

“This year, more than 15,000 women will be sold into sexual slavery in China. 200 women in Bangladesh will be horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or suitors burn them with acid. More than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries. Violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women's bodies for individual gratification or political ends.” (Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds: Torture and Ill Treatment of Women, Amnesty International, 2001)

The UN High Commission on Refugees advocates that "women fearing persecution or severe discrimination on the basis of their gender should be considered a member of a social group for the purposes of determining refugee status." (Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women)


Domestic violence- A personal matter?

Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to freedom of thought and action, and to physical integrity. Unfortunately, it is often viewed as a ‘personal matter’. A woman may be beaten up or tortured for something as simple as being negligent in performing household chores. Domestic crimes are allowed to go unchecked frequently in patriarchal societies. It is important to understand that when the law fails to provide protection to the victim, the state also becomes a party to inflicting torture upon its own citizens.

The Condemned Bride

In most under developed countries, women are not given an equal status to men in political, social, and economic spheres. Hence, suppression of women is common. Rejecting a marriage proposal, or bringing a small dowry for many women in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh might result in serious repercussions. These women may be set on fire or acid burnt – and die of third-degree burns - or blinded and severely disfigured for life. The statistics for women dying at home from such ‘accidental’ deaths are found to be the highest among young married women.

Killing in the name of “honour”

In Eastern societies, women are considered to represent the family honour. When suspected of violating that honour, they are savagely punished by their own fathers, brothers or husbands. Once accused, they are treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’. In Pakistan, when they are accused of the crime of ‘Zina’, which is punishable by death with stoning under Shar’ia law, there is little hope for them to get justice. Sometimes, young girls also become targets of lifelong violence by rival tribes when offered in compensation for settling feuds; or targeted for revenge as a result of a wrongdoing committed by their men - the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai in Meerwala, Pakistan, is a case in point.

Miseries of women in prison

Women in jails become victims of further abuse at the hands of the guards because of their total dependency on them. They are pressurized to provide sexual favours to avoid punishment, or to avail relaxation in certain rules. Sometimes they are also denied medical and psychological support to force them to be more compliant to the demands of prison staff.

Trafficking of women

According to Human Rights Watch, trafficking is “…the illegal and highly profitable recruitment, transport or sale of human beings into all forms of forced labor and servitude, including trafficking into forced marriage…In all cases, coercive tactics, including deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat and use of physical force, or debt bondage, are used to control women.” Without the assistance of corrupt officials, this practice cannot survive. Provision of false documents, and protection provided, help and encourage the perpetrators of this crime. There is further abuse and trauma when the victims are treated as criminals or illegal aliens.

Women’s sufferings during war times

Wars take a huge toll of the killed, maimed and tortured from women. Through a planned strategy, physical and psychological violence against women is carried out during wartimes to achieve objectives like creating terror or extracting information; or simply suffer as spoils of war. Women’s rights organizations have found that, for these victims of war-ravaged communities, domestic violence is directly proportional to the increasing family tensions arising from the atrocities of war. Countless women in war zones across the globe are bearing the brunt of wars facing economic and domestic problems, and continue to suffer the worst forms of torture and sexual abuse.

Mental Health Problems of Victims of Violence:

Being a victim of violence can be the cause of severe trauma and emotional stress, resulting in serious mental health problems. Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks make the victims seriously mal-adjusted in their environment, requiring professional help. They may exhibit uncontrollable crying spells or rapid mood swings, and might appear completely divorced from reality at other times. Loss of sleep and appetite, flashbacks, nightmares and low self-esteem hinder normal functioning and extensive psychotherapy is often the only recourse available to help the victim return to a normal existence.


The rehabilitation of victims of physical abuse is a difficult task that requires long-term commitment .

Inge Genefke, Rehabilitation and Research Center for torture Victims (RCT), Copenhagen, states:

“The aim of torture is to destroy a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is more evil than murder…. Today we know that survivors of torture can be helped to regain their health and strength, and in helping them we take the weapon from their torturers.”

After the crime has been reported, proper medical examination must be carried out immediately to establish the veracity of abuse. All available evidence must be meticulously recorded and treatment of injuries done on a priority basis. For all this to take place, however, an efficient medico-legal system needs to be put in place – which is not the case in most under-developed countries, since women’s human rights are not considered high on Governments’ priority lists.

Too often the victims vanish after reporting, either forced into hiding to escape threats of the perpetrator, or shifted by the family members to avoid attention to the ‘tarnished’ family name. The result is that the charges have to be dropped. The victim must be provided reliable security options and the abuser taken into custody, so that he is not in a position to silence her through intimidation.

While the process of law takes its course, the victim should be provided extensive psychotherapy to address the feelings of shock, denial, guilt and anger.

Counseling of close family members and friends is also extremely important, as their moral support is crucial in helping the victim through the period of crisis.

Prevention of Abuse:

Prevention of abuse is a collective responsibility. All members of a society must play their role sensitively for effective prevention of violence.

Media must play its role in educating public opinion by creating awareness about public responsibility on this issue. Victim’s right to privacy must also be ensured at all costs. Giving a clear direction to social censure about shifting stigma from the abused to the abuser, may bring down many instances of abuse.

Sale of acid to public should be strictly monitored, and every instance of burning should be meticulously investigated to rule out foulplay. To help the burned and disfigured women restart their lives, reconstructive surgery should be made an affordable option for the victims through sponsorship schemes from government and private sector.

Special attention must be paid to empowerment of women through focus on literacy. Today, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults comprise of women – a fact that speaks volumes about the lack of commitment, and need thereof, of governments around the world.

Punishing corrupt officials, who falsify documents and protect gangs of traffickers, can effectively check this menace. Poverty-reduction schemes and vocational-training programmes run by government agencies and the NGOs should target, specifically, single-parent families headed by females, and orphaned young girls.

Governments must be urged by international human rights organizations, to protect women’s human rights during times of armed conflicts around the world and be held accountable for lapses by the UN Bodies.

Peoples of all nationalities should join hands to support Human Rights Organizations in their fight against gender crimes and provision of the rights of the oppressed around the world. It should not be viewed as a choice, but a responsibility.

Published Dec, 2007; SouthAsia Magazine

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