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Example Essay on Domestic Violence. Sample Composition Writing on Domestic Violence

The Challenge

Violence is in itself a fundamental violation of human life and freedom, and hence directly lower individual welfare. However, it also negatively affects women’s economic and political participation and increases poverty, by jeopardizing the victims’ mental and physical health. Marital rape, which is widespread in many countries, has particularly severe consequences in countries with high HIV prevalence. By putting the issue on the agenda, integration of data on gender-based violence in mainstream statistical publications will serve an advocacy role in the fight against domestic violence.

Statistics on domestic violence may also help to explain economic gender differences. For intra-household allocations, the use of, or the credible threat of use of violence, is very likely to significantly affect the outcomes, not least so because domestic violence is rarely a one-time experience. Moreover, the importance of (threat of) gender-based violence is likely to be larger in countries where the economic activity is largely home-based, and female out-of-home economic opportunities are scarce, such as in poor countries characterized by a large self-subsistence based agricultural sector .

Traditionally, gender-based violence has been considered as an internal family matter. It has frequently been argued that collecting data about sensitive gender issues, such as domestic violence or sexual harassment, may put the collection of other data at risk. In many countries this is a valid argument, and it would simply be unadvisable to add modules on domestic violence to standard economic and social surveys. Asking about violence in households where the perpetrator may be present at the time of the interview also carries the risk of generating future violence.

However, much information about domestic violence is already being collected in tailor-made surveys, such as in the widely applied Demographic and Health Surveys. Hence, what remains is to disseminate such information in a better and more visible way, thereby facilitating the use of this information as basis for political discourse on gender differences in human welfare and economic development. Given the amount of information that already exist, systematic work to break the current culture of silence, and to expand the topical “taboo frontier” on gender issues may be conducted at relatively low additional costs. In Sub-Saharan Africa: Many countries already have quality statistics on domestic violence. Recent Demographic & Health Surveys with separate chapter on gender-based violence:

– South Africa 1998
– Kenya 2003
– Cameroon, Malawi 2004
– Rwanda, Liberia, Ivory Coast 2005
– Zimbabwe 2005-06
– Uganda, Mali 2006
– Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia 2007

This paper will use examples on how attitudes on, and prevalence of domestic violence and female freedom of movement are currently presented, and could be presented. Our primary focus on sub-Saharan African countries.

The Political Platform: Need for evidence based policy combating Gender Based Violence
Domestic violence is a global problem. It occurs across cultures and among people of different economic and educational status. It mostly affects women.
The Beijing Declaration
The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China - September 1995 states that
The absence of adequate gender-disaggregated data and statistics on the incidence of violence makes the elaboration of programmes and monitoring of changes difficult .

The Platform of Action resulting from the conference advocates to promote research, collect data and compile statistics, especially concerning domestic violence relating to the prevalence of different forms of violence against women. Further it asks for dissemination of findings from research and studies widely. The aim is to prevent violence against women. Unfortunately the call for more data on the issue is still valid.

The SADC Gender Protocol

A gender protocol was signed at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Mid-August this year. The protocol states:

Member states shall adopt and implement legislative and other measures to eliminate all practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women, men, girls and boys, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education or physical integrity.

Specifically for the topic of this paper, the gender protocol “calls for governments in the region to prohibit all forms of gender-based violence, including marital rape”. The document has a provision which will ensure perpetrators of all forms of gender-based violence are tried by a competent court of justice. Seven years in the making, the document represents a ground-breaking commitment that will put gender rights at the forefront of the SADC plan of action and provide a clear roadmap for the region's leaders to move towards gender equality. Moreover, the protocol also draws up a plan of action setting specific targets and time frames for achieving gender equality in all SADC countries as well as effective monitoring and evaluation.
Information needs from protocol

The Malawian experience

In Malawi there has been rapid development during the last decade towards increased awareness of the negative effects of domestic violence on development in general, and on the welfare of women in particular. The Strategic Plan for Ministry of Gender for the period of July 2003 to June 2008 states as one of its strategic objectives that: “Persistent gender-based violence and discrimination be reduced”.
Moreover, increased advocacy is expressed as a strategic aim: “To increase awareness among women, men, girls, and boys on gender-based violence and discrimination and its effects on individuals, families and communities”.

