Unicef Reports on Violence Facing Women
New York Times- June 1, 2000
By BARBARA CROSSETTE
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 -- The prevalence of domestic abuse of women and girls around the world is "alarming," Unicef reported today, with statistics suggesting that up to half the female population comes under attack by those closest to them at some time in their lives.
The report, "Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls," is a first effort by Unicef to establish the global dimensions of this form of abuse, drawing together already published research from various countries. And it takes the United Nations agency another step deeper into an aggressive campaign to address the root causes of the problems of millions of the world's children.
"Statistics are grim, no matter which part of the world one focuses on," says the report. No country or region is exempt from domestic abuse, the report said, but the problem is often most acute in the poorest countries.
The study was released ahead of a special General Assembly session next week to assess advances women have made since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Under Carol Bellamy, a former New York City Council president and Peace Corps director who is in her second term as Unicef's executive director, the agency better known for its education and vaccination programs has commissioned a series of studies on women's rights and family and community life. The aim has been to learn why millions of women, and the children in their care, are unable to overcome poverty, illiteracy and many other disadvantages.
Domestic violence has been given too low a priority, Ms. Bellamy said in an interview today.
She said that the new study -- conducted by the agency's Innocenti Research Center in Florence, using a range of information from governments, international organizations and academic research --defines abuse in the very broadest terms.
It begins with aborted female fetuses or the killing of female babies and extends to the deliberate under-feeding of girl children and their lack of access to medical attention, to the sexual abuse of girls (often in extended families, where they are at the mercy of uncles and cousins) and the fatal beating of adult women.
"People realize that we live in a more violent world these days generally," Ms. Bellamy said. "But the fact is that perhaps the most pervasive violence for women is the violence from those they most trust, those they know best, those whom they have the most interaction with -- the family in its broadest sense. People know this still exists but I'm not sure they recognize the scale on which it continues."
Ms. Bellamy said that the powerlessness of many of the world's women, most acute in the developing countries of South Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, takes on added urgency because of the rapid spread of the AIDS virus in those parts of the world.
"In Africa now there are more women infected than men, largely infected by somebody they know -- a secondary result of traditional practices," she said. "Your husband dies and you have to sleep with your husband's brother, even though you may know that he's infected. More women become infected and they are increasingly younger and younger."
This trend reflects the powerlessness of women and the denial of "the right to have a relationship that isn't subject at any moment to violence."
Mehr Khan, who directed the research project that produced the Unicef report said in an interview today that although 44 of the United Nation's 188 member-states have enacted laws against domestic violence, these are not always enforced by the police and the courts. Attacks on women "are too often written off as private issues," she said.
The Unicef report suggests that women under attack were more prone to suicide. In the United States, 35 to 40 percent of battered women try to kill themselves, it said.
"In Sri Lanka," the report said, "the number of suicides by girls and women 15-24 years old is 55 times greater than the number of deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth."