Gender-based violence is both persistent and widespread, and ranks as top public health crisis for women in the world today. In fact, women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
This violence can take many different forms, and is constantly mutating into new forms, be it acid attacks, bride burnings, rape or domestic violence. Often this violence is perpetrated by those closest to a woman. Surveys suggest that about one-third of all women globally face beatings in the home. Another major study found that in most countries between 30 and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or a boyfriend. The figures for female murder by male partners are also astounding: Up to 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners, according to the World Health Organization.
In some countries, female genital mutilation is also a growing concern. Over 135 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation and 2 million more girls are at risk each year. “Honor” killings, in which a woman’s relative murders her for disgracing the family, can also be a concern in parts of the world. They too are on the rise.
Dominic Nahr / Magnum
Many governments across the globe continue to turn a blind eye to this violence. To date, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not outlawed and more than 2.6 billion live in countries where rape within marriage is not considered a crime. Without legal retribution, assailants rarely face consequences for their actions and the victims are less likely to report the abuse. In some cases, women are concerned that they will be the ones punished if they report the violence. Other times rape and sexual assault are so stigmatized that the victim stays silent even if there are laws in place.
Rape and these other abuses often work to keep women down, and there can be enormous economic, social and health consequences. Women who have experienced such violence can suffer isolation and depression and have increased drug and alcohol dependency or even poor reproductive health. They may become unable to work or care for their families.
While laws are important to help combat this violence, the main solution is to change the way people think. Two things lie behind gender-based violence: sexism and misogyny. And it’s not just the men: women too adhere to discriminatory social customs, and frequently are the ones to transmit to the next generation. For instance, women are often the managers of brothels in poor countries or the ones who demand that their daughters’ genitals are cut.
Since these attitudes are embedded in culture, they will only change with education and local leadership. But outsiders can play a role in creating change too, in part by shining a spotlight on these harmful and sexist attitudes and traditions. By not speaking out we too are helping to quietly sanction this violence against women.
The International Rescue Committee and writer/photographer Ann Jones worked together on "A Global Crescendo: Womens Voices from Conflict Zones" in 2007 and 2008, documenting violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), Sierra Leone and Thailand.
Photographer Melanie Blanding has been documenting violence against women and her work can be seen on her website.
Check out Half the Sky Movement's partners who are working to end gender-based violence here.
Top left photo: Lynsey Addario / VII