Violence against women is by far the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse worldwide. For centuries, a myriad of violent tactics have been employed as a means to leave women voiceless and subordinate, and this violence has spread unabated for three primary reasons. For starters, violence against women has largely been perceived as a private matter, and the international human rights model was not initially structured to hold states accountable for the rights of private citizens. In 1993, the United Nations finally recognized violence against women as a public health crisis through The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993, which placed the onus on states to defend women, emphasizing the need for a coordinated community response, including law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, and services for survivors. Secondly, certain forms of violence are considered cultural or religious practices, and have been justified accordingly as demonstrated through practices, including genital mutilation, honor killings, and the control placed over a woman’s sexuality and reproductive rights. Culture and religion are also employed as means to justify laws that stipulate a woman’s right to dress a certain way, attend school, see a doctor, or enter the public space without a male escort. Thirdly, the nature of this violence’s deeply ingrained roots has contributed to its sheer normalization. When we look to accounts of street harassment, curtailment of reproductive rights, emotional abuse, labor inequities, or sexual assault, such violations are abundantly overlooked, which decriminalizes them, thereby contributing to their vast perpetuation.
Though the outlined origins of the permanence of violence against women, namely privatization, cultural and religious justification, and normalization, are presented as distinct forces, they are in many ways intertwined, making the absolute eradication of violence against women complex. While this suggested web of violence is disheartening, it also implies hope in the sense that if we are able to undermine a particular source or dismantle a particular form of violence, the other strands that it once fed will also be stymied.
Given violence against women manifests itself in a myriad of forms, the subsequent pieces of Discourse on Violence Against Women will delve into the countless distinct sizes and shapes violence against women takes, what allows them to suffuse throughout societies, and how they are perpetuated by multifarious ingrained notions. As I dive into different subsets of the Discourse on Violence Against Women, my intention will be threefold. First, I hope to raise awareness of the topic leveraging literature or anecdotal experiences to guide my writing. Second, I will dissect the force of the violence itself as a means to garner a deeper understanding of the roots of the violence and the convoluted forces at play. Third, I will list resources for survivors, alongside organizations that focus on the particular cause at hand in an effort to promote further research, investigation, and support.
I have chosen to investigate this topic for a few key reasons. As I mentioned at the very start of this piece, this form of violence is the most pervasive, yet least recognized human rights abuse globally. If it were an infectious disease, we would declare it a pandemic. Raising awareness around this topic is a vital step to bringing an end to it. Moreover, as we look to empower women globally, violence is the first topic we ought to address. That is, as we encourage women and girls to take up their rightful space in society, we must first address these glaring threats that encroach on them as they step into the public sphere. Finally, as a woman myself, I am brimming with anger that from the minute we take our first breaths in this world, our lives and liberties are endangered on the basis of our sex.
As we open this discourse, I implore all of us to appreciate of the gravity and pervasiveness of this ongoing crisis, alongside the incredible strides that we have made and the immense hope that lies ahead for lasting change. While we progress beyond conventional ways of thinking and becoming more cognizant of our own complicity in violence against women’s perpetuation, we will become prevailing agents of change. Unpacking these topics will be complex and challenging, but very much necessary in ultimately ceasing all instances of violence against women throughout societies. So, let’s roll up our sleeves, and get to work.