Dismaying Violence Against Women

By N. Gunasekaran

All over the world, women suffer multiple forms of abuse in their daily life. Recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while launching a new UN campaign, “Unite to End Violence Against Women,” listed some forms of abuse, including “rape, sex selection, genital mutilation and sex trafficking.” But to be included in this list are other harrowing forms such as harassment and violence in custody, sexual harassment at the workplace and in public, which in India is called “Eve teasing,” dowry harassment and deaths, molestation and domestic violence. The traumatic experiences of women in Iraq and Afghanistan who face abduction, rape and murder are another tragic dimension of the problem.

Last year, another UN campaign on the theme of “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence” was held from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10. Two months after this campaign, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in Britain reported that, every year, up to 17,000 women in Britain were being subjected to “honor”-related violence. Girls were falling victim to forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murder by relatives who were keen to uphold the “honor” of their family.

Such startling figures pouring from all parts of the world and the growing deprivation of women in both Western and Eastern societies, showed that the huge campaigns and big events by the international bodies were ostensibly becoming just annual rituals.

The global agencies, including the UN, consider that the governmental actions, the enactment and enforcement of laws, are panacea for all problems connected with the violence on women. They don’t go into the deeply-rooted causes behind the unabated violence on women. Although crimes on women were age-old social evils, the phenomenal increase in violence on women in recent times could be traced in the new socio-economic order imposed by the corporate-driven capitalism and its cultural mores.

See how it works in India. As in many Third-World countries, India’s ruling elites hugged the neoliberal policies. In agriculture, there were the reduction of subsidies, cuts in public investments, etc., which were highly detrimental to the lower strata of the peasantry, causing a severe employment crunch in rural areas. With the steady decline of wage employment for women in agriculture, a large number of women were migrating to cities, working in unorganized sectors, such as household industry, petty trades and services and construction activity. In such vulnerable situations, they were subjected to not only the terrible exploitation of their labor, but also to the sexual exploitation, leading to further increase in violence in urban areas. This is very common phenomena in all poor countries affected by corporate globalization.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) reported that women constitute 50% or more of migrant workers in Asia and Latin America, and they significantly outnumber men from countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The migrant workers have rights as workers and as human beings, as embodied in many UN and International Labor Organization conventions. But the relentless profit-driven corporate globalization, and the governments’ abdication of their responsibility made the migrant workers, especially women contract workers suffer a lot. Women workers’ labor was considered to be cheap and docile and they doubly suffer with increasing sexual assaults on them.

It was widely reported in the mainstream media that violence on women is increasing in Africa, especially in the conflict-prone areas. In Kenya, out of the quarter-million people displaced by recent civil instability, about 85% were women and children. However, a sort of silence was maintained over the fact that almost a quarter of women in the US had experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes. Corporate interests have driven the rulers to weaken the social security system, effecting many hardships on women. For instance, in the US, 67.2% of women are working later into their pregnancies due to the acute need of two incomes to maintain their families. In the US, documented evidence by many domestic-worker advocacy organizations described the near-slavery conditions of female domestic workers. They are faced with verbal and physical abuses, confiscation of their passports, near imprisonment in their employers’ homes, lack of proper food, and sexual assaults etc.

In the atmosphere of competition and consumerism, the erosion of human values has become the order of the day and commodification of women is its byproduct. Men, being tempted to look at women as objects, unleash violence on them to sexually exploit them. In India, female infanticide and abortion of female babies are prevalent in many places, since parents of girl children want to avoid the high cost of a wedding dowry. The parents of a bridegroom demand huge sums as dowry so that their sons can lead a lavish life. Why do these old obnoxious practices still exist today? The reason lies in the consumerist lifestyle and competitive and greedy culture advocated by neoliberalism.

The neo-liberal paradigm is more harmful to women from disadvantaged sections and the religious and ethnic minorities. The violence and abuse suffered women involved in prostitution has now increased very dangerously. They are assaulted, often by big businessmen and young men with money. They live under a situation where they are 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women.

Today 11 women are serving as their countries’ presidents or prime ministers, and women across the world hold higher positions at all levels. But billions of women today still lead the drudge life and two centuries of struggle for emancipation have still not succeeded. Apart from governmental actions, laws and campaigns, what is needed is the overthrow of the present capital-serving neo-liberal order. The proper strategies have to be worked out with this long-term goal. In this undertaking, global unity of both working women and men is an important factor.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2008

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