Gender violence and basic rights

Women in Sri Lanka sewing a quilt with messages of solidarity against violence against women

Violence against women is a violation of women’s basic human rights. Not only are women denied their right to live free from violence, but they are also prevented from claiming their economic, social and political rights.

Worldwide, one in every three women are beaten, forced to have sex, or otherwise abused during their lifetimes, often by a member of their own family.

Here in New Zealand the statistics are staggering. 20 percent of women will be physically abused by a male partner (UNICEF) and one in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime (WHO).

Gender equality underpins all Oxfam's work

Oxfam recognises women have the right to live free from violence and the right to have a say in decisions that affect them. We are committed to reducing violence against women through our programmes and actively consider gender issues in all aspects of our work.

In the communities Oxfam works with, violence against women and the gender inequality that underpins it are serious threats to development and the reduction of poverty. As a result of gender-based violence, women suffer injuries, both mental and physical, that increase their economic dependency. Violence denies women opportunities and choices, and undermines their dignity and self esteem. Violence against women also has enormous economic costs in the form of medical treatment for injuries as well as money lost from lower productivity and more days taken off work by victims.

Changing beliefs

Attitudes, beliefs and social customs act as barriers to eliminating violence against women. The deeply entrenched belief that women are of lesser value than men is a root cause of violence against women. Often there is a lack of political acknowledgement or will to address violence against women and consequently perpetrators go unpunished. Domestic violence is too often viewed as a private issue that the state should not get involved in. This results in shame and fear of reprisal leading to women not reporting incidents of abuse. Ensuring justice and equality for women requires that these attitudes and practices be challenged.

Gender violence and conflict

Incidents of rape, gender violence and HIV and AIDS are known to increase significantly in conflict areas. In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, gender violence and rape has been used as a means of provoking and shaming enemy clans.

Oxfam NZ works with partner organisations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific that are addressing gender inequality and the problem of violence against women.

Violence Against Women and HIV and AIDS

Violence and the fear of it are major risk factors in making women vulnerable to HIV infection. In some parts of Asia and the Pacific, the number of women infected by HIV is now greater than men. One of the driving forces behind this increase is gender inequality. Gender inequality lies at the heart of violence against women.

Rape and sexual coercion, which are forms of violence against women, make women vulnerable to HIV infection. Violence and the fear of it mean women are less able to negotiate safe sex through the use of condoms or have any say over the circumstances under which sex occurs.

Women who are infected with HIV are more at risk of violence. Many women are too afraid to even get tested because they fear their male partner’s response if they are found to be HIV positive.

Gender violence in emergencies

Oxfam staff working in the camps in Sri Lanka following the Tsunami, became aware that women survivors were experiencing harassment and violence within the camps.