Violence against women is a term used both for society’s oppression against women and any individual act against women, including physical and/or sexual humiliation and physical restriction. The various acts that are considered violence against women include: murder by a lover or an ex-lover, murder by a family member, (sometimes this is referred to as “murder on account of family reputation”), beating, rape, sexual assault, physical or emotional abuse of young girls, female genital mutilation, stalking, creating a violent atmosphere in the work environment or in public, sexual harassment, forcing or seducing a woman into being a sex worker, women trafficking and pornography.
Any one of these violent acts threaten women and prevent us from being our fully educated, aspiring selves.
Sexual violence is especially harmful, due to fact that sexual relationships are supposed to be a source for pleasure, intimacy and trust, and when that trust is broken by one or more violent acts, it leaves us exposed and devastated and could tear our world apart.
Understanding the problem of violence against women
In order to fully understand the violent situation women live in today, we need examine women’s place in our society. Even though it’s the 21st century, many still consider women as “the other sex”, inferior to men and as men’s property. As long as there are people with this conception, violence against women will continue to frequently occur.
Violence against women doesn’t just happen on rare occasions or in exotic, far away places, but it is a widespread social phenomenon, with many reasons and many consequences that deeply affect our society. More and more national and international organisations acknowledge their duty to bring an end to this phenomenon, and are starting to act on that duty.
Race, class, prejudice and violence
Race, class and prejudice are deeply connected to violence. Violent acts are often directed at women just for being women. If that’s not bad enough, some women are even more exposed to it because of either their race, their social and financial status, their sexual orientation or their age. These women tend to be less connected to important resources that can help defend them.
Being Arabic, Sephardic (Mizrhai), old, young, religious, immigrant, refugee, lesbian, poor, transgender or physically disabled will increase your chances to experience gender based violence. Immigrants, refugees and Arabic women who don’t speak Hebrew, or don’t speak it well, may find themselves in a violent situation where their attacker has a language advantage over them. This advantage could be both legal and cultural, and could prevent rightful and just reaction from the authorities toward the the attacked woman.
Types of Violent Acts
Physical violence – referring to all physical damages and abuse. Beating, slapping, pushing, kicking and punching and causing physical harm either by hand or using a weapon. This type of violence is the most intuitive type, and its consequences are immediate, possibly causing permanent damage, disabilities and death.
Sexual violence – treating women as sexual objects, sexual assault and also coercing sex using threats, blackmailing, physical violence and engaging in sex against the woman’s will risking her health or her life.
Emotional abuse – verbal violence, humiliation, threatening and terrorizing, criticizing a woman’s behavior, her actions, her abilities, her mothering abilities or her mental health.
Isolation – preventing a woman from social activities and connections, isolating her from her family and/or friends, stopping her from studying and from going to work. Limiting her comings and goings, joining her wherever she goes and talking instead of her.
Financial violence –
- A situation when the male part of a romantic relationship hold all of the control over the couple’s money, including the woman’s salary, if she is allowed to work at all. The woman is allotted a limited allowance, determined by her partner, and so becomes completely dependent on him. Sometimes this amount includes the expenses of their shared household and children.
- A situation when the partner is preventing the woman from leaving the house, going to work, and stopping her from buying necessities such as medicine, food and clothing.
“My father is a very rich man and my mother is a humble woman. Since I can remember, he had control over our family’s financial resources and decisions. Even when my mother expressed an interest in knowing more and taking part, he pushed her away, saying she doesn’t understand anyway.”
“I was a very naïve young person. When i was 21 years old, I married a man 15 years older than me. He wanted to have control over me at all times, and he used financial violence to achieve that. Whenever I bought something, he demanded to see what is it and how much did it cost, and then he would tell me off, saying he has no money.”
Prostitution and Women Trafficking
Prostitution is another form of violence against women.
Researchers from around the world show that there’s a high correlation between financial difficulties, past violent experiences, addiction, a history of sexual assault and becoming a prostitute.
Authorities do not provide women in prostitution defence against robberies, violence or rape. Also, there are very slim chances that a prostitute will turn to the authorities, since they don’t see them as supportive or helpful. Sometimes the violent act against prostitutes come from their pimps or customers, who many times are more well connected and powerful. Also, society often treats violent acts against prostitutes as part of the profession that they “chose”.
Many women who participate in the sex industry, suffer from STDs. Society and authorities rarely supply these women the health care and resources they need. Things like medical exams, contraceptive methods, guidance on how to have safe sex, mental health support and addiction support are prevented from sex workers.
Prostitutes also don’t receive legal assistance. They cannot sue their employee if he doesn’t pay them or give them their social benefits. This happens even though brothels have to pay taxes to both city and state.
During the last couple of years, demands for paid sex is rising, and there aren’t enough prostitutes to provide the need. As a result, and “thanks” to how easy it is to travel between countries, a new market has developed: trafficking women and girls.
The traffickers often use force, deception and lies to recruit girls and women, transfer them and use them in the sex industry. Often, the men in charge decides they need to “check the goods”, and rape the girls they are transporting. Raping the girls breaks their spirit and their ability to fight the harsh, almost impossible reality and conditions they are forced into.
Women traffickers often threaten the women that if they will try to run-away or if they fail to pay the debt they supposedly owe the trafficker, not only will they be harmed also family members and loved ones they left behind.
Mostly, the conditions in which these women live are unbearable. They are forced to entertain dozens of clients everyday, with no consideration of their health, their menstrual cycle, and without the option to refuse a client or a client’s request.
The women are often “in-debt” to their traffickers for many years, and it supplies the pimps and traffickers an excuse to move them from city to city, brothel to brothel: places where the don’t speak the local language, being haunted by immigration, where they have no medical aid and are living in social solitary.
In response to international reports proving the existence of women trafficking in Israel, the authorities acknowledged the phenomenon, and started putting efforts into stopping it. The police and relevant government ministers started working alongside women organizations, allocating resources and personnel into both field work and law passing.
The most important step we need to take in order to stop violent acts against women from happening is to prevent violent people from performing violent acts, and stopping society as a whole from accepting and empathizing with those who act violently. At the same time, we as women need to learn how to protect ourselves in the most active way possible. Taking self-defence classes can boost our confidence, our ability to defend ourselves, both physically and mentally, from attackers. Moreover, learning and practicing self defence methods will expand our variety of responses when we are in a dangerous situation.
Self defence classes help us become more aware, respond faster and understand dangerous situations more clearly, enabling us to make better decisions.
One of the organizations that help promote women’s self-defence is “El Halev”, a women martial arts union, which has taken upon itself the mission of teaching women martial arts not only for the sake of health, fitness or flexibility, but in order to improve women’s confidence and their sense of security.