As part of the Wikiprogresson Gender Equality series, this progblog is brought to you by Somali Cerise.
Violence against women has been at the top of the media agenda in recent months following the shooting of a schoolgirl in Pakistan, an attack of a 22 year old woman in Delhi and a gang-rape and murder of a young woman in South Africa. The widespread protests that have followed these incidents show that governments must step up their efforts to stop violence against women and girls. The question is how?
A major challenge for developing effective policies to reduce violence against women is the lack of data and evidence about the nature of the problem and it implications. The OECD Development Centre latest Issues Paper, Transforming social institutions to prevent violence against women and girls, uses data from the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) to shed light on several dimensions of violence against women.
What do we know?
First, laws are getting better, but we still have some way to go. The SIGI data for 2009 and 2012 shows that all regions have improved laws, however no country or region has a perfect score, indicating that some gaps in protection remain and the implementation of laws remains a challenge. In 2012, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had the worst level of legal protection against violence against women, also showing the least improvement from 2009. Sub-Saharan Africa was in a similar position to MENA in 2009 but has shown greater improvement, although the region remained the second lowest ranked in 2012 after MENA. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) regions had the best scores for 2012, with EAP showing a marked improvement from 2009 to 2012.
Second, while better laws are an important step, laws alone will not reduce violence against women. Attitudes that normalize violence are deeply entrenched. On average, 60% of women in the MENA region believe that domestic violence is justified in certain circumstances. Moreover, the SIGI data shows that discriminatory attitudes are significantly related to the prevalence of domestic violence. There is a prevalence of domestic violence in countries where there is a high acceptance of domestic violence .
The relationship remains strong and significant even when taking into account the existence and quality of domestic violence laws and country income level. While laws are a necessary first step and foundation for combating violence against women, a greater focus on attitudes is needed to achieve a change in the level of violence.
Third, violence against women matters for development outcomes. The SIGI data shows that adolescent girls are twice as likely to be infected with HIV in countries where there is no domestic violence law (Figure 5) compared to similar rates in countries where there is a specific law. Further, we can see a positive and significant relationship between women’s physical integrity and child mortality. Countries with high levels of restrictions on women’s physical integrity also have high levels of infant mortality, even when controlling for factors including the fertility rate and country income level. This indicates that addressing violence against women is important for development.
So what can be done?
Governments should introduce a combination of measures including the implementation and enforcement of strong laws, public awareness, community mobilisation programmes, economic support for women and incentives. Check out the issues paper for some interesting examples. There is also a need for greater investment in evaluations to learn what works to prevent violence and in better data so that we have a better grasp of the problem.
*Don’t miss the Wikiprogress February 2013 eBrief, with a special focus on gender equality, profiling articles, publications, blogs and much more on the subject.