All around the world women are disadvantaged socially, politically, and economically compared to males. The sociocultural approach explains that expectations about gender are passed on socially (Burn, 2011, p. 4). Through these constructs gender roles are upheld by giving status and power to those who maintain the ideology and ostracizing those who do not (Burn, 2011, p. 5). What follows is a discussion of the advantage of using a global human rights perspective to look at the issues surrounding women’s status and power and their vulnerability to violence along with some solutions.
Women’s human rights are violated in many different ways. Compounding the problem is that the law makers and political leaders are predominately males who are the dominate class. The oppression of women is not seen as a political issue and results in women being left out of the human rights discussion (Bunch, 1990, p. 491). When women are not able to earn wages equal to men they are economically disadvantaged and more vulnerable to prostitution and abusive relationships. Laws that prohibit reproductive choice and do not criminalize rape in marriage, continue the patriarchal ideology.
Framing violence against women as a human right serves to recognize that basic safety of person and body is a right of both genders not just women. Government leaders have an obligation to see that these rights are protected (Burn, 2011, p. 10). For instance in refugee camps “[w]omen and children make up more that 80 percent” (Bunch, 1990, p. 493). When some men were allocated the rations they only “gave food to the women and their children in exchange for sex” (Bunch, 1990, p. 494). Highlighting these types of abuses leads to new policies being made.
Almost all countries around the world have cultures that allow violence against women. Heise, Ellsberg and Gottmoeller (2002) state that “The same acts that would be punished if directed at an employer, a neighbor, or an acquaintance often go unchallenged when men direct them at women, especially within the family” (p. S5). Female specific violence includes “wife abuse, sexual assault, dowry-related murder, marital rape, selective malnourishment of female children, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, and sexual abuse of female children” (p. S6).
The most common form of violence against women is intimate partner violence with “between 10 and 60% of women” (Heise, Ellsberg & Gottmoeller, 2002, p. S6) experiencing it in a study that covered 36 countries. Many cultures believe that it is a man’s right to control their wive’s behaviour (p. S8). Frequently this results in a suppression of woman’s right to reproductive choices as a wife is too scared to ask their husbands to use any contraception for fear of reprisal (p. S8). Physical violence and rape puts women at risk for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In countries where abortion is not legal women are subjected to abortions that are performed under less than ideal conditions often putting the woman’s own life at risk due to infection and poorly performed abortions.
Sex selection has given rise to unequal representation of genders in populations. In China where government policy allows only one child per couple in an effort to reduce population, couples often prefer a boy child because they are more valued and son preference is a form of violence against women (Nnadi, 2013, p. 134). Hesketh and Xing state that sex selection has led not only to an under representation of females, but those females who are born are often subjected to less health care and “are more likely to die than male children” (as cited in Burn, 2011, p. 21). Burn (2011) states “It is estimated that in Asia, at least 60 million girls are “missing” as the result of sex-selective abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and neglect” (p. 20). A scarcity of women “is expected to put women at greater disadvantage for rape and violence and has already increased the trafficking of women” (Burn, 2011, p. 21).
The solution to stopping violence against women is to make “human rights frameworks that would lead to a world characterized by justice, equality, autonomy, secularism, bodily integrity and choice” (Rajaram & Zararia, 2009, p. 480). For equality to happen women must hold the right to reproductive choices which would include the spacing and number of children, contraceptives, maternal health care, as well as sexual choices. Ethnocentrism can often hurt cultures when activists expect to go in and institute a new way of thinking in a culture. For instance, female genital cutting is considered an honored passage for many cultures and parents believe they are doing right by performing female genital cutting. Cultural sensitivity is critical to making changes.
Action is required at the international, national, and local levels as “action-driven prudent polic[ies] are urgently needed to address the medical, rehabilitation, prevention, awareness, and policy aspects of the problem involving all stakeholders, including researchers, activists, and policymakers” (Haque & Ahsan, 2014, p. 217). Women must hold positions where they are able to enact changes such as lawmakers and policy makers. Women are critical to the decision making process as “[t]his absence of women’s perspectives in the norm creation process of human rights law [has] resulted in partial rather than universal or representative human rights systems” (Qureshi, 2012, p. 118). To do this would require making the texts of religion gender inclusive as many religious texts give rights to the husband that often include physical measures to keep their wives obedient.
It will require a great effort “to move beyond the view of sexual violence as a “thing” that happens to all women, to contextualize its causes and consequences, and to put remedies back into general social reform” (Miller, 2004, p. 30). It is a process that will, no doubt, take years and the efforts of lobbyists, activists, law makers and women themselves leading the way to change. Non-discriminatory human rights are critical to the safety and well-being of women around the world.
Bunch, C. (1990). Women’s rights as human rights: Toward a re-vision of human rights. Human Rights Quarterly, 12(4). 486-498.
Burn, S. (2011). Women across cultures: A global perspective (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Haque, S. E., & Ahsan, H. (2014). Human rights violations against women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46(2), 216-217. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.013
Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., & Gottmoeller, M. (2002). A global overview of gender-based violence. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 78(Supplement 1), S5–S14.
Miller, A. M. (2004). Sexuality, violence against women, and human rights: Women make demands and ladies get protection. Health and Human Rights, 7(2), 16-47.
Nnadi, I. (2013). Son preference – A violation of women’s human rights: A case study of igbo custom in nigeria. Journal of Politics and Law, 6(1), 134-141.
Qureshi, S. (2012). Progressive development of women’s human rights in international human right law and within United Nations system. Journal of Political Studies, 19(2), 111-124.
Rajaram, N., & Zararia, V. (2009). Translating women’s human rights in a globalizing world: The spiral process in reducing gender injustice in Baroda, India. Global Networks,9(4), 462-484. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2009.00264.x