The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is opposed to violence in all its forms. In recognising the UN Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women the IFSW calls upon all of its member organisations to draw the attention of their governments and communities to the many forms of violence perpetrated against women and its impact on the women, on children, on the men themselves and the wider community. Member organisations are invited to call on governments to work with communities and professional organisations to implement effective strategies to eliminate the causes of violence.
Definition of violence against women
The 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 mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” This encompasses, among other things, “physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the general community, including battering, sexual abuse of children, dowry-related violence, rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state.”
Social workers are also only too well aware of the additional impact on children who are frequently adversely affected by violence against women.
Domestic violence remains at unacceptably high levels across almost all cultures. Many cultures still regard women as property, conferring men with ‘rights’ to violate women (physically and sexually) without interference from neighbours and the law. This extends to the practice of honour killing still common in many cultures.
Commercial advertising and other forms of popular culture propagate, through the cinema, television, radio and now the internet, a view of women as sex objects for male pleasure, debasing their intrinsic worth and dignity as fellow human beings. This also contributes to the incidence of violence against women.
The transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus from infected to non-infected persons through sexual contact is another insidious form of violence. Men who knowingly or through flagrant disregard, infect their sex partners can be said to be inflicting a form of violence against them. The harm to women’s welfare brought about by shallow and sexist portrayal in advertising and the media radiates across national boundaries covering the entire age spectrum in communities around the world.
Female genital mutilation remains a pervasive form of violence against women justified by ” religious practices” that are not supported by doctrinal teachings and which rely on centuries of needless cruelty.
“Trafficking in women and children has emerged as an issue of global concern facilitated by porous borders and advanced communication technologies, it has become increasingly trans-national in scope and highly lucrative. Unlike the arms trade, children can be ‘sold” several times – they are commodities in a trans-national business that generates billions of dollars and operates with impunity”.
(ECPAT International Website www.ecpat.net/eng/CSEC/faq/faq6.asp)
The very act of trafficking is a form of violence against women. A 1998 ILO Report estimated that 200 – 300,000 women and children are trafficked through Thailand each year. Women are trafficked through every Continent of the world
Action to combat these various forms of violence is not the responsibility of social workers alone. We need the combined resources of the government, community and religious leaders, social activists, media and advertising executives and professionals as well as the backing of law to generate sufficient momentum which can be sustained over a long period, to change radically, popular misconceptions about women. This is not just a woman’s battle. It is a battle by all people of good conscience to save the half of humanity from the consequences of prejudice and ignorance.
Sydney/ Singapore/ London/ Berne, 31 October 2003
David N. Jones
1st Vice President