‘Domestic Violence’ and ‘Honour Killings’

Violence against women is a gender-based crime that has been justified by ignorant social norms, enabling its guilty perpetrators to relish the flavour’s of freedom as they imprison a myriad of innocent women who suffer in the bitterness of unjust society. The term, ‘violence against women’ refers to the plethora of abuses perpetrated against females. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women 1993 defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Through this definition, the term ‘violence’ is defined as acts that cause harm, whilst the use of the term “gender-based” implies that this violence is a form of gender inequality. The United Nations entity, ‘UN Women’ revealed that 35% of women globally have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, over 87 000 women globally were intentionally killed in 2017 by intimate partners/family members and women account for over 50% of all global human trafficking victims – a glimpse into the grotesque visions of global violence against women. (UN Women, 2019) This essay will coherently explore the issue of violence against women from a global stance with supporting evidence, whilst analysing the consequences of this perilous parasite which feeds from our plague of ignorance, to demand an answer of change for the injustices that we are blindly observing.

The Global Gender-based Disease

“It is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development.”, the Acting Head of the United Nation Women, Lakshmi Puri, stated as she discussed the issue of violence against women. (Puri, 2013) The language used to classify the different forms of violence inflicted upon women globally promotes ignorant stereotypes, desensitising the true issue of violence against women. For example, the use of the terms ‘Domestic Violence’ and ‘Honour Killings’ associates a potential plethora of vast stereotypical social, cultural and psychological motives for the violence perpetrated against women, when it is merely the same disease, but with a different classification – violence committed against women. The term ‘domestic violence’ desensitises the criminality of violence within the private home, as ‘domestic’ translates into ‘private’. The isolation of the terms ‘private’ and ‘public’ is an ideological barrier between liberal-patriarchal reality. Women’s natures are such that they are properly subject to men and their proper place is in the private, domestic sphere… while men assert their position over both spheres. (Pateman, 1989, pp.131,120). By incorporating the word ‘domestic’ for the offences committed, it decriminalises the position of the perpetrator.

It empowers the perpetrator as the vulnerable woman defendant must prove that she had a reasonable belief that her life was endangered. (Easteal, Bartels and Bradford, 2019) The issue of violence against women must be acknowledged globally because it is not only one of the largest killers of women, but the large scope of victims depicted through the statistics makes it a worrying trend as violence against women is also the trigger to the gun of health problems, impacting the well-being of women in both the immediate and longer-term. The World Health Organisation in 2000 has discovered that exposure to violence leads to poorer physical health whilst also increasing the risk of women developing a range of health problems. An Australian study has discovered that domestic violence was the leading cause of death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44. (Vichealth 2004) Immediate health impacts of domestic violence against women range from physical injuries, sustained hearing loss, sexually transmitted diseases, miscarriages and even homicide, whilst longer-term health impacts range from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, headaches to even suicide. (Domesticviolence.com.au, n.d.)

For example, between 1989 and 1999 in Australia, over 55% of deaths in women resulting from homicide or violence were perpetrated by an intimate partner, with women being over five times more likely the rate of being murdered by an intimate partner than men (Mouzor, 1999). Additionally, women reporting domestic violence are over eight times more likely to report having harmed themselves or having recent thoughts of doing so, than women who have never experienced violence (Roberts et al., 1997). Further studies have affirmed this finding, stating that early exposure to violence may increase subsequent feelings of depression and affect the ability to endure with life stressors, and hence be correlated to suicidal outcomes (Brodsky & Stanley, 2008, Fergusson et al., 2008).

The Silent Killer – Domestic Violence in Australia

“Disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women but that’s where it begins.”, asserted former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. (Turnbull, 2018) Statistics accumulated about violence against women in Australia, unravel the prevalence and severity of this issue even in developed nations. Statistics reveal that one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, 1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15 and 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed (White Ribbon Australia, n.d.) These statistics reveal the emotional, social and physical consequences of violence against women, and further data depicts that violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy $22 billion annually. (White Ribbon Australia, n.d.) A woman who represents these domestic violence statistics is Fahima Yusuf who died aged 32 years old after she was discovered buried in a shallow grave in the backyard of the family home in the Perth suburb of Carlisle in Western Australia. Her husband, Ahmed Seedat aged 37-year-old was found guilty in January after admitting to choking Ms Yusuf to death in the house on August 31, while their children, aged only two and five, slept in another room unaware. (Hamlyn, 2019) Another face behind the statistics is 25-year-old Courtney Herron, who was found in a Melbourne park on Saturday after what police called a “horrendous bashing”. Henry Richard Hammond, aged 27 years old, has since been charged with her murder.

