International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Three Week's of rapes Suzanne Lacy
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Words by Bianca Asanache

 

**Content warning: This article discusses domestic violence and coercive control that may be distressing to some readers. If you believe that the article will be a trigger for you, then you may choose to forgo it.**

I know someone. More than one. I know people very close to me. Actually, if I pause for a minute, I realise I may be the first in my family to break the cycle of violence.

It’s hard to be clinical, detached from the topic as I read statistics, stories, facts and figures. I’m not immune. I wonder how different my life might have been if I were still living in Eastern Europe where violence against women is not just widespread but common, normal. 

Despite decades of activism, intensive work in policy, and planning, facts and figures are still staggering.

In 2020, an increase in domestic, family and gender-based violence worldwide coincided with COVID-19 lockdown. “The access to services and justice for survivors of violence, as well as prevention efforts, were severely curtailed during the pandemic.” [1].
Social isolation and lockdowns have exacerbated risk factors and intensified the sense of alienation in women. 

Globally, almost one in three women have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life [2].

  • 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day. [3] One hundred thirty-seven.
  • In Australia, two in every five women have experienced violence since the age of 15 years.
  • Violence against women is estimated to cost Australia $2.7 billion a year (PwC rt al 2015).
  • By September 2020, 52 countries had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans.
  • Almost one in 10 Australian women in a relationship have experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis, with two-thirds saying the attacks started or became worse during the pandemic. [4]

Gender-based Violence 

Violence against women is a systemic and widespread violation of human rights. Systemic because it affects the whole system and because people in the system who are supposed to help women are actually perpetuating the cycle, creating distrust among victims.“Why didn’t you report this before? Why didn’t you just leave?”. Is a man’s word questioned just as much when he is reporting a crime? 

In some cases, lack of physical evidence means women are not taken seriously by police and other relevant institutions. Do we have to be bruised and bleed to be believed? Do we have to die?

In some states in Australia, an outdated law survives allowing perpetrators to reduce their sentence from life in prison to manslaughter using the defence of provocation. In theory, in a situation where the defence of self-defence may not succeed and when a victim of domestic violence kills her abuser after persistent and long-term abuse, defence of provocation can be used. In practice, however, “the defence is commonly used by men who killed their female partners in circumstances of infidelity or where the victim was seeking to end the relationship.” [5]. 

If this is a human rights issue, why do we keep calling it gender violence? 

Let’s take a step back.

UNdefines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.

Violence against women is a complex phenomenon with diverse forms and manifestations:

  • Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence
  • Violence Against Women And Girls
  • Sexual Violence
  • Trafficking
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)
  • Child, Early And Forced Marriage

     

It takes different forms in different societies and cultures and affects more women than men in different ways and to varying degrees. Current statistics show that trans women, non-binary people, Indigenous women, cis women, women with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ community are most likely to experience gender-based violence. [6]

The full extent of violence against women remains mainly mostly unseen since the crime often is not reported and unrecognised and its victims often remain silent, fearing stigma and further harm.

The issue remains hidden in part because many forms of it are socially accepted, even condoned. For example, pornography serves to reinforce and normalise violence that may or may not be implicit. In pornography, “traditional patriarchal heterosexuality emerges as a form of domination, as an act of conquest and humiliation, as the practice of misogyny. If scrutinized closely, it reveals itself as both violence and domination in the service of male-gratifying sex and, even more worrisome, as male-defined sex in the service of violence and domination” [7]

Stay_Home_by_Apindra_Swain
Stay Home by Apindra Swain

The Unseen: Coercion  

Abuse of power and control can be used in many ways to create a coercive and threatening environment. 

Hand in hand with physical abuse goes control and coercion. It may simply start with using male privilege and economic power over a woman, escalating to threats, intimidation and eventually emotional and/or physical abuse. 

 

Coercion isn’t spoken about very much, trickier to prove [8], and has an ongoing nature.

Some of its most common forms are:

  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • domestic servitude
  • Financial control
  • Social isolation from the local community
  • Communication restriction with family.

     

In addition, pressure to stay in a relationship, societal construct, and family expectations are still common across the board. These behaviours allow for coercion to escape the legal system, leaving the victim trapped and enabling perpetrators to get away with it, never facing justice.

Migrant Women Experiences  

Migrant and refugee women experience violence in very unique ways intersecting racism, sexism, and gendered stereotypes, adding further layers of complexity.

Oftentimes, the abuse is within the family setting so it’s more difficult to recognise it as such. The perpetrators’ faces are the same as the loved ones.


Moreover, the vulnerability of migrant women is often ingrained in their precarious visa status. “Research has found that some female international students are offered cheaper rent, higher grades and employment in return for sexual favours, although their experiences remain largely invisible to the mainstream (Polsjki 2011)”. 

Migrant women on partner visas depend on their relationships with the primary visa holder.  Male spouses can use their visas as a tool for power and control, in addition to other forms of violence.

 
Deportation threats, restricting mobility, taking their money, forcing them to work or preventing them from working or learning English, keep migrant women “in a state of fear and reluctance to leave violent situations” (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health 2015; State of Victoria 2016).


Every aspect of a migrant woman’s life is therefore controlled, predetermined and in the hands of her perpetrator.

UNiTE Campaign & Prevention – #orangetheworld

The United Nations Secretary General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women has proclaimed the 25th of each month as “Orange Day,” a day to raise awareness and take action to end violence against women and girls. 

The 16 Days of Activism (starting 25th Nov to 10th Dec) against Gender-Based Violence are in support of this initiative. 

 

Campaigns main principles are:

  • Leave No One Behind: focus on the most disadvantaged groups of women and girls.
  • Honour and acknowledge women’s movements and the work they’ve done so far.
  • Survivor-centered: “do no harm” approach. Don’t recount survivors’ stories without their  consent.
  • Multi-sectoral: everyone can do their part. We can work together to change things.
  • Elevate voices of young feminists 

Prevention measures:

  • improve the financial capabilities and economic security of women
  • improve the financial wellbeing of victim-survivors of family violence by improving access to employment 
  • offer social connection and inclusion activities and programs
  • develop professional training and consultation services
  • promote and value lived experience 

Extra Resources

Event: Preventing and responding to coercive control –> Thu, 25 November 2021, 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM AEDT

The Trap podcast –  tackles issues of private and public abuse “searching the world for answers to the questions that continue to confound us.”

Take action: 10 ways you can help end violence against women, even during a pandemic

The signs of relationship abuse and how to help 

 

If you or someone you know has been impacted by domestic violence, please contact:

Sources/Notes

[1] UN Women and UNDP (2020). COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker.

[2] UN Women (2020). Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: Report of the Secretary-General (2020), p. 4.
[3] World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data (2021).
[4] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2019). Global Study on Homicide 2019, p. 10.
[5] https://www.gotocourt.com.au/criminal-law/vic/provocation-in-victoria/ 

[6] https://shesacrowd.com/resources/ 
[7] Radical feminist therapy: working in the context of violence – Bonnie Burstow (1945)
[8] https://open.spotify.com/episode/6BpJ8mF8Z4j8WlBtWusiLr?si=qJSpZhaLTTSfdmDsFB3pNw 

[9]  Elimination of domestic violence against women (A/RES/58/147, of 22 December 2003). United Nations General Assembly; 2003.

[10] Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Submission 147, p. 34.

[11] Migrant women’s mental health & wellbeing report, European Network of Migrant Women (October 2021)