On Wednesday, a new study in The Lancet revealed that more than a quarter – 27% – of women around the world, aged 15-49, have experienced domestic violence from a male intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.
That’s approximately one in four women.
And the abuse starts young: 24% of 15- to 19-year-olds had experienced violence.
The study used estimates based on data capturing the responses of 2 million women between 2000 and 2018, and defines intimate partner violence as “physically, sexually, and psychologically harmful behaviors in the context of marriage, cohabitation, or any other form of union, as well as emotional and economic abuse and controlling behaviors.”
The researchers refer to violence against women as a “global public health challenge” but this prevalence speaks of an even greater societal challenge: patriarchy.
Talking to The Guardian in 2020 about what she’d learned in writing her book about power, control and domestic abuse, See What You Made Me Do, Australian investigative journalist Jess Hill said:
Thousands of years of patriarchy has laid pretty good groundwork for [domestic abuse]. It’s not so long since a wife was considered her husband’s property and had no legal rights whatsoever. It was only in the 1980s that new laws against marital rape recognised that men didn’t have the right to demand sex with their wives anytime they wanted; prior to that, consent was considered to have been given on the wedding day and never revoked. Today, we still live in a society that entrenches women’s subordination at every level – from the home to the boardroom, to our parliament.”
“Men don’t abuse women because society tells them it’s OK,” Hill adds. “Men abuse women because society tells them they are entitled to be in control.”
But all hope is not lost. As numerous organizations – and the authors of the Lancet study – have said, it is possible to prevent intimate partner violence.
The RESPECT women framework,which is published by the WHO and supported by 13 other UN agencies and governments, identifies seven broad policy priorities that, taken together, can prevent violence against women.
They range from the economic and social empowerment of women; the provision of services by the state such as legal, health or social services; and the transformation of societal attitudes towards gender, “male privilege and female subordination” among others.
The coronavirus pandemic saw all forms of gender-based violence rise the world over, particularly domestic violence, with women stuck at home with their abusers. But the tragedy of The Lancet report is that the numbers were already high before the pandemic. If the demographics are segmented further, we are bound to find worse rates of violence among certain groups of women – women with disabilities and those with precarious immigration statuses, to name just two.
All eyes now need to be on what our governments are going to do about these galling stats. If they – and us – need reminding, as the study’s authors confirm, intimate partner violence, and arguably all gender-based violence, “can have major short and long-term impacts on the physical and mental health of the victim, leading to substantial social and economic costs for governments, communities, and individuals”.
Story of the week
Read this story about two sisters, Fazila and Shagufa Haidary, torn between their yearning for the past, the loved ones they left behind, and their fears for a deeply uncertain future.
Women behaving badly: Ismat Chughtai
Written by Adie Vanessa Offiong
Ismat Chughtai (1915-1991) alongside three other writers is referred to as “the fourth pillar of modern Urdu fiction”, with her work considered by some “the birth of revolutionary feminist politics” with themes that include sexuality and class.
Following her graduation from Isabella Thoburn College in 1940, she was part of the Progressive Writers Movement which used Urdu literature to critique social injustice.
As an essayist, Chughtai was famous for her works Lihaaf (The Quilt, 1942) which inspired India’s first film about lesbianism, Fire; and Chu Mui (1952), which focuses on how women were regarded as only good to produce heirs.
But her work was not without criticism. Lihaaf caused a storm in conservative India. She was summoned to court for obscenity – an experience she documented in her essay, The Lihaaf Trial. This experience did not, however, deter her from writing about taboo topics such as women’s sexual desires, male-dominated interpretations of religion and homoeroticism. She was also an advocate for women’s rights to education among other causes.
Also a filmmaker, Chughtai wrote screenplays, dialogues and songs for films. She produced multiple movies with her director husband, Shaheed Latif, in the 1950s and 60s.
Chughtai’s autobiography Kaghazi Hai Pairahan (The Paper Attire) was published posthumously in 2016.
Other stories worth your time
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