Gender equality is a fundamental objective of any society based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Gender equality concerns almost all aspects of social interaction and public policy. However, discussing gender-based violence can be difficult, since concepts and terms are included that are not always clear, that can change over time, and that cross different disciplines such as psychology, sociology, culture, medicine, law, education, activism or politics. The bottom line is that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights and affects not only the people it directly targets, but also the whole of society. We analyze here what gender violence consists of, what its types and causes are.
What is gender violence?
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as:
“ Any act of gender-based violence that results or may result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life .”
In more recent legal documents, the term “ gender-based violence against women ” is used. For example, in the Council of Europe Convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), the following definition is established:
“ Gender-based violence shall be understood as violence directed against a woman for being a woman or that affects her disproportionately ”.
Definitions like these apply to cases where gender is the basis of violence against a person. However, gender is more than being male or female : someone can be born with female sexual characteristics but identify as male, or as male and female at the same time, or sometimes as neither male nor female.
LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and others who do not conform to the heterosexual norm or to traditional binary gender categories) also experience violence based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. For that reason, violence against such people falls within the scope of gender-based violence statistics . In addition, men can also be the target of gender violence: according to the data, the number of cases of this type is much lower, compared to women, but it should not be neglected.
Gender-based violence is based on an imbalance of power and is carried out with the intention of humiliating and making a person or group of people feel inferior and/or subservient. This type of violence is deeply embedded in the social and cultural structures, norms and values that govern society, and is often perpetuated by a culture of denial and silence. Gender-based violence can occur in both the public and private spheres and affects women disproportionately.
Why is gender violence a problem?
Gender violence is a violation of human rights . It is a relentless attack on human dignity that deprives people of their human rights. Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right and gender-based violence undermines a person’s sense of self-worth and self-worth. It affects not only physical health , but also mental health and can lead to self-harm, isolation, depression, and suicide attempts.
Gender violence threatens the physical and psychological integrity of a person. Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure, and when this is not the case, people’s ability to function in family, community and society is likely to suffer, as self-fulfilment and development suffer. . Gender violence is an obstacle to the realization of the well-being of each person and their right to fulfillment and self-development.
Gender violence is discrimination . It is deeply rooted in harmful stereotypes and prejudices against women or others who do not fit into a traditional binary society. For that reason, gender-based violence can have the effect of pushing women and other affected people to the margins of society and making them feel inferior or powerless.
In the case of men who do not act according to the dominant masculine gender roles, gender-based violence has the function of correcting by example. Their own lives may clash and seem to contradict the idea that there are natural forms of behavior and social roles in general for men and women.
It is also an obstacle to gender equality . Gender equality is essential to safeguard human rights, defend democracy and preserve the rule of law. Gender violence contributes to cultivating a heteronormative society and perpetuates the power of men. Gender equality, on the other hand, implies equal rights for people of all genders, as well as equal visibility and equal opportunities for empowerment, accountability and participation in all spheres of public and private life. Gender equality also implies equal access and equitable distribution of resources between women and men.
Finally, gender violence has a very high economic cost. It requires the participation of different services (medical, psychological, police or judicial) and results in the loss of resources or employment of the victims of gender violence . It causes people to underperform at work and in education, and negatively affects their productivity. Many people experiencing gender-based violence are unable to stay at home and need a place to stay, sometimes resulting in homelessness. It is necessary to provide shelter services for these people.
Types of gender violence
Violence is often associated only with physical violence, neglecting other non-physical forms. Violence is a complex subject and the categorization of different types of violence can never be exact.
We distinguish five interrelated types of violence.
Physical violence includes hitting, burning, kicking, punching, biting, maiming, or killing, or the use of objects or weapons.
It is an act that attempts to cause pain and/or physical harm. As with all forms of violence, the primary goal of the perpetrator is not only, or may not always be, to cause physical pain, but also to limit the self-determination of the other.
This violence demonstrates differences in social power or may be intended to promote particular demands, sometimes regularly, through coercion.
Verbal violence can include things that are specific to one person, such as put-downs (in private or in front of others), ridicule, using profanity that is especially uncomfortable for the other, saying mean things about the other’s loved ones, threatening with other forms of violence, either against the victim or against a loved one.
At other times, the verbal abuse may be relevant to the victim’s background, such as their religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, or traditions. Depending on the most emotionally sensitive areas of the victim, abusers often consciously target these issues in ways that are painful, humiliating, and threatening to the victim.
Verbal violence can be classified as hate speech. It can take many forms: words, videos, memes or images that are posted on social networks, or it can carry a violent message that threatens a person or a group of people for certain characteristics.
There are certain forms of violence that are produced by methods that cannot be placed in other categories and that, therefore, can be said to achieve psychological violence in a “pure” way. This includes isolation or confinement, withholding information, misinformation, and threatening behavior.
In the private sphere, psychological violence includes threatening behavior that lacks physical violence or verbal elements, for example, actions that refer to previous acts of violence, or another person’s willful ignorance and neglect.
