Women Safety in an Insecure World
According to estimates up to 200 million or more women and girls are demographically ‘missing’. Given the biological norm of 100 newborn girls to every 103 new-born boys, millions more women should be living amongst us. If they are not, if they are ‘missing’, they have been killed, or have died through neglect and mistreatment. Women live in a very insecure world indeed. Many fall victim to gender selective abortion and infanticide i.e. boys being preferred to girls. Others do not receive the same amount of food and medical attention as their brothers, fathers and husbands. Others again fall prey to sexual offenders, to ‘honour killings’ and to acid attacks.
An estimated 5,000 women are burnt to death each year in ‘kitchen accidents’ because their dowry was too modest. Scores succumb to the special horrors and hardships that conflict, war and post-conflict situations reserve for girls and women. A shocking number of women are killed within their own walls through domestic violence. Rape and sexual exploitation remain, moreover, a reality for countless women; millions are trafficked; some sold like cattle. The full magnitude of the issue sinks in only if we put the figures into perspective: The number of the ‘missing’ women, killed for gender-related reasons, is of the same order of magnitude as the estimated 191 million human beings who have lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of all the conflicts and wars of the 20th century – which was, with two world wars and numerous other murderous conflicts, the most violent period in human history so far.
A sustained demographic ‘deficit’ of 100- 200 million women implies that each year 1.5 to 3 million girls and women are killed through gender related violence. In comparison: each year some 2.8 million people die of AIDS, 1.27 million of malaria or put in the most horrible terms: violence against women causes every 2 to 4 years a mountain of corpses equal to the Jewish Holocaust. Globally, women aged between fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be injured or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined.
For each girl and woman killed by mankind, there are scores who are physically or psychologically wounded, if not maimed for life: The World Health Organisation estimates that globally one woman in five will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Other data suggests that in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States the corresponding figure is one in six women. In South Africa a frightening 40 per cent of girls aged 17 or under are reported to have been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Even in peaceful Geneva, in a study of 1,200 randomly selected ninth-grade students, 20 per cent of girls revealed that they had experienced at least one incident of physical sexual abuse. Translated into absolute figures: globally the number of victims is estimated at more than 700 million girls and women, in the United States at some 25 million, in the United Kingdom at over 4 million.
The number of women forced or sold into prostitution is estimated at anywhere between 700,000 and 4 million per year. Between 120,000 and 500,000 of them are sold to pimps and brothels in Europe alone. Profits from the sex slavery market are estimated at US$7-12 billion per year. In some countries sex trafficking has reached proportions that threaten to destabilise the population equilibrium – with potentially devastating long-term consequences. The list of horrors is endless. The picture is all too clear. Violence against women must be recognised as a key issue in its own right, as one of the significant causes of death on our planet.
The Roots of Violence against Women
• Prenatal phase Battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on the woman; effects on birth); coerced pregnancy; deprivation of food and liquids; sex selective abortion
• Infancy Female infanticide: emotional and physical abuse; differential access to food and medical care for girl infants
• Child marriage: genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; differential access to food and medical care; child prostitution
• Adolescence Rape and marital rape: sexual assault; forced prostitution; trafficking in women; courtship violence; economically coerced sex; sexual abuse in the workplace
• Reproductive age 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; legal discrimination
• Old-age Abuse and exploitation of widows.
Violation Against Women Is A Violation of Human Rights:
In the international sphere, women have been instrumental in lobbying for the recognition of violence against women as a violation of human rights, and the development of a strong normative framework condemning violence against women. This underscores that the human rights obligations of states and non-state actors include their obligation to combat violence against women. Women in an insecure world traces the development of the legal framework concerning violence against women, and examines its implementation.
The years 2000 and 2005 also presented an opportunity for assessment of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. ‘Beijing 5’ and ‘Beijing 10’ events brought together governments and women’s groups to evaluate progress in achieving women’s equality and eradicating violence against women, and to identify obstacles to implementation of women’s rights. Women in an Insecure World examines these problems in detail, and the different approaches taken by civil society actors and governments to address them.
Conclusion and Recommendations
To eradicate gender-based violence, women must be empowered in all aspects of their lives. Essential is women’s participation in decision-making, at family, community, national and international levels. Women should be involved in all aspects of preventive diplomacy, peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. On one hand, for peace agreements to have a lasting and sustainable effect, all sectors of society, including women’s associations, need to be involved. On the other, national and international peace efforts can benefits from women’s grassroots experience in conflict prevention, peace building and reconstruction.