There are 60 million women missing due to neglect and sex-selective abortions, 15 million female slaves in sex-trafficking and labour, and 5,000 victims per year in honour killings. These are hallowing indications of a phenomenon known as gendercide. Gendercide is the systematic killing of members of a specific sex. In this article, we will expand it to encompass the violence against women and the neglect that result in their deaths. For example, between 1,500 and 1,800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Approximately 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries. However, these deaths are not just the problem of a particular region. The United States has a higher ratio of maternal deaths than at least 40 other countries even though it spends the most money per capita for maternity care.
The war against women is easy to ignore. This is not a conventional conflict. There are not drone strikes on female-only areas of the population. There is not media coverage of sex-selective abortions favouring men or infanticide in the form of murder or neglect. In order to understand the scope, a UNICEF study found that in Bombay after prenatal sex determination, 7,999 out of 8,000 abortions were of females. The World Health Organization estimates that about 50 million girls are “missing” as a result of China’s one-child policy. They have been aborted, sold, killed through neglect, or murdered.
Actual wars can overshadow violence against women. The death toll is the centre of attention while the systematic rapes and their impact are often looked over. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan Genocide. Around 70 percent of them were infected with HIV due to the use of HIV positive men as a weapon of genocide. The Rwandan Genocide brought attention to systematic rape as a weapon of war. Rape was given credence as a war crime in the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Rape has lasting consequences for their victims because it can render them ‘untouchable’ or not suited for marriage. The children of rape are often killed or neglected due to their community’s unwillingness to care for them.
More recently, systematic rapes in Syria are threatening the social make-up of society. There is a generalized perception that women who are arrested are raped. This perception stigmatizes women who are arrested and alienates them from their community. Many of them remain silent due to repercussions they may face in their communities. A woman was thrown to her death off a balcony when her husband found out that she had been raped. The children of rapes are given no sympathy. Bodies of new-born babies have been found in alleyways in Syria. A woman leapt to her death because she was unable to abort her child. Fathers are rushing to give their daughters away in marriage to avoid them becoming ineligible for marriage due to crimes against them. The international community has largely remained silent, but these crimes threaten familial and societal structures as families are torn apart and women suffer silently.
While rape is categorized as a war crime, violence against women it is still pervasive domestically. In the United States, a woman is raped every 90 seconds. One in five women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. In the United States, three women are murdered every day by their intimate partners. Twenty to fifty percent of women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and a woman is abused every 15 seconds by her partner.
Violence against women has become so commonplace that most people are numb to the statistics. However, if one were to consider the University of St. Andrews, they might find the facts have a greater impact. Out of the 7,775 students at St. Andrews around 4,500 are female. Applying the aforementioned statistics, of those 4,500 women, 900 have been or will be victims or rape or attempted rape. Around 900 to 2,250 of these women have been or will be victims of domestic violence.
This violence pervades all societies from the third-world, to war zones, to right here at home. What is there to be done? At home, we can combat the everyday manifestations of “rape culture” that affect our society. They take forms of trivializing rape and victim-blaming or disbelief . We have to hold our politicians accountable for how they deal with sex crimes and how they speak about rape and their assumptions about women. We have to combat “wilful ignorance” and pay attention to what we are watching, games we are playing, and what our friends are saying.
Violence against women becomes normalized when we allow it to enter our everyday lives. The more commonplace it becomes, the more we are desensitized to it, and the easier it becomes for us to accept it. We have to shift our perspective from thinking about what women can do to avoid violence to how we can teach society to respect women, their bodies, and their agency. We have to stop casting judgment on victims and trying to make justifications for why they were victimized. We have to listen without judgment if someone feels comfortable enough to come to us about something they have experienced.
We have to stop removing ourselves from atrocities that do not occur within our communities. We have to realize that violence against women is a societal problem. Women play an influential role in their communities. Women earn less than 10 percent of the world’s wages but do two-thirds of the work. In sub-Saharan Africa, women own less than 2 percent of the land but produce more than 90 percent of the food. Women are the cornerstone of families around the globe and their sacrifices make it possible for societies to advance. In South Africa alone, women walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back sixteen times, every day to supply their households with water.
The world cannot advance to its fullest potential without utilizing and promoting half of its population. Bill Gates responded to the question whether or not Saudi Arabia could reach the top ten countries in technology by 2010 with, “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10”.
Websites like kiva.org provide microloans to women across the globe to promote economic empowerment. Amnesty International has campaigns to support women’s rights across the globe through activism. CAMFED provides scholarships for girls in the developing world. With the Global Give Back Circle you can become a mentor of a Kenyan girl or sponsor a girl’s IT training and education.
For our society to reach its full potential, we have to move beyond our own communities and cross national boundaries. We have to become everyday activists in our communities and provide a hand up to those not in our communities. Think of your mom, your sister, your girlfriend, your academic mom, and female friend, statistically speaking one of them will be a victim of rape or attempted rape. Gendercide and rape unravel the foundations of our society. We are all soldiers in the war against women.