Book Reviews

Article excerpt

Book Reviews

State Responses to Domestic Violence: Current Status and Needed Improvements, The Institute for Women, Law & Development International. Washington, D.C.: 1996. Paperback. 151 pages. $10.00.

The Right to Live Without Violence: Women's Proposals and Actions, Latin American & Caribbean Women's Health Network. Santiago, Chile: 1996. Paperback. 139 pages. $25.00.

Over the past few decades, feminists have come to understand that violence against women is deeply embedded in cultural/social/economic/political power relations based on gender. Eradicating it thus depends on multi-pronged strategies for ending inequality. Two recent publications, The Right to Live Without Violence, published by the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network (LACWHN) and State Responses to Domestic Violence: Current Status and Needed Improvements by Women, Law & Development International (WL&DI) share this perspective with earlier anthologies that remain excellent sources for classroom use.

What distinguishes these works is the way in which they build around a more recent premise. The 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights stands as a watershed in the war on violence against women. For the first time, the international community as a whole recognized violence against women as a human rights issue in what Rhonda Copelon describes as "a conceptual revolution in human rights, rooted in women's lived experience, that broke through the illusory division between the public and private." 1 Both the LACWHN and WL&DI books make this attack on gender violence central, building around it, albeit in different ways. Of the two, the book by the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network (LACWHN) is the most useful for students.

The first volume in the Women's Health Collection series, The Right to Live Without Violence collects relatively short (2-5 page) contributions by LACWHN members describing studies, projects, and activities in various countries of the Americas and the Caribbean. Together, they elucidate the close connection between violence, health and quality of life for women and girls. 2 This is clearly a feminist project: activism motivates every study, and each article lists telephone numbers and email and/or snail-mail addresses for follow up research and networking.

The book is organized into six parts, beginning with "An Issue of Power" (2-15), a statistical and theoretical overview of gender violence, and ending with a list of feminist organizations dedicated to ending it. In between are sections labeled "Research" (21-57), "Groups in Action" (58-96), "Tribunal" (97-111), and "Legal Aspects" (112-137). The sections are not so distinct as the table of contents would lead you to believe, as ideas and issues emerge and re-emerge.

The Research section, for example, includes a concrete, detailed description of a pilot plan to evaluate and diagnose violence in El Salvador. 3 This is but one example of NGO/activist research aimed at problem-solving, emphasizing the voices of women who define problems and reach for solutions ("everyone involved takes part in this work and shares the results"). These themes reappear in articles describing reform efforts in "Groups in Action," which describes various models for activist projects at local, regional, and international levels. Again, readings about projects are permeated by a common theoretical framework: violence against women is caused and reinforced by gender inequality; health/sexuality/violence/inequality are all connected.

The interweaving of experience and theory continues in the section labeled "Tribunal," in which first person accounts from the First Tribunal on Women's Human Rights Violations (Costa Rica, 1995) is followed by a theoretical synthesis and analysis by one of its judges. Here the central analysis - that gender violence violates basic human rights - is made explicit. It is followed by several articles that develop the legal analysis, and excerpts from important international documents: the (1995) Beijing Platform for Action; (1993) Vienna Declaration & Program of Action; and the (1994) Cairo Program of Action. …