Friday, November 03, 2006

Pandemic of Violence toward Women

This artwork is done by Cynthia Rodriguez and is entitled "Los Numeros sin Almas/ Numbers without Souls". It is done in honor of the numerous women murdered in Juarez, Mexico and utilizes imagery usually associated with the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead--November 2).

Early last month, the United Nations issued a report documenting the global epidemic of domestic violence toward women. The reports explains that in the developed world, 20-25% of women have experienced some form of assault, physical coercion, or sexual violence from male partners or family members. In the global south, these figures are sometimes as high as 70-80% of women. The report argues that the prevalence of this sort of violence is one of the largest human rights violation we face today.

A UN report on the rights of indigenous women, released at the same time, points out (as did Alicia Gaspar de Alba in our podcast on the women of Juarez) that it is poor indigenous women who bear the brunt of much of physical and structural violence in the world.

At the same time there are critics of these reports. A group that calls itself RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) argues that most discussions of domestic violence perpetuate a myth of male aggressor and female victims. RADAR wants to demonstrate that men are often the victims of female violence and that women often take advantage of the myth of male aggressors to deprive men of custody rights over children--a form of violence according to the group.

The work of this group seems misplaced. Much of its tone toward domestic violence research is antagonistic and downplays the seriousness of the global phenomena of violence toward women. A better approach, it seems to me, is the one taken by bell hooks in her short work "Feminism is for Everybody". There she argues that the question is not whether men or women are primarily to blame for domestic violence-- the issue is patriarchy. Men and women can both be patriarchal and perpetuate the system of unearned gender privilege and male dominance. So yes, women can be abusers--frequently of children--but this just means the problem is of the prevalence of violence in general as a way to maintain the family in control.

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At 4:45 PM , Blogger Dennis said...

Groups like RADAR make me suspicious from the word go, almost like they have another agenda - like preserving male privilege or patriarchy.

Also, maybe there is such a focus on male-to-female violence because that's the vast majority of violence? Yes? I'd be curious to see how a group like RADAR would respond to that.

Finally, despite the fact that I think bell hooks' approach is probably the best one (it doesn't dehumanize anyone), I wonder if there is a way to address the issue of violence against women to men who are not anti-sexist/feminist or interested in hearing about feminism, patriarchy, etc? Or does that miss the point?

At 5:25 PM , Anonymous Theresa said...

This Mother Jones article gives a lot of good numbers to indicate the percentages of male to female violence, at least in the United States, at
For instance, 73 percent of domestic violence victims are female, and 83 percent of spouse murderers are male.
Those numbers don't negate the reality that some men are abused by women, or that females in same sex partnerships can also be abusers. But they do indicate that the primary abusers are male, and issues of power, gender and violence can't be ignored. Addressing the sources of violence against women in domestic situations will go a long way toward reducing violence toward men and children at the same time.

At 5:59 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

hooks' approach is very good for non feminist or beginning feminist readers (is there such a things as feminist questioning, like queer questioning?). she argues that feminism means anti-sexism, ending the inequalities suffered by women. she does a good job trying to point out where she thinks second wave feminism might have gone overboard in championing difference at the expense of a strong defense of equality (but not in a strictly liberal sense). i recommend her book as an excellent primer on feminist thinking.

i agree with you, dennis. there seems to be more to RADAR--if anything, their work in denying the problem of male to female violence only perpetuates the status quo.

At 5:28 PM , Anonymous Parisa said...

Unfortunately the interweaving of violence against women with other kinds of structural violence, and the complicated ways it works itself out in policy and in practice, leave plenty of room for criticism from groups like RADAR. Their data is usually accurate in some way, though their analysis is lacking.

In the US, the passage of VAWA and its implementation coincided with the erosion of federal and state funding for support services for low-income women in general. Which DID result in people who needed services perhaps over-reporting domestic violence. It also made more women vulnerable to intimate partner violence as they have less assistance with skills and education to support their families independently.

We also know that world wide, regardless of the overall economic status of a nation, perceived gains in economic power for women tend to lead to greater incidence of violence against women (intimate partner violence being the chief manifestation of it). In many developing nations, there is widespread depression and frustration among men, where cultural expectations of being the provider are deep, and aspirations of autonomy and wealth are so near and yet so far. While intimate partner violence is about power relationships and not about isolated acts of desperation or "passion", desperation can exacerbate levels of violence (domestic and otherwise) that might under other circumstances be latent.

The key mistake of groups like RADAR is in assuming that the contest is about who is abused more. When we can come to an understanding that ANYONE experiencing violence (including poverty) is unacceptable, and ultimately affects us all, we can start to work together for real change. (I'm sure hooks is behind this notion). If it's a tug of war over who does what to whom more of the time, we're not getting anywhere.


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