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The World Health Organisation (2021) estimates that one third of the global female population aged between 15 and 49 have experienced IPV? This makes it an international problem, resulting in not only individual but also the economic, social and political impacts. Yet compared to the magnitude of this problem, what is being done? And why isn’t it working?
What is IPV?
IPV or Intimate Partner Violence is described by the UN as ‘women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner’. This most frequently occurs to women by male partner in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, but it is possible in every relationship. For this article, we will focus on the most common form, reflecting varying degrees of ingrained sexism in all societies.
Why does it occur?
IPV reflects embedded societal norms that suppress gender equality and legitimise this treatment of women. Even though this is a global issue it is most prevalent in African countries, making up more than a third of the global figure (37%). This is outlawed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. But entrenched beliefs about rigid gender roles justify and endorse the traditionally subordinate role of women in general and within relationships, legitimising violence as a controlling behaviour towards lower status women. This is reinforced in every sector of society by hierarchical gender views; socioeconomic inequalities (dependency on spouses); and, through socialisation. This is socially ingrained to the extent that women justify IPV against themselves, suggesting they are unaware of their rights, giving reasons such as burning food, arguing, going out without asking, refusing sex or even as a form of love.
Security services are universally dominated by men, making it more difficult for female victims to approach them and ask for help. This is compounded by the perception IPV as taboo, private and personal. This makes signs hard to spot. Often IPV goes unnoticed by authorities.
Why is this a problem?
This violate victim’s rights, negatively impacting their short and long-term physical, reproductive and mental health, these include high levels of anxiety and depression, often severely affecting any children and impacting their ability to influence is significant decisions in a relationship including contraception. It also has societal implications, undermining the well-being of communities with damning social and economic affects. By allowing the subordination of women and perpetuating these equalities governments are leaving behind half of their population as an untapped resource, impacting their economy, national health and status.
What the World is doing about it?
Although this is a recognised issue with several legal frameworks in place, not enough is being done. Under international law, IPV is considered discrimination and a violation of human rights. The most significant legal contribution is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal introduced in 2015, to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls by 2030. We are now less than 9 years away from this deadline and nowhere near the aim, more has to be done.
To try to achieve this civil and legal frameworks in all UN member countries have been reformed. This includes introducing non-discrimination clauses and replacing gender biased regulations, making important strides towards some aspects of political equality.
Why is this not working?
Although legal frameworks provide legitimisation for policing against actions and facilitate alternative concepts against the status quo, their impact is limited as they do not change inbuilt beliefs. The root cause needs to be addressed through education, to prevent crimes. So, here criminalisation has little effect on levels of social and economic equality.
What can be done instead?
Effective, realistic solutions should be suggested instead. The justice system should be made more representative, gender responsive and accessible. For example every country should introduce a quota for female police officers, and specific training for all police on the signs and impacts of IPV. Having women on the ground and represented in law enforcement would reinforce recently implemented gender equality laws that are yet to be reflected socially. And compulsory education will male the justice system more responsive and victims more comfortable to report.
Female Police Officers are more approachable so victims would feel more comfortable and safe talking to them, having more faith they will be taken seriously and not victim-shamed or ridiculed. This means women are more likely to come forward and report crimes so they can access the necessary support and prevent repeated cases. A study by the UN (2012) of 40 countries, shows a positive correlation between the number of female police and sexual assault reports. Miller & Segal’s report using crime victimisation data shows that as female representation increases among officers, violent crimes against women in that area, especially domestic violence, are reported at significantly higher rates.
The unacceptability of IPV needs to be introduced as a social norm. Seeing women as equals in all spheres enforces their status and reduces the likelihood that IPV is justified. Empowering women, with the knowledge of their rights, they’re more likely to question and report IPV. This would be positive for all sectors in society. Overtime female police officers will be accepted, and slowly reverse social norms of the gender hierarchy, with women in highly respected positions. Women who are autonomously empowered, socially, and economically alongside men that respect their equal status, fosters an environment where women are more likely to progress further through education and become employed, paying taxes, and contributing to the economy. This would increase national productivity, global competitiveness, and the national budget to improve infrastructure etc. with economic and social benefits. women Would be more likely to marry later and ensure their children are educated with better nutrition and healthcare. This will also decrease their tolerance of IPV, increase likelihood of reporting and decrease dependency on their spouse.
Overtime, Female Police Officers will reverse the narrative until it is accepted to have women in these respected positions, seen as equals, so IPV can no longer be justified by perpetrators or the victims.