Power, Empowerment and Violence against Women, Study Violence as backlash against womens activism

Monday, September 16, 2013
Sudan Vision Daily
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

How best can international development agencies and indigenous NGOs support the efforts of women in the countries where they work to challenge the violence against them? What is development, who are the intended beneficiaries, and at what cost? The next section will argue that violence against women has often been framed as a concern for development agencies in narrowly economic terms. This reflects a common focus in international development organisations on economic growth and poverty alleviation that has precluded adequate analysis of power relations between men and women in development processes.

Existing ‘efficiency' approaches to violence against women
Existing development approaches recognise violence against women as a barrier to women's full participation in the economic activities of their nation and community. This policy approach stresses that women's ‘efficiency' as economic actors is at stake (for more on efficiency approaches to women in development, see Moser 1993). Such approaches emphasise the costs of violence against women to women themselves, to the State, and to communities, rather than emphasising that violence is an abuse of women's humanity. They are based on a vision of development as economic growth, and on the assumption that development will lead to a decrease in violence against women. In this light, initiatives to address violence can be justified by the fact that they help maximise returns on investments in many sectors of national development.

While this approach may seem abhorrent to activists who would prefer to argue that violence is an abuse of human rights, arguing that violence against women must be eradicated because of its cost to society and development is a useful strategy in contexts where more radical arguments may not succeed. Establishing the financial cost of violence against women may lead to donors or governments giving funding to organisations that work on the issue, and it may persuade legislators to act. As Nüket Kardam, a Women in Development (WID) scholar and practitioner, found in a study on the World Bank, ‘WID issues have received a more favourable response from the staff members when they were introduced and justified on the basis of economic viability. The more the indispensability of WID components to the economic success of projects can be demonstrated, the more staff members are likely to pay attention.'

Violence against women as a barrier to national development researchers, international organisations, national governments, and many local NGOs are in agreement that women's full participation in all areas of economic, political and social work is paramount if poverty is to be alleviated worldwide. In particular, interventions that focus on areas of life where women have a key reproductive role must have the full participation of women if problems such as high fertility, deforestation, and hunger are to be solved. Women's participation is seen here not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieving other development objectives.

Violence against women wastes women's potential to participate in the economy and society, by sapping women's energy, undermining their confidence, and compromising their health. Awareness of the impact of violence against women on women's participation is evident in the World Bank's argument that ‘women cannot lend their labour or creative ideas fully,when they are burdened with the physical and psychological scars of abuse.'

Violence can prevent women's participation in development directly, by detrimentally affecting their health. Attempts to quantify the cost of violence against women to development are likely to be conservative, because of continuing reluctance by many public institutions to recognise violence as a legitimate public concern, and because of under-reporting of the problem by the women involved.

However, the World Bank estimates that rape and domestic
violence are significant causes of morbidity and mortality among women aged 15-44 worldwide. According to World Bank estimates, rape and domestic violence account for six per cent of the total disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) of healthy life lost worldwide, for 90 per cent of the morbidity associated with disability from injury worldwide, and for five per cent of the healthy years of life lost to women of reproductive age in developing countries. Such data may prompt governments and businesses to begin to count the losses caused by violence against women systematically.

Violence against women also hampers women's ability to participate in development indirectly, by intimidating them from taking part in development activities, including education. Domestic violence and the fear of it are often key factors in limiting women's participation in development projects. A recent research programme on social participation in Latin America highlighted that domestic violence and marital disapproval were projects in the area of study (PASF, Oxfam internal document 1998).

In all states, violence against women has a vast indirect cost. This includes the costs of purchasing physical and mental health care for victims of violence; the cost of women's lost labour; the cost of the provision of temporary and permanent housing; and the costs of the loss of children's education when their lives are disrupted by violence. In countries where laws against violence exist, and women can gain access to the legal process, costs to the State include those of criminal and civil investigations, and legal proceedings.