Even with the rise of feminism and women worldwide vindicating their rights, demanding equal pay and denunciating sexism and violence against women remains a problem which transcends borders, economic, social class and religion beliefs. November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, celebrated since 1981, highlights questions such as the root causes of violence against women and why it still remains. The case of Peru is a shocking example: forty percent of women have reported to have been subjected to physical violence by their male partner.
Violence against women, according to the United Nations’ definition includes "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."
First and foremost, violence against women is a social problem, without economic, racial or cultural distinctions, which has major negative health, economic and developmental consequences on communities throughout the world. This is a problem, which according to Teresa Viviano Llave, representative of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable People of Peru, “settles quietly in numerous families yet leaves terrible consequences.”
In Peru, the situation is particularly alarming. According to statistics from the Spanish based NGO Feminicidio.net sixty-five percent of married women in Peru have suffered domestic violence or abuse from their partners. According to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru (Ministerio de Mujeres y Poblaciones Vulnerables) twelve women die every month in murders related to what has been coined as femicide.
During a forum last week in Lima on the Role of the State and Civil Society’s role against femicides (Rol del Estado y la Sociedad Civil frente al feminicidio) Maria Ysabel Cedano, a lawyer who works for the NGO DEMUS, explained in most instances where women are murdered the circumstances are related to domestic violence. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in Peru in seventy percent of the cases where a woman was murdered, her partner was the killer. Men on the other hand are murdered for numerous reasons including robbery, drug trafficking and vengeance, according to the DEMUS representative.
The motives that lead men to kill their female partner are also revealing of the root causes of violence: macho culture. According to Cedano, men convicted of femicide cited infidelity, belief of infidelity, refusal to accept the termination of their relationship, or the pursuit of sexual relations as the main reasons for their crimes. These all show signs of control and dominance.
In the 1995 Beijing declaration and platform of action of the 4th UN World Conference on Women, the largest and most influential conference of its kind, governments and NGOs worldwide agreed in the final declaration that "violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women’s full advancement." Hence, violence against women can be partly explained by the fact that it emerges from within society where women are considered intrinsically inferior to men.
In fact, culture, social patterns and unequal power relationships between men and women create an environment where men come to see relationships in a distorted manner so that control and often abuse are perceived as signs of loyal love. According to a national study of the National Program Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Peru (PNCVFS), fifty-six percent of cases of violence against women were perpetrated on the grounds of jealousy. This reveals that violence against women is at least partly the result of a patriarchal and macho society, in which men’s insecurities drive their dominance and repression.
Instead of victimising women, Cedano argues that on the contrary women should be empowered. “We are not going to move forward unless the culture changes,” she argues. Women need to be empowered with sexual education, the right to make decisions about their bodies, affordable contraception and respect of their sexual rights. The problem will only begin to disappear “when women and the state will be able to openly speak about sexuality and the right to pleasure, without any shame nor influence from the Church.” Women’s sexuality must belong to them, and only them, and only then will there be a positive change, according to Cedano.
Excessive control and violence as ‘normal’
According to a government survey (Peru: Encuesta demografica y de Salud Familiar, 2011) an average of 65.6 percent of women in the country declared their partner exerted some sort of control over them. For 47.8 percent, the partner insisted on knowing where they were going and for 42.7 percent, the partner was being excessively insistent, dominant or jealous. Cesar Ortiz Anderson—president of APROSEC, a non-profit organisation that foments public safety in Peru—explains that these subtle forms of violence and the machista culture contribute to some women thinking that these types of power abuse and even physical violence are ’normal’ and prevents them from denunciating.
More than violence
Violence against women, which includes domestic violence, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and genital mutilation stems from discrimination, inequalities and failure to respect women’s rights. Hence, ending the gender-based violence starts by recognizing the human rights of women and empowering them. Above all, tackling violence against women starts with women themselves: leading campaigns, speaking out against injustice, breaking taboos and defending their rights.