María Salguero knows how to leverage her background as a geophysical engineer on behalf of women. Since 2016, she has been tracking cases of femicide (also known as feminicide) all over Mexico. Femicide is the deliberate killing of a woman or girl because of their gender.
Every year, there are tens of thousands of missing women, men, and children in Mexico, most of whom are believed to have been tortured and killed. According to government figures, there were more than 38,000 ‘desaparecidos’ in 2018.
Salguero has been building a database with information about women who have been killed because official figures tend to minimise the problem. The women killed are at the end of a tragic spectrum of abuse of women at the hands of men.
Intimate partner violence is the most common kind of aggression experienced by women worldwide, both in developing and in industrialised countries.
A great number of women suffer physical violence and a significant proportion among them is also victims of psychological violence. However, many women do not report the abuse they suffer because of cultural norms and fear of retribution.
Violence against women has a high economic cost for society. According to the United Nations, the cost of domestic abuse in the US exceeds $5.8bn per year: $4.1bn for direct medical and health care services and nearly $1.8bn for productivity losses.
This kind of violence results in almost two million injuries and nearly 1,300 annual deaths. These costs are considered an underestimate since they don’t include those figures associated with the criminal justice system.
In addition, victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8m days of paid work –this is equivalent to more than 32,000 full-time jobs- and almost 5.6m days of household productivity annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Extent of this phenomenon
The extent of this problem is equally serious in most countries around the world. According to recent research carried out by James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University and PhD student Emma Friedel, after almost four decades of decline, homicide among romantic partners is now on the rise.
While 1,875 people were killed by an intimate partner in 2014, there were 2,237 such deaths in 2017, of which the majority of the victims were female.
According to their research, four women a day are killed by domestic violence in the United States. They also found that since 2010, gun-related murders by intimate partners have increased by 26%, particularly since 2014.
However, those kinds of murders involving other weapons, such as knives, have continued to decline.
In Russia, for example, more than 14,000 women are killed every year in acts of domestic violence. And in China, according to a national survey, one-third of the country’s 270m households cope with domestic violence.
Domestic violence is also rife in most African countries. According to a United Nations report, domestic violence in Zimbabwe accounts for more than six in ten murder cases in court. In Kenya and Uganda, 42% and 41% respectively of women surveyed reported having been beaten by their husbands.
Domestic violence is widespread in Arab countries as well. Studies carried out in the Arab world show that 70% of violence occurs in big cities, and that in almost 80% of cases those responsible are the heads of families, such as fathers or elder brothers.
Both fathers and elder brothers, in most cases, assert their right to punish their wives, children, and other members of the family in any way they see appropriate.
Physical and mental effects
Female victims of violence suffer a wide variety of health problems, such as organ and bone damage, miscarriage, exacerbation of chronic illness, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
Often, they also suffer long-lasting psychological problems including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep and eating disorders, emotional distress, and suicide. Often, abusers prohibit their victims, mostly women, from pursuing career opportunities and other education and personal empowerment activities.
Organisations such as Sanctuary for Families in New York City are training gender violence survivors to find living wage jobs in the competitive New York City market.
Over the past five years, for example, the organisation Sanctuary for Families has trained over 560 survivors of gender violence, of whom 88% have graduated and secured a living wage job. To better protect women, efforts like this should be replicated throughout the country.
Effect on children and the family
Worldwide, the percentage of women who are battered during their pregnancy is 25% to 45%. Domestic violence by a partner has been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity.
Because children often are in the middle of such disputes, they are also affected by domestic violence. A government survey found that 27% of those surveyed said that their children had also been victims of violence, particularly of a psychological nature.
According to the CDC, there is a 45-60% chance of co-occurring child abuse in homes where violence between partners occurs.
Children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence are prone to a wide range of behavioural and emotional disturbances.
One of three abused children becomes an adult abuser or victim. Often, the psychological scars on children who have seen their mothers beaten last for several years. Among those effects are excessive worry or sadness, guilt, frequent lying, shame, and fear of harm or abandonment.
Because of the extent of this phenomenon, global momentum for more effective action is building. However, at the global level, the response is still inadequate. In the US, for example, there are more animal shelters than shelters for battered women.
Ending global violence against women requires passing and systematically enforcing appropriate legislation for the protection of women.
It also demands that we assess the real magnitude of the problem and educate our societies on the value and rights of women and girls. Actively promoting gender equality may be the best prevention against future violence.
Cesar Chelala, MD, Ph.D., is the author of “Maternal Health,” “Adolescents’ Health,” and “Violence in the Americas.” These are publications of the Pan American Health Organization.
First published by ICH
The 21st Century