Note: This is the second in a series of posts, the whole of which is an article by Martha Nussbaum. The article, entitled "Women’s Bodies: Violence, Security, Capabilities," appeared in the Journal of Human Development (Vol. 6, No. 2, July 2005). Comments are encouraged on parts or on the whole.
Violence against women: the data
One thing we know for sure about any data on violence against women is that they are inaccurate, since one of the most notorious effects of such violence is to produce a reluctance on the part of women to report such crimes, and in many cases even to perceive what has occurred as crime, rather than as woman’s unpleasant fate. With that starting point held firmly in mind, we can mention a very small number of the data that have by now been gathered. The Human Development Report 2000 finds that between 10% and 47% of women (in nine countries studied) report being physically assaulted by an intimate partner (United Nations Development Programme, 2000, p. 36). A total 500 000 women a year are trafficked out of Eastern and Central Europe; in Asia around 250 000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked every year. Between 85 and 115 million girls and women have undergone some form of female genital mutilation, and approximately two million more young girls undergo it. In Pakistan alone, the Human Rights Commission reported more than 1000 honor killings of women in a single year. Data on rape in the Human Development Report 2000 are obviously inadequate: most nations do not report any figures, and the figures that are reported are so low, and so capriciously varying, as to make them altogether unbelievable. (It thus seems highly unlikely that there are almost three times as many rapes in Canada as in the United States; that rape is four times more common in Estonia than in the United States; that Canada has 90 times more rapes per unit of population than Japan and 80 times as many as Italy; that Estonia has the highest rape ratio in the world by a factor of almost two to one over the runner-up, Canada; and so forth.)
For somewhat more detailed and reliable social science data, we must turn to detailed regional and national studies, and here I focus on two cases, deliberately choosing nations in other respects very differently placed, the United States and India. As for the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, intimate partner violence made up 20% of all non-fatal violent crime experienced by women in 2001. The National Violence Against Women Survey, cited on the Bureau of Justice Statistics Website (Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov.bjs), reports that 52% of surveyed women said they were physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker and/or as an adult by any type of perpetrator. (The definition of physical assault is broad, ranging from slapping and hitting to use of a gun.) Eighteen percent of women surveyed said that they experienced completed or attempted rape at some time in their life. (The definition of rape includes forced vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse.) Young women and girls are overwhelmingly the most vulnerable group: thus, of the women who reported being raped at some time in their lives, 22% were under 12 years old and 32% were 12–17 years old when they were first raped. Although men also experience partner violence, women experience significantly more: 25% of surveyed women, compared with 8% of surveyed men, said they were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date in their lifetime (Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998).
I know of no nationwide study of violence against women in India, but there are excellent regional studies, and let me focus on one that I particularly admire and trust, the study of domestic violence in Kerala by Bina Agarwal and Predeep Panda (2003). It does not cover all the types of violence, obviously, but it is very striking, especially given that Kerala, as is well known, performs very well in health and education, and in sex equality in these areas. Nonetheless, despite these favorable human development indicators, there is a high incidence of both physical and psychological violence. In the authors’ long-term profile:
36 percent of women (41 percent rural and 27 percent urban) reported at least one incident of physical violence after marriage. And most experienced multiple forms: 61 percent of the 179 women who reported being hit, kicked, slapped, or beaten by husbands experienced all four forms, and 90 percent experienced at least three. Also most faced three or more incidents. Psychological abuse was even higher: 65 percent reported some form of such abuse and 68 percent reported three or more incidents … Similarly, current violence was high: 29 percent of women were physically abused and 49 percent psychologically abused in the previous year. Of particular concern is violence during pregnancy: 36 percent reported being slapped, kicked, hit or beaten during pregnancy. (Agarwal and Panda, 2003, p. 9)
Moreover, as Jean Dre`ze and Amartya Sen have recently shown, violence against females in India begins before birth (Dre`ze and Sen, 2002, pp. 257– 262). India is among the nations that have for some time had an unbalanced sex ratio, indicative of differential nutrition and health care of girls, as well as some outright infanticide. With the availability of techniques to determine the sex of the fetus, the imbalance has widened. In the 0–6 age group, between 1991 and 2001, the female–male ratio fell from 94.5/100 to 92.7/100. To look at the data another way: the biologically common ration of births is about 95 girls to 100 boys. In India the ratio is around 92 to 100 — although, as Jean Dre`ze and Amartya Sen point out, this is an average, and in reality the nation is divided into two regions, with very discrepant natality ratios. The north and west show a severe imbalance, the south and the east do not. (Note, then, that Kerala with all its problems is in the non-imbalanced group.)
The problem is not India’s alone: China and South Korea have even more unfavorable birth ratios, and Singapore and Taiwan are similar to India (Dre`ze and Sen, 2002, pp. 257–262).
This, then, is how things currently are. Despite some progress, the situation is, on balance, a depressing one. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, says plausibly that violence against women is “one of the greatest challenges facing the human rights community in the next few decades” (Coomaraswamy, 2002). Her successor, Yakin Ertu¨rk, writes, one year later: “Despite the progress, in general States are failing in their international obligations to effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women” (2003). She calls the problem of sexual violence, in particular, the “final frontier for the women’s movement.”