Domestic Violence and United Nations
Wha’s going on? I know this is long but well worth the read.
November 29, 2006
In October, the United Nations (UN) released its much-anticipated
Secretary-General’s Study on
Violence Against Women (SVAW) – a global overview and update on the issue.
The SVAW is a lumbering 139-page behemoth of a document that is
embarrassingly inaccurate, ideological and biased against men.
Before critiquing the study, however, it is useful to sketch its message.
Executive Summary states, “[V]iolence against women is not the result of
random, individual acts of misconduct, but rather is deeply rooted in
structural relationships of inequality between women and men…in
historically unequal power relations between men and women and pervasive
discrimination against women in both the public and private spheres.”
Thus, the definition of violence against women is extremely broad and
“includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering,
threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” It
includes economic and psychological violence, such as “humiliating or
embarrassing [a woman].”(p.38) The definition is also extremely limited in
that it does not address the categories of ‘woman against woman’ and ‘woman
against male’ violence.
The solution offered? Use global government to eliminate “patriarchal power
disparities” and to restructure cultural and economic norms.
First, identify obstacles.
One ‘obstacle’ is the drifting of nations toward “deregulation of economies
and privatization of the public sector [which] have tended to reinforce
women’s economic and social inequality.” (p.32) In short, the ‘free market’
is seen to promote violence against women. Another identified obstacle is
‘privacy rights’ – that is, “legal doctrines protecting the privacy of the
home and family” (e.g. Fourth Amendment guarantees in the Constitution).
Such doctrines are accused of “justify[ ing] the failure of the State and
society to intervene when violence is committed against women in the
Next, ‘obstacles’ should be overcome by instituting new policies at
“federal, state, provincial and local levels, as well as…the judiciary,
legislature and executive.” (p.72)
A specific example of a policy change: when prosecuting cases of violence
against women “rules of evidence and procedure, should be conducted in a
gender-sensitive manner to ensure that women are not ‘re-victimized’.” This
means criminal trials should provide “in-camera proceedings where
appropriate.” (p. 76) Specifically, courtroom procedures should “protect the
privacy of victims” by “allowing evidence to be given by video link or
restricting [public] access to courtrooms.”
These changes alone would overhaul American courtrooms. The right of an
accused to face and directly question an accuser is a fundamental principle
of Western jurisprudence; the presence of transparency is an effective check
on judicial corruption. Presenting evidence by video link to a closed
courtroom would eliminate both.
And it would do so on the basis of SVAW’s bad information and worse
The SVAW also offers a false view of the status of women around the world.
It ascribes all violence against women everywhere to “patriarchal power
dynamics.” It makes no distinction between the anti-woman policies of the
Taliban and pro-woman policies of Congress in America. It views women behind
a veil and women who win million dollar sexual harassment lawsuits as
fundamentally the same: oppressed. Thus, the same remedies are recommended
for women in Afghanistan and America.
Some of SVAW’S insights – e.g. into the misuse of ‘privacy rights’ — may
have application to areas like Africa. For example, African women often have
no legal protection against rape by their own husbands; this is not only an
outrage but also serves as a conduit for AIDS. Nevertheless, by forcing that
insight onto western cultures, SVAW obscures rather than clarifies the
status of women worldwide.
Why does SVAW make such a fundmental mistake? Because it wishes to make
basic and universal statements about the status of women which can apply to
a corporate lawyer in a Manhattan high rise as much as to an African mother
starving in a hut.
SVAW presents women as the class of human beings most at risk of violence.
To support this claim SVAW draws heavily upon data from the World Health
Organization (WHO). But according to
WHO’s World Report on Violence and Health (Geneva, Switzerland, 2002), 14%
of men die of violence-related causes, compared to 7% of women.
SVAW stresses that psychological neglect or abuse and lack of medical care
are forms of violence against women. But, worldwide, men are 3.5 times as
likely to commit suicide and their life expectancy is lower than women’s.
Men seem to be at as much or greater risk than women. In many cases, the
‘attacker’ of both men and women may be male. But there must be some
explanation for the violence other than man’s oppression of woman in order
to account for the high number of male victims.
Moreover, it is far from clear that attackers are always male. SVAW’s
Executive Summary states, “The most common form of violence experienced by
women globally is intimate partner violence, sometimes leading to death.”
Assuming this is true, it doesn’t answer how much similar violence is
experienced by men from women. The latter question has only recently
received widespread attention from researchers and their data varies.
In a 2006 study entitled
“Dominance and symmetry in partner violence,” Murray A. Straus of the
University of New Hampshire analyzed data from 13,601 students in 32
countries for rates of gender violence in dating relationships. Straus found
that 54.9 percent of violence was mutual, 15.7 percent was male-only, 29.4
percent was female-only. The U.S. Bureau of Justice placed the rate at which
men were victimized by intimate partner violence between 1998 and 2002 at 27
percent of the total.
Despite jumbles of data and methodological problems – e.g. the difficulty of
comparing studies that focus on different populations – one point is clear.
Men are victimized by intimate partner violence at higher rates than
previously assumed. Defining victims by gender no longer renders an accurate
picture; it probably never did.
To sustain its view of violence against women, the SVAW ignores such sources
and cherry-picks data from its own. For example, men’s rights activist Carey
points out that, on page 44, the SVAW focuses on the victimization of women
in armed conflict without mentioning men. While it is true women often
experience violence that is different than men – e.g. rape and forced
pregnancy – WHO data
states that men are three times more likely to die of war-related injuries
The reality of global violence against anyone is impossible to capture as
long women are cast as the victims and men as the attackers. This is
precisely what SVAW does.
Nevertheless, the study is likely to stir activity within the UN. The reason
On December 31st, Kofi Annan steps down from being Secretary-General of the
UN. He leaves behind high-profile disgraces that include the Oil-for-Food
fiasco, his son’s misuse of funds, and the devastation of Sudan. It is no
co-incidence that the document is titled “Secretary-General’s Study on
Violence Against Women.”
Annan’s shot at legacy misfires.