La epidemia mundial que afecta a una de cada tres personas y no es la COVID-19

A Global Epidemic That Affects One in Three Women—And It Is Not COVID-19

24.11.2021
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Photo: Luwadlin Bosman / Unsplash

It has been estimated that between April and June 2020 one in every twenty people in Spain was infected with the SARS‑CoV-2 virus according to a report published by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III. We all have first-hand knowledge of the repercussions which that high disease prevalence had on the lives of millions of people. Today, however, for one day, we are not talking about COVID-19 but rather about another silent epidemic that affects ONE IN EVERY THREE people.

One in three women or girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partners. In all probability, you or someone close to you, has experienced (or committed) such violence. And the terrible thing about this high prevalence statistic is that it only includes violence inflicted by a woman’s intimate partner. If we were to include all types of gender-based violence perpetrated by people or by institutions, the prevalence would be much higher, with a ratio of at least one in every two women.

One in three women or girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partners

To a greater or lesser degree, this epidemic affects every country in the world, making the problem a priority global health issue worldwide. Nonetheless, news about this issue does not make the headlines on news bulletins, or paralyse our society, or lead us to re-evaluate every detail of our daily lives. This epidemic has never upended what we used to call “normality” because it only affects a specific group of people—even though that group represents half of the world’s population.

The aim of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November is to raise awareness about this silent epidemic that is currently violating the human rights approved over 70 years ago. In fact, violence against women is the most common human rights violation in Spain. Gender-based violence also affects women’s health, giving rise to a poorer perception of their general, emotional and mental health, which can persist over a whole lifetime. Finally, gender-based violence also imposes an economic and social burden on society as a whole.

Violence against women is rooted in the gender inequality and negative discrimination against women and girls that persists in society. This power differential in every sphere (work, economic, family, couple, etc.) is perpetuated institutionally, socially, culturally and individually. As a result, girls and women enjoy fewer privileges than men and have less access to education or a decent job in the formal and well-paid economy. It also means that they may be assaulted in their workplace, family circle, social environment or intimate relationships, or become the target of humiliations, scorn and generalisations. They also have to bear a disproportionate responsibility for the care of others and the mental burden that entails.

To a greater or lesser degree, this epidemic affects every country in the world, making the problem a priority global health issue worldwide

It is very difficult to estimate the number of cases of gender-based violence or the number of times such violence may have occurred in our lives. What is clear is that these are not isolated cases and the problem does not only affect a certain group of people who share similar characteristics: the evidence shows that gender violence is learned and perpetrated by people we live with every day.

UN Women's campaign for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

 

 

Violence against women and girls takes many different forms: economic, psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, symbolic, institutional and workplace. In many cases, these categories are interrelated and overlapping. For example, there are currently 650 million women and girls in the world who have been forced to marry before the age of 18, a situation could be classified as economic, psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, symbolic and institutional violence.

 

While characterising the types of violence is important, it is even more important to understand all of them so as to detect them promptly. Because feminicides are the most visible and terrible facet of a structural problem in our society; these murders are not isolated incidents but rather the ultimate expression of the violence committed against women every day.

The Causes of Gender-Based Violence

Why is there such a long history of violence against women in the world and why has no vaccine been found to inoculate us against this epidemic? Do we take it for granted that gender-based violence is such an entrenched social phenomenon that it is accepted within our society and cannot be treated? Or is it that we think that such violence is due to some “biological” factor that cannot be changed? The answer to all of these questions is no. When are we going to finally stand up and mobilise the human, economic and social resources needed to eliminate gender-based violence and put an end to this tragedy?

A search on PubMed (the main search engine for scientific medical and social research) for articles about gender-based violence identifies over 3,500 publications: review articles, commentaries, clinical trials, surveillance systems, case reports, etc. However, very few of these relate to studies investigating the causes of this violence (the patriarchal system and the socialisation of violence), with a view to ending the epidemic. What is needed is real commitment from all of the actors and institutions involved—researchers, politicians, the healthcare system—to work on the root of the problem, to denounce this violence, and to finally put an end to it.

A search on PubMed for articles about gender-based violence identifies over 3,500 publications. However, very few of these relate to studies investigating the causes of this violence (the patriarchal system and the socialisation of violence), with a view to ending the epidemic

Education and Awareness Raising

Violent behaviour is witnessed, learned, internalised and perpetuated by both individuals and institutions. We learn from everyday sources, such as sexist advertising and the well-known gender roles (and norms) typical of each culture. The term gender norms refers to the set of social principles, beliefs and rules that determine behaviours and define how individuals behave in everyday life and how they exercise and express their sexuality. From infancy, we learn these gender stereotypes and norms, which characterise simplified representations of the unequal relationship between men and women. This education helps to perpetuate gender-based violence and also affects women’s access to education and jobs and their sexual and reproductive health. It also affects many other aspects of their experience throughout their lives.

UN Women's campaign for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

 

Girls and boys must be educated about the issue of equality if we are to prevent violence against women and girls. This education should form an integral part of the curriculum in the formative stages, and that can only be achieved if teachers receive appropriate specialist training on the topic of gender equality. Boys and men must be included in campaigns undertaken to raise awareness about the issues and to educate the public in order to create new masculine roles based on respect and equality. Formal courses on gender should be a specialist subject in many professional programs and a mandatory core subject in all middle and higher education curricula. This is particularly important in healthcare training if professionals are to prevent violence, detect cases early and know how to act with the sensitivity that these cases require.

Girls and boys must be educated about the issue of equality if we are to prevent violence against women and girls

Unlearning the violence we have learned and deconstructing ourselves to learn anew is the only way to end gender-based violence, improve the health of half of the world’s population and advance the 2030 Agenda. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the global “16 Days Campaign”, I urge you to read, seek out information, become more aware, raise the awareness of others and make clear your repugnance for this other epidemic. Do not allow COVID-19 to serve as an excuse. Demand that your governments, official bodies and associations make a greater contribution to gender-based violence prevention services and resources for survivors. Demand a sustained response that does not depend on whether or not we are in a state of emergency.

 

"We are just as responsible for what we fail to do as for what we do. Let’s make the elimination of violence a real public health priority.”

Silvana Sarabia