Employment, Education, Intimate Partner Violence, we asked Dr Andrea Den Boer to assess the areas needing dynamic change to tangibly improve the lives of women and girls throughout the world.
On the 8th of March the world celebrates International Women’s Day. It is a day to honour the women in our lives but also reflect on the status of women throughout the world. While we acknowledge that women have greater freedoms today than ever before, we have not yet achieved equality with men. Currently, women comprise 26% of parliaments around the world—a significant increase on 11% in 1995, yet there is still progress to be made. The highest percentage of women’s representation is found in the Americas (34%) followed by Europe (31%), and the lowest percentages found in the Middle East and North Africa (18%) and the Pacific (18%). While girls have achieved parity with boys in primary school in half of the world’s states, there are still an estimated 129 million girls who should be in school—lower rates of attendance for girls is due to gender bias, but is exacerbated by child marriage, conflict, and other causes. Women are unable to participate in the labour market in the same way as men—legal restrictions in 104 countries mean that 2.7 billion women are barred from some forms of employment; in 18 states, wives require permission from their husbands to work. Restrictions on women’s freedoms affect their everyday movements—in 30% of states, women lack one or more of indicators of freedom of movement: they cannot choose where to live, travel outside their home, apply for a passport, and travel outside of the country in the same way as a man.
One of the most pressing issues concerning women is the extent to which they are subjected to violence within the home or intimate partner relationships. Violence against women is now recognised as both a human rights violation and a global health issue. Globally, 27% of women are estimated to have experienced intimate partner violence, and that figure may grossly underestimate its prevalence. My research examining laws and government policies concerning violence against women worldwide reveals that many states fail to protect women legally from domestic violence: 36 countries still have no laws against domestic violence and in 41 states there is no law against raping your spouse. Although some states have passed legislation concerning violence against women, the penalties can be as inconsequential as a written warning or minor fine—93 states fail to adequately criminalise domestic violence (in one state, the punishment for littering is more severe than for beating your wife, as long as the beating doesn’t result in hospitalisation that exceeds 21 days). In too many countries, wife beating is viewed as normal and women are taught not to speak of it or report it.
Sustained global pressure is slowly helping to change attitudes towards violence against women. When a Ugandan Member of Parliament stated in an interview in 2018 that “as a man, you need to discipline your wife … You need to touch her a bit, you tackle her, beat her somehow to really streamline her,” the resulting outrage by the public indicated that attitudes in the state were shifting and such practices are becoming intolerable. Better laws, improved enforcement of the laws, sustained support for victims of domestic violence, and increased awareness, are steps that all states need to take to eliminate violence against women. As we celebrate women on this day, speak out about the issue of violence against women—no matter where you live in the world, someone you know may be suffering in silence. The treatment of women matters, for the women themselves, but also for their families, communities, and even their states.
Dr Andrea Den Boer is Senior Lecturer in International Relations. Her research focuses on gender and international relations issues, with an emphasis on women’s rights and the effectiveness of the UN human rights system, as well as the causes and consequences of violence against women.