Marital rape and attempted rape constitute sexual violence. Certain forms of sexual violence are related to the personal limits of the victim and are more typical of the private sphere. The perpetrator deliberately violates these boundaries: examples include date rape, forcing certain types of sexual activity, withholding sexual attention as a form of punishment, or forcing others to watch (and sometimes imitate) pornography.
There are three particular forms of sexual violence in the public sphere that are worth noting: sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual violence as a weapon of war and torture, and sexual violence against LGBT+ people as a means of punishment for leaving. prescribed gender roles.
Global economic data clearly show that one of the consequences of globalization is the feminization of poverty (making women in general more economically vulnerable than men).
However, even when the relationship is reversed and a woman has a higher economic status in a relationship, this does not necessarily eliminate the threat of violence: conflicts over status and castration can arise, particularly in relationships that are already abusive.
Typical forms of socio-economic violence include taking away the victim’s income, not allowing her to have a separate income (by giving her the status of a housewife or making her work in a family business without a salary), or making the victim unfit for employment. job. through targeted physical abuse.
Some public forms of gender-based socioeconomic violence contribute to women becoming economically dependent on their partners.
There are also two other categories of violence: domestic violence and sexual harassment, which can be a combination of the five types of violence mentioned above.
In reality, some or many forms of violence may be present at the same time, particularly in abusive relationships. All forms can occur both in the private sphere (in families and intimate relationships) and in the public sphere, committed by (unknown) individuals in the public space, or by organizations, institutions and States.
What causes gender violence?
The main cause of the violence is the perpetrator himself: it is very important to keep in mind that a person who has been affected by gender-based violence is never responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.
There is no single factor that can explain gender-based violence in our societies, rather a myriad of factors contribute to it, and the interaction of these factors is at the root of the problem. Gender violence continues to be an important social scourge.
Patriarchal and sexist views legitimize violence to ensure the dominance and superiority of men. Other cultural factors include gender stereotypes and prejudices, normative expectations of femininity and masculinity, gender socialization, an understanding of the family sphere as private and under male authority, and a general acceptance of violence as part of the public sphere. and as an acceptable means of resolving conflicts and asserting oneself.
Religious and historical traditions have sanctioned the physical punishment of women under the notion of women’s rights and property. The concept of property, in turn, legitimizes control over women’s sexuality.
Sexuality is also linked to the concept of so-called family honor in many societies . The traditional norms of these societies allow the murder of women suspected of violating family honor by engaging in prohibited sexual relations or by marrying and divorcing without the consent of the family. The same norms about sexuality can help explain the mass rape of women.
Being a victim of gender-based violence is perceived in many societies as shameful and weak, and many women are still considered guilty of attracting violence against themselves through their behaviour.
Until recently, the law in some countries still differentiated between public and private spaces , leaving women particularly vulnerable to domestic violence .
The Istanbul Convention guarantees the right of all people, especially women, to live free from violence in both the public and private spheres. While most forms of gender-based violence are criminalized in most European countries, law enforcement practices in many cases favor the perpetrators, which helps explain low levels of trust in public authorities and the fact that most of these crimes go unreported.
The decriminalization of homosexuality is still very recent in many societies. While progress has been made in many states in adopting same-sex marriage, this has sometimes led to a backlash.
The lack of economic resources generally makes women, but also LGBT+ people, particularly vulnerable to violence. It creates self-perpetuating patterns of violence and poverty, making it extremely difficult for victims to escape.
When unemployment and poverty affect men, this can also cause them to assert their masculinity through violent means.
The underrepresentation of women and LGBT+ people in power and politics means they have fewer opportunities to shape the discussion and make policy changes, or to take action to combat gender-based violence and support equality.
In some cases, the issue of gender-based violence is seen as unimportant, as domestic violence also receives insufficient resources and attention. The women’s and LGBT+ movements have raised questions and increased public awareness of traditional gender norms, highlighting aspects of inequality. For some, this threat to the status quo has been used as a justification for violence.
Gender violence and human rights
People who experience gender-based violence may experience different human rights violations , for example the right to life, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, freedom from discrimination and the right to security.
All of these rights can be found in international and regional human rights documents, in particular by the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Instruments and measures adopted by the United Nations
The right to life, gender equality, the prohibition of discrimination based on sex, the protection of physical integrity, the right to health, to mention some of the human rights affected by gender violence, are safeguarded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .
To intensify the fight against violence and discrimination against women, the United Nations adopted specific instruments and measures in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women .
Instruments adopted by the Council of Europe
As a human rights issue, gender equality and gender-based violence are primarily addressed through human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter .
The growing awareness of the magnitude and persistence of the problem has led to the creation of specific instruments to address gender violence in its various forms.
Despite the important advances achieved with the instruments mentioned above, the recognition and existing legal measures are not enough. It is necessary to establish effective mechanisms and processes for the prevention of violence and the incorporation of the gender perspective.
In addition to international human rights mechanisms, relevant policies or bodies at the national level should include:
- National gender promotion committees with a clear action plan;
- Ombudsman for Equality;
- Effective legislation to guarantee legal and substantive equality;
- Affirmative action, such as quotas for women in education and employment;
- Women’s NGOs, LGBT+ organizations, and women’s or LGBT+ studies at universities.
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