Apr 262006
Authors: Meg Burd

As Take Back the Night marchers and participants take to the streets today, they share an important message we all must hear about violence against women.

With staggering statistics and recent cases of rape and violence on college campuses, attention must be paid to the major and worldwide issue of gender violence, a problem that affects individual women, their families, communities and indeed the entire population on a variety of levels.

“Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives,” reports the Commonwealth Fund, and the number is estimated to be at 33 percent of women worldwide.

Close to home, college women in particular report high numbers of sexual assault, with the Center for Disease Control reporting between 20 percent and 25 percent of female students reported completed or attempted rape.

While the statistics seem shocking for women in America alone (although, sadly, the idea that many women being assaulted may not be so foreign to a large number of women), the problem is a worldwide one with far-reaching implications.

“Gender-based violence, or violence against women (VAW), is a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world,” notes the World Health Organization (WHO).

In looking at the problem of VAW, the WHO noted that such abuse was often meted out not by a stranger or random attacker, but by those often closest to the victims. The most frequent perpetrators were found to be husbands and male partners, and such a fact makes gender violence all the more of an issue.

“This type of violence is frequently invisible since it happens behind closed doors, and effectively, when legal systems and cultural norms do not treat as a crime but rather as a ‘private’ family matter, or a normal part of life,” the WHO notes.

Besides compromising a woman’s basic human rights and violating her freedoms on the very physical level, gender violence has ramifications that affect victims in other realms, such as economic security and social position. As the U.N. Population Fund noted in a report, “Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims.”

Indeed, women who suffer violence of any sort often find themselves unable to attend work or social functions due to injury or stress caused by such violence, something that could affect their wages and thus their security. The health costs from such violence also place a financial burden upon women. Women worldwide do not have equality of wages with men and many women are not only the providers of financial security for their families and children, but also the ones who most influence the health situation of their families. A set back from the results of violence could have rippling consequences on economic and health conditions of the family as well. Therefore gender violence does not affect just an individual woman (which is horrible enough as it stands) but also has dire implications for her entire social matrix.

Too often couched as simply a “women’s issue” or regarded as something that happens only in isolated cases and to women who venture down shadowy alleys, it appears that a great many women worldwide are not safe even in their homes.

Taking back the night for women should ensure they are not only safe from random violence, but also taking back their homes and intimate relationships so that women might live free from fear in all areas of their lives. Taking back the night means creating an equitable society that does not promote women as objects, possessions or individuals of a lesser status who can be abused with no consequence. The consequences for the women are already major, and it is time we raise our voices to stop this worldwide problem.

Meg Burd is a graduate anthropology student. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.

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