Violence against Women Is a Social Illness and Never 'Normal' in Any Society

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Judith Smith Vialva and Roger-Claude Liwanga

Historically, power relations in society between men and women have often been unjustly unequal. This led to domination over and discrimination against women by society, as well as the prevention of the full advancement of women.

Violence against women has been and still is one of the pivotal mechanisms by which society used to force women into an inferior position compared with men. Today, the term "violence against women" is technically used to collectively refer to "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 deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

The most common forms of violence against women are domestic violence by an intimate partner, sexual abuse by intimate and non-intimate partners; trafficking of girls and women, forced prostitution, exploitation of labour, physical and sexual violence against sex workers and, rape as a tool of war in armed conflicts. Thus violence is not accidental and a large contributor is the fact that women and girls are viewed as property.

As a social illness, violence against women registered numerous potential perpetrators which include spouses or partners, parents, other family members, neighbours, and men in positions of power or influence. Still worse, most forms of violence are under-reported and continual incidents rather than sporadic.

Internationally and nationally, violence against women is regarded as a violation of a woman's human rights because it does not only constitute an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace but also, it impairs women's power to enjoy their rights to fundamental freedoms.

Accordingly, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (of 1993) and also appointed a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 1994. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) adopted a regional Declaration on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children.

On a domestic level, South Africa not only ratified all these international instruments, but it also ensured through its domestic legislation provisions and policies prohibiting all forms of violence against women. These include the Domestic Violence Act (1998) and the Gender Policy Framework (1996).

These instruments all tend to promote and protect women's rights, specifically their rights to equality, freedom and security of person. Alongside, there are some organisations and government agencies that are devoting their efforts to eradicating violence against women through educational programmes or campaigns to promote and preserve rights of girls and women.

However, despite those legislative frameworks and other initiatives to protect women against violence, acts of violence against women are still being perpetrated today, and it would appear that the violence in all its forms is on the increase.

According to the WHO report, intimate partner violence is increasingly seen as a significant public health problem; therefore in 48 population-based surveys from around the world, 10-69 percent of women reported being physically assaulted by an intimate male partner at some point in their lives. …