At the outcome level, a gender-based violence monitoring system is to be developed, and the Gender-based Violence Bill enacted, is to be implemented and monitored. Hence, in Malawi there is both an increased awareness campaign, and a clearly stated political will to address the issue of domestic violence. This is accompanied by an outline of the main information needs for a monitoring system in this field. The listed performance indicators are: Increased number of gender based violence cases being reported, changes in people’s attitudes towards gender-based violence and reduced cases of gender-based violence.
Looking more specifically into these indicators, formulated by policy makers, we note that the first indicator takes into account the problem that most cases are not reported to any formal authority, but frequently concealed as a “private family affair”. Empirical results show that a majority of 60 percent of the victims to domestic violence do not seek help at all . Those who seek help usually approach friends or less close relatives, which is reasonable since the woman’s own husband is the perpetrator in the majority of the cases. Victims of domestic violence hardly ever contact medical personnel, or other public officials, such as the police.

The way forward: Mainstreaming

The political initiatives aiming to fight domestic violence all have one thing in common: They ask for more statistics to be able to formulate an evidence based policy. To meet this request, it is necessary to include domestic violence as an issue in all pars of the statistical production process.

Gender mainstreaming is the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making .

The task of National Statistical Institutes in this context is to provide a sound basis for formulating a policy. An important aim is to include domestic violence in core statistical publications.

Various international organizations, governments and NGOs emphasize different aspects of mainstreaming. Even so, there is a general agreement on moving away from a narrow focus on women only (or mainly on women) to the broader concepts of gender equality and gender perspective . There has been a shift from addressing issues related to women ”in isolation” to more comprehensive view of men and women and their inter-relationships. This implies that we must avoid isolating women’s concerns from mainstream development policies and strategies. In short we must shift of focus from ”Women” to ”Gender ”. The term Gender implies a social relationship between women and men, shaped differently in cultures over time. An important aspect of using this term is that it implies that the relationship is possible to change.

Mainstream development policies affect women and men in different ways and plans must be designed accordingly. Gender equality does not aim to eradicate all differences between women and men, but to address the issues that creates gender differences in power in the domestic sphere, in the economy, the society and the policy-making processes.

Mainstreaming gender statistics has two man dimensions. First it means disaggregating statistics by sex, to visualize how different characteristics – or variables – have a different distribution for women and men. Secondly, it refers to raising gender related issues. As domestic violence mostly is targeted against women, it is an important issue in this respect. Violence against women is often privately concealed inside the home. Violence against men more often happened in public places, and is more often part of official statistics. Gender-based violence usually considered as shameful, a private affair, and not a subject for public debate or policy.

The relevance of domestic violence for other core gender issues
Fear of violence shifts power in the domestic decision making process. Violence or the threat of violence undermine the victims influence, in particular on households decisions. Equal influence is not possible under such circumstances, at least not regarding issues the offender defines as under his control. This also affects the distribution of goods – e.g. food – within the household.

Restrictions on some womens’ movement obstructs out-of-home employment. This often lead them into a weaker economic position, and reproduces a system where men do paid work and women do unpaid work.

There is often a marginal male participation in housework and childcare. Violence excreted if domestic tasks are not fully performed.

Formal and informal laws generally give men the upper hand. Even severe gender-based violence is often not punishable by law. Gender-based violence has severe physical and psychological consequences for women, in particular on their reproductive health.

Addressing these issues is necessary to give governments a tool to understand domestic violence and to formulate a policy to combat it.
The user-producer-policy chain
To mainstream data on domestic violence it is necessary to see the topic as part of the user-producer-policy chain. We will address some core issues relating to the chain.

The users

Awareness of gender-based violence as a problem and political will to challenge the phenomenon exists. At least it is expresses in numerous declarations, protocols and strategy papers. Further, a close cooperation between the users and producers of statistics is important to produce and improve statistics in general, including statistics on domestic violence. Being seen as a private and sencitive issue, establishing statistics on domestic violence is a challenge. It seems to be a long way form international initiatives, national strategies and NGOs to actual data collection. As an example a user-producer workshop on gender statistics in 2005, hosted by the national statistical institute of Mozambique, Instituto Nacional de Estatística, identified domestic violence as a key area of concern. Still there is no action taken to produce national statistics on domestic violence in Mozambique.

