Erstwhile Japanese Prime Minister Sato frequently boasted before journalists of having soundly beaten his wife. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace. This shows how little objection there is to socially sanctioned private violence against women. In a representative inquiry conducted by a West German research institute in the Seventies, a majority of those questioned believed that the mistreatment of animals should be condemned more strongly than the beating of wives. Not much seems to have changed since then.
He beat me until I fell over, unconscious. When I came to again, he was lying in bed, snoring. – Bild Zeitung,
Violence against women wears many faces. Women face violence from men and are victims of social and familial violence. They face economic violence at home and at work. They are in constant fear of being sexually violated at home, on the streets at the workplace. There is the perennial suspense of State violence being inflicted on women such as the many Islamic states, which treat women in- humanly. And over thousands of years, women have been consistently brainwashed to unflinchingly, blindly inflict violence on themselves under the false sense of their ‘duty’ towards their family, their children, their religion. They also inflict violence on themselves from a false sense of ‘guilt’ for being women. This is done under the false conviction that by inflicting violence on themselves, they will be able to ‘wash and purify’ the guilt committed by others.
In an IANS report, Krittivas Mukherjee revealed a sordid story of how mothers are responsible for the irreversible brain damage they cause their female offspring. One-year-old Preethi, a mentally challenged child, wasn't born with the disability. Her mother inflicted it on her. As Preethi's mother did not want a fourth daughter, she forced paddy husk down the minutes-old baby's throat. Preethi survived but her tender lungs and throat were badly damaged. The serrated husk cut into parts of the windpipe, reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain, and mentally impairing her for life. In India's poor families the birth of a girl child is considered a burden. Preethi was born in one such family.
The Oxford Dictionary says that ‘violence is inflicting injury or damage to a person or property.’ Since across the world, patriarchal societies and institutions regard women as property, violence to women equates violence to a part of property owned and managed by men.
The fact that woman is a social, emotional, political and sexual entity in her own right and any infliction of violence on her body extends to include her mind too, which is a violation of human rights, does not seem to enter the picture.
The Vedas are very clear that the woman’s body is not her own, so she should surrender herself to her husband without a murmur.
Violence thrives in the victim’s acceptance of the victimiser’s moral right, social superiority and physical power. These myths could have been exploded through effective protests, but this has been fractional. When women protest against violence to their person by men, other women, social groups or the machineries of the government, they are once again made victims of violence. Covert or overt, direct or indirect, visible or invisible, structural or social, women are always both targets and victims of violence across the world.
Feminists and peace researchers argue that women, who as a gender have been structurally dis-empowered, excluded and subjugated, are capable of acute insights into unequal power relationships. Before the outbreak of violence in post-Yugoslavia for instance, women warned the Swedish Ambassador Swanee Hunt of the imminent danger, but she admitted that within the US foreign policy establishment, they were not structured to take women’s warnings seriously.
Women are more likely than men to discern a continuum of relationships between (a) the violence of nuclear war and military force, (b) the violence that occurs in our families and neighbourhood and (c) the violence of economic and social structures defended by military forces. It is easier for women than men to point out these linkages because through personal experience, they have encountered the connections between domestic and political violence, beginning at home to stretch out and reach the street, to the law courts to the battlefield.
The number of women who are battered each year by their partners is unknown because of society’s perception of domestic violence as a private matter, the failure of many victims to report abuse, and the knowledge that many police officers and judges dismiss abuse as inconsequential.
Estimates prepared by the United States Bureau of Justice (Aug. 1995) suggest that at least one million women each year fall victim to the violence of their husbands or boyfriends. One in five of those victims experiences three or more assaults in a six-month period. Domestic violence does not discriminate between ethnicities or geographic locations; European-American, African-American, and Hispanic women in urban, rural, and suburban areas all experience abuse from their spouses or boyfriends.
Women as targets in any counter-insurgency anywhere in the world are always designed to destroy the community solidarity supported and sustained by women right through the conflict. Subjugation of women for the sake of male privilege is a feature of militarization. Empirical studies of the post-Yugoslav and Israeli-Palestinian conflict have demonstrated the linkages between nationalism, militarization, misogyny and domestic violence. Militaries are dominated by men and are universally masculine in culture. Coercion, hierarchy, discipline and power typically characterize them.
Sexual control of women by men and male-dominated institutions has been integral to militarization and patriarchy. Violent conflict and the attendant social upheaval push women into public space to manage survival or enter into negotiations of power. This builds up an inevitable tension resulting in a kind of backlash.
Palestinian MP Dalal Salmeh, at the Women and Violent Conflict conference said: “The violence used against the Palestinian men has made them violent at home, in the workplace and in their free time.” Men compensate for their loss of power by hitting at women. Testimonies of women caught in the midst of the Karachi conflict offer examples of ‘protest masculinity’ recognized earlier in the context of ethnic oppression and poverty in apartheid South Africa. This means that even when submissive, quiet and timid men remain trapped within militarization for some time, they turn into violent men when they come home to their wives and families.
Many women admit that normally placid and quiet husbands never known to show violent behaviour go to the extent of using guns to threaten their wives after the conflict began.
Thousands of Korean women, 15 to 22 years old, were abducted between 1937 and 1943 to serve in Japanese army brothels, often very near battle lines. Some women have told of being forced to have intercourse with as many as 30 soldiers a day. Women in China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia suffered similar fates. In the years after the war, this part of history was largely ignored, if not covered up.
In the late 1980s, women academics in Korea began releasing research and hosting academic conferences on Japanese atrocities against women during the colonial era. Public interest increased sharply when a Filipina, a former comfort woman, went public with her experience in 1990 in Manila.
“Until very recently, violence against women only meant the very gross, identifiable physical assault on women, like rape, maiming, serious injuries by sharp objects, acid throwing or murder,” writes Navid Shahzad of Pakistan. “That too remains subject to minute scrutiny and proof beyond reasonable doubt to result in conviction. Simple injury, unidentifiable assaults, regular battering without marks, sexual harassment other than rape, verbal abuse or psychological torture were not recognized as criminal offence or violence against women offering legal remedy,” she sums up.
Violence against women can be traced to a 2000-year-old culture that encourages male domination. Biological sociologists like Michael Ghighlieri, on the other hand, argue that testosterone acts as a kick-starter for male aggression, and that violence is universal from species to species and culture to culture as a “male strategy.”
He may be lame, he may be mad,
He may beat her as he will:
All that worries Hannah Cash, my lad,
Is – does she love him still? – Bertolt Brecht
Written byShoma A. Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time.