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Violence Against Women Has Broad Social Consequences, Experts Say
November 23, 2011

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
22 November 2011


Long a subject locked in the home behind a curtain of silence, violence against women will be pushed into an international spotlight in the days and weeks ahead in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The occasion is marked on November 25, but Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer said advocates of the cause will be recognizing this international problem with events scheduled through the end of the month and up to December 10, Human Rights Day. Verveer said advocates are linking the cause to human rights day as a demonstration of the fact that the rights of women and girls are also human rights. Striking a blow against a woman is a blow against human rights, she said.

“Not something marginal to human rights, not a subset of human rights, but violations of human rights,” said Verveer at a State Department discussion forum held November 21. “It is truly and sadly a global scourge.”

In the 16 days leading up to Human Rights Day, Verveer said, thousands of organizations and tens of thousands of people in more than 150 nations have organized events and activities to denounce violence against women.

The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues organized a State Department event to focus on the economic, health, legal and social costs that are the consequences of violence against women. United Nations surveys show that one in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, and that violence against women causes more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than do cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined.

The World Bank has recently issued a wide-ranging report on gender equality, said Jeni Klugman, a specialist on women’s issues. She said one finding is that gender equality is a smart economic policy.

“Gender equality has important benefits in terms of productivity, incomes, and improves development outcomes, including for future generations,” said Klugman. Economic analysis further shows that violence incurs significant costs. As a woman is debilitated by violence or seeks to escape it, costs are incurred by the individual, her employer and her community, state and nation.

Jay Silverman, a professor in the Division of Global Public Health at the University of California–San Diego, said domestic violence is a contender to be the most preventable and modifiable risk factor that prevents the achievement of community and global health goals. Even beyond injury or death caused by violence, Silverman said, domestic violence can also degrade a woman’s reproductive health and maternal health, and affect her HIV status and vulnerability to other sexually transmitted conditions.

Children in a violent home also suffer, even before birth. Evidence shows that infants born to abused women are most likely to be of low birth weight, one of the greatest risk factors for a newborn. “Once born, they are far more likely to get sick from major, major sources of child mortality,” Silverman said, “such as diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infection; they are also more likely to experience stunting, malnutrition and other development issues.”

And if violence is routine in domestic life, children of the household are also likely to become victims, Silverman said. Girl children in a violent home are at significantly greater risk of sexual assault; or a male relative might force them into prostitution or sell them to a human trafficker.

The U.N. General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1999, while women’s rights activists have marked the day since 1981, in solemn recognition of assassinations that occurred in 1960. Three sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, were murdered in 1960 after their ongoing protests against the Dominican dictator of the time, Rafael Trujillo.