the midst of the war between Athens and Sparta in the early fifth century
B.C., Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata,
a play featuring an Athenian woman who organised all the women of
Greece, seized the Acropolis and the Treasury of Athens and forced the men
into an honourable peace by withholding sexual contact.
To the magistrate's query, "What
business are war and peace of yours?" Lysistrata replied,
is the care of the women!
I prophecy that before long we women will be known as the
peacemakers of Greece."
dilemma - that of being caught up in a war while powerless to influence
its course through conventional means - is essentially the same dilemma in
which most women find themselves in times of armed conflict.
For, even though women have participated in and suffered from war
for centuries, they have been virtually excluded from all stages of
decision-making, from the commencement of hostilities to the conclusion of
is only one of many forms of violence to which women are subjected
There are other types of violence which affect most women at some
point in their lifetime, regardless of their class, colour, religion or
culture, and which can be equally devastating, even life-threatening.
Every day, women are battered, sexually harassed, abused, raped and
psychologically tortured in the home, the workplace and society.
the problem of violence against women has only recently been recognised as
a crime and major obstacle to equality, development and peace.
In effect, peace - a fundamental human right - has been
systematically denied to half the world's population for centuries,
irrespective of the type of political and legal systems under which they
A woman's right to be free from danger and fear for her personal
safety within the home, the workplace and society is likely to be the
toughest battle women will wage in the 1990s.
"Peace includes not only the
absence of war, violence and hostilities at the national and international
levels but also the enjoyment of economic and social justice, equality and
the entire range of human rights and fundamental freedoms within
the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women in
positive and comprehensive definition of peace brings into sharp focus the
far-reaching implications of peace for women in that it highlights the
absence of structural violence, including economic and sexual inequality,
denial of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the deliberate
exploitation of large sectors of the population..."
more importantly, the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies were instrumental
in creating a consensus: violence on the personal and international level
are in fact inextricably linked.
questions of women and peace and the meaning of peace for women cannot be
separated from the broader question of relationships beween women and men
in all spheres of life and in the family," it was agreed.
AS VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
wife: however brutal a tyrant she may unfortunately be chained to - though
she may know that he hates her, though it may be his daily pleasure to
torture her, and though she may feel it impossible not to loathe him -
(he) can claim from her and enforce the lowest degradation of a human
being, that of being made an instrument of an animal function contrary to
John Stuart Mill.
is a great tragedy that for most abused women violence begins at home with
husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles.
In developed and developing countries alike, physical, sexual and
psychological abuse within the family affects an astounding number of
bent towards brutality against women is reflected in popular culture the
The gist of a Spanish riddle is : "Question
: What do mules and women have in common?
Answer : A good beating makes them both better."
A Russian saying echoes the same refrain : "A
wife may love a husband who never beats her, but she does not respect
to a paucity of research and the taboos surrounding admissions of violence
against women in the family, the actual numbers of facts of violence will
probably never be known.
The fact that abuse is generally condoned by social custom and
considered part and parcel of marital life, rather than a crime, is in
itself a grim indication of its high incidence.
parts of Papua New Guinea, 67 per cent of women are victims of marital
Bangladesh, half of the 170 reported cases of women murdered between
1983 and 1985 took place within the confines of the family.
the United States, a woman is beaten every 18 minutes; between 3
million and 4 million are battered each year, but only 1 in 100 cases
of domestic violence is ever reported.
Columbia, about 20 per cent of the patients in a Bogota hospital were
victims of marital violence.
India, five women are burned in dowry-related disputes each day,
according to the official figures, although the number estimated by
activist groups is much higher.
the United Kingdom, one in three families is a victim of assault and
one in five a victim of serious assault, according to a recent report
by the Home Office.
Austria, in 59 per cent of 1,500 divorce cases, domestic violence was
cited as a cause in the marital breakdown.
petitions on grounds of violence in countries as diverse as Canada, Egypt,
Greece and Jamaica are further evidence of the magnitude of the problem of
domestic violence and of the fact that it is becoming one of the main
grounds for divorce in many countries.
these revealing findings,
"the extent of violence against women in the home has been largely
hidden and widely denied by communities that fear that an admission of its
incidence will be an assault on the integrity of the family",
according to a recent United Nations study.
Experts assert that domestic violence is not merely a social ill
but a crime of equal stature with other crimes that urgently needs to be
addressed as such.
adequate legal protection and a social system responsive to domestic
violence, women typically find themselves helpless before their spouses
and before society as a whole.
In fact, it has been argued that marriage renders women even more
vulnerable to violence, in this instance from their own husbands.
Wife assault accounts for about 25 per cent of violent crimes in
the United States, while one in seven wives in the United Kingdom has been
raped by her spouse.