Co-founder of Counting Dead Women Australia Jenna Price told SBS News, “We have to recognise that this violence is not unusual – this happens to women every day in their homes. We know that every three hours a woman in Australia is hospitalised as a result of violence.” (Baker, 2019) As revealed by Eastel (1996, p.3): ‘Lack of knowledge and access to services can exacerbate the isolation that all battered women experience and make leaving more problematic with death as the outcome in some cases.’ (Ghafournia, 2011) In response to the issue of violence against women in Australia, on Friday 9 August 2019, the council of Australian Governments devised their Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, agreeing on five national priorities to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence.

The plan has acknowledged 8 national principles which include: reducing violence against women, addressing gender inequality, the voices of Indigenous people must inform responses to violence experienced in their community, diversity must be addressed, responses must be age-appropriate where children are involved, actions must be evidence-based, system and service responses must work to end the cycle of violence and a holistic approach must be implemented to working with the perpetrators of the violence. Furthermore, the plan has accumulated a plethora of vast statistics, facts and information, outlining the plan’s aim as ‘an Australia free from all forms of violence and abuse against women and their children’ whilst dedicating the plan ‘to the countless women and children who are victims and survivors of violence, to those who are left to rebuild, and to those who have lost their lives.’ (The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022, 2019)

The Silent Killer – Honour Killings

Honour Killing is a form of violence against women that has been described as a ‘custom’ most prominent in the Middle East and South Asia, in which women are murdered after accusations of sexual infidelity. The killers seek to avenge the shame that victims are accused of bringing to their families whilst restoring honour. (Nasrullah, Haqqi and Cummings, 2009) Statistics from the United Nations revealed that over 5,000 women annually are globally killed in the name of ‘honour’. (Reaching common grounds: Culture, Gender and Human Rights, 2008) Similarly to the language we use to acknowledge ‘Domestic Violence’, the language we use to classify ‘Honour Killings’ is disgraceful.

The use of the term “honour killing” represents the murder of women through the perspective of the perpetrators. By juxtapositioning the word “honour” next to the word “killing”, we use the language of those who justify killing for “honourable” motives – we use the language of their excuses. Linguistic classifications are integral and the term “honour killing” not only empowers the perpetrators but is offensive to the victims, so to create change, we must commence by altering the language that we use. The UN’s human rights commissioner Navi Pillay stated, “I do not even wish to use the phrase ‘honour killing’: there is not the faintest vestige of honour in killing a woman in this way.” (Dias and Proudman, 2014) A prominent case of honour killing that has inspired a plethora of protests in Pakistan is that of Fouzia Azeem, known as Qandeel Baloch, the social media star referred to as ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’ who was strangled to death at her home in the Punjab province on July 15, 2016, by her brother Waseem Azeem.

Azeem confessed to killing his 26-year-old sister because she brought “shame” to the “family’s honour” with her provocative videos and statements posted on social media which sparked outrage in Pakistan’s largely conservative community. Annually, over 1000 women are murdered in Pakistan by ‘honour killings’ committed by the victim’s male relatives. (India Today, 2019) It is integral to globally unite against honour killings as they defy a myriad of human rights that are mentioned within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Honour Killings defy the following human rights: Article I – All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, Article 3 – Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, n.d.) How can we implement rights to safeguard our women, but blindly abandon them when they are endangered?

Therefore, to extrapolate, violence against women is an international humanitarian issue that needs concerted efforts of the global community to abolish it. Violence against women has long-term health impacts which ultimately lead to death, whilst both domestic violence (within developed countries, such as Australia) and honour killings (prominent in the Middle East and South Asia) are the largest causes of women’s deaths. As analyzed through the essay, violence against women has been desensitized through the language that we use protecting the perpetrators, whilst women are being denied the basic blocks of human rights in countries that were engineered through the architecture of liberty, justice and freedom – hypocrisy built through the blindness of ignorance. We must globally unite to combat this international humanitarian issue that is claiming many lives, as Samantha Power, the former United States Ambassador to the United States proclaimed, “Violence against women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. Equality cannot come eventually, it’s something we must fight for now.” (Power, n.d.)