Is Domestic Violence A Gender Issue?

Violence against women is both cause and consequence of inequality. It will be our most difficult fight
— MC Anne Summers

The pervasiveness of domestic violence in Australia predicates something more complex and endemic, alluding less to a lack of personal control and more to a society characterised by sexism, disrespect and inequality. 

Within the human rights discourse, there is a propensity for viewing violence against female bodies as a foreign practice belonging to other "backwards" cultures (cue images of Hijabs, tribal initiations and war torn countries). Eye roll. If this violence is, in fact, a cultural norm, Australia is indeed backwards too. 

This discussion was recently part of a Q&A segment on the ABC network. The panel, whilst discussing the politics of Donald Trump, inevitably teetered into gender politics and sexism. The topic was catapulted to the centre by a 16-year-old  female and her fear of growing up in a world ruled by pussy-grabbing (my words, not hers), the question then became: "is this violence against women's bodies a gendered issue?"

According to the Australian Bureau of Statics, domestic violence touches the lives of both men and women. By the age of 15, 5% of males will have experience some form of domestic violence. However, with 1 in 3 Australian women experiencing physical violence and/or sexual abuse at some stage in their lives, the numbers paint a picture of a society where the victims are overwhelmingly female. 

Holding up this black mirror to our nation and how it treats female bodies illuminates a number of things as the discussion of domestic violence and gender issues progresses. Despite vehement denial by some menists, domestic violence is a gendered issue. This is because it stems from extensive inequalities between the sexes that favour the male sex.  

Evidence collected from 44 countries by the World Bank shows that gender inequality including societal norms supporting male authority over women, and
discriminatory ownership rights are associated with intimate partner violence at the country level.
 
In thinking about how this came to be the status quo, we have to understand that gender inequality is the result of unequal value afforded to men and women and an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between them. The biggest social drivers associated with violence against women have been found to be:

  • condoning of violence against women;
  • men's control of decision-making and limits to women's independence;
  • rigid gender roles and identities; and
  • male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women

The root of the problem pervades to even the mundane of acts and ways of thinking such as "boys are stronger than girls", "don't act like a pussy mate" (in actuality a pussy is a very beautiful thing, so how is behaving like one a weakness??), "he's mean because he likes you" or the age old entitlement to sex upon request (she's a bitch if she rejects you).

These unbalanced power relations between the sexes has set a tone within our culture where women are seen as inferior. One may disagree with the proposition above, however, it cannot be denied that due to the current definition of gender roles, women are overwhelmingly disadvantaged and suffer adverse (at times violent or fatal) consequences for seeking equality. Some of the consequences include:

  • low economic participation due to missing work because of DV
  • reduced independence
  • lower rates of tertiary education
  • lower income
  • sexual and/or physical violence

To deny the evidence above and disregard the gendered elements of domestic violence is to reinforce one's place of privilege. If we refuse to see domestic violence to some extent, as a gendered issue it obfuscates any possibility of addressing the cause of the problem. To deny this, is to dismiss the fear that women have of walking alone at night; it is to dismiss that sometimes a woman has to claim she has a partner in order to be respected; it is to dismiss the fact that if a woman is raped the odds are questions will be raised about her sexual "promiscuity" or the provocativeness of her clothing; it is to dismiss that women earn a fraction of what men earn; it is to dismiss that at least one woman is killed each week by a partner or ex-partner.

It is a perpetual struggle we face in advocating for women's rights and the road to equality is long. If we cannot see how gender inequality has led to the current rates of domestic violence against women, we fail to see the root cause of the problem and continue to simply address the symptoms and leave perpetrators un-checked. 

We can only hope that as high level of domestic violence against women gains the attention of our leaders, it can be addressed through the collaborative involvement of all Australian citizens. We must fight for gender equality, all of us.

Felicity Mashuro