United Nations study recently concluded that "physical
attack is often accompanied by sexual violence and rape, the psychological
effects of which are perhaps more serious than rape by a stranger given
the breach of trust that such conduct involves."
Yet, only a few countries, including Canada, Czechoslovakia,
Denmark, Poland, Scotland, the Soviet Union and Sweden, have incorporated
marital rape as a crime in their legal systems.
Part of the reason for the slow recognition of marital rape is that
in many countries, marriage is perceived to give a man complete licence
for sex, regardless of the wishes of his wife.
does not occur as an isolated incident in the lives of
abused married women and young girls.
Physical brutality, as well as mental torture, usually occurs on a
regular basis causing incalculable suffering and inflicting deep scars on
the victims, the victims' families and on society as a whole.
Women's physical and mental health is often permanently damaged or
impaired, and in some cases violence can have fatal consequences.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk.
Not surprisingly perhaps, abused women are 12 times more likely to
attempt suicide than non-abused women.
For some battered women, alcohol and drug abuse become their only
escape, with disastrous effects on their health and well-being.
a result, domestic violence has devastating repercussions on the family.
Mothers are unable to care for their children properly.
Often they transmit to them their own feelings of low self-esteem,
helplessness and inadequacy.
Children themselves may become victims of their father's abuse if
they try to defend their mother.
On the other hand, boys who witness their father beating their
mother are likely to emulate this behaviour.
In Canada, it has been found that sons of batterers are more likely to beat their own wives.
economic cost to society of dealing with this problem is enormous in terms
of medical treatment and counselling for the victim, the abused woman's
dependence on the welfare system, and the introduction of preventive
In Canada alone, wife battering cost the Government and taxpayers
$32 million in 1980.
Yet, there is little guarantee that an abused woman will not be
mistreated again. More ominously, domestic violence reinforces and
perpetuates a status quo of political, social and economic discrimination
ARE WOMEN ABUSED?
reason why so many women "put up with" abuse in the home is
primarily due to their unequal status in society and the fact that they
have no viable alternatives available to them.
Women are often caught in a vicious circle of economic dependence,
fear for their children's lives as well as their own, repeated
pregnancies, shame, ignorance of their rights before the law, lack of
confidence in themselves and social pressures.
Fear of harming a husband's career and apprehension about the
attitude of the police also prevent women from reporting crimes of
A recent British study revealed that even though 92 per cent of
abused women sought the detention of their abusers, actual arrests
materialised in only 24 per cent of the cases.
factors effectively sentence abused women to a life of recurrent
mistreatment from which they often do not have the means to escape.
Social prejudice reinforces domestic violence against women.
Particularly since wives are often considered as little more than
their spouses' property, husbands assume that this subordinate role gives
them the tacit right to
abuse their wives in order to "keep them in their place"
- the underlying notion being that
women are at best naughty children in need of discipline.
brutality and sexual abuse are widespread largely because they have been
sanctioned for centuries by legal systems which grant women no protection
In nineteenth century England and North America, as well as in much
of the developing world today, even when a wife died or was permanently
injured as a result of domestic violence, the husband was often excused by
the law under various pretexts and his sentence was remarkably light.
1954, Scotland Yard Commander G. H. Hatherill boasted: "There
are only about 20 murders a year in London and many not at all
serious - some are just husbands killing their wives."
in all cultures men have had the right to kill their wives on suspicion of
adultery until very recently.
The same rules have not applied to male adultery.
to a recent comparative study on the legislation of several Mediterranean
and Arab countries (i.e. Egypt, France, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the
Libyan Arab Jamaliriya, Portugal, Spain, the Syrian Arab Republic,
Tunisian and Turkey), crimes of honour continue to absolve husbands and
other male relatives, partially or fully, from charges of homicide or
severe bodily injury to this day.
sanctity of privacy within the family, which makes authorities reluctant
to intervene, often leads women to deny they are being abused, despite
obvious physical signs of brutality which they attribute to self-inflicted
accidents. Thus, what are euphemistically called
"domestic disputes", but which frequently involve broken
ribs and disfiguring facial injuries, are dismissed as family matters,
while rape within marriage is ignored or simply not acknowledged as a
crime in the vast majority of countries.
and physical assault also extend to the female children within the family.
From the United States to Australia, Egypt, India and Israel, one
in four families falls victim to incest.
report estimated that as many as 100 million girls, often under 10 years
of age, are raped by adult men, very often their fathers.
these figures of domestic violence most probably represent only the tip of
the iceberg, considering that only a fraction of all cases are ever
It is particularly ironic that, in spite of impressive economic,
technological and social progress world-wide, millions of women around the
world are routinely abused within their own homes -a tragic crime which
needs to be urgently addressed and vigorously tackled.