We must also bear in mind that the users of statistics are numerous and different users may have
different needs and they also differ in their capability to make use of the various statistics. Many
users do not even know what they want, and need guidance from a statistical agency to formulate their needs for information .

A dialog between national users and producers of statistics is important to establish national ownership and to be able to address national problems. Issues like wife battering and maternal rape are international problems that also should be possible to measure in an international comparable manner. This calls for cooperation between users and producers of statistics on all levels.

The user-producer-policy chain

Data gathering and data quality
The focus on a legal prohibition of domestic violence may cause problems for statistical data gathering, if effective. If reporting violence in a survey may lead to fear of criminal conviction of the respondents spouse, this may lead to underreporting of the problem. This is one of many challenges in gathering data on the topic, which will have to be addressed.
However, wife-beating is a cultural phenomenon penetrating large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi nearly 30 percent of all women agreed to at least one of the following five reasons that would justify that a husband beats his wife: if she burns the food, if she argues with him, if she goes out without telling him, if she neglects the children, and if she refuses to have sex with him . When a phenomenon is culturally accepted, it is more easily reported on.

Experiences from Norway show that it is difficult to report that you are violent in a face-to face interview. This is probably because the respondent does not want the interviewer to feel threatened. Reporting on other sensitive issues, as being the victim of violence, does not seem to be equally affected be the interview situation . The social environment we are part of always will affect the way we relate to reality and how we describe it to others . What is considered to be acceptable to report may of course differ between cultures.

Strategies against domestic violence usually define the violence as a criminal offence. It is a goal to increase the number of cases being reported to the police. A successful strategy will increase the number of reported cases, without a corresponding increase in the actual number of incidents. Hence, the only feasible way of finding the magnitude of the problem is trough surveys.

Special Considerations in data collection about domestic violence
Collection of data on domestic violence poses particular challenges, and it is essential that enumerators are thoroughly trained in how to do the practical approach, and that they are aware of the ethical aspects of the enterprise.

First, it is a well-known problem that addressing very sensitive and personal issues may trigger adverse reactions, such as post-traumatic stress, among some respondents. The risk is increased if the respondent is encouraged to report about matters that she has always kept private, and the visit is concluded without letting the respondent finish her story. Second, the interview situation may in itself lead to further violence, in case the perpetrator is provoked by the visit and the topic of the interview. In both cases, the risk for negative consequences for the respondent is substantially reduced if the she is provided with a proper understanding of the subjects that are going to be discussed prior to the interview, and hence may consider the possibility to refuse to be interviewed, or at least is given time to mentally prepare for such questions.
\ The survey documentation of the 2004 Malawi DHS describes the particular efforts that were taken to collect reliable information, and to prevent negative consequences for the respondents . First, all questions about domestic violence was gathered in a separate domestic violence module, as part of the Women’s Questionnaire. Second, “informed consent” was at the obtained at the onset of the individual interview, serving to prepare the respondent for the topic and the questions to be asked. In order to cope with the risk of the interview itself causing further violence, the domestic violence module was only to be asked if privacy during the interview was assured. In addition to training in practicing the module, the field staff involved also received a special presentation of gender-based violence prior to their assignment, to make them aware, and motivate them for the special considerations implied by the subject.

Comprehensive information presented

The Malawi DHS survey report presents a broad range of information about issues related to domestic violence. In addition the very comprehensive questionnaire allows users of the micro dataset to conduct further analysis, making it possible to link domestic violence to other topics of interest. In short, the DHS report presents the prevalence of domestic violence, its frequency and forms, and when the spell of violence started. Moreover, valuable information about both the victims’ and the perpetrators’ characteristics is presented, as well as their inter-relationship, such as i.e. marital status and age difference. Assuming that domestic violence is an important mean of exerting marital control by many husbands, the degree of control of spouses in various settings is documented. The report also presents information about violence against women in particularly vulnerable situations, such as during pregnancy. Finally, help seeking patterns among the female victims – in which the main picture is a the lack of help seeking – is also documented. It may come as a surprise that there is little systematic relationship between the prevalence of domestic violence, and both the victims’ and the perpetrators’ education and economic status. Although somewhat less frequent among the those with highest socio-economic status, domestic violence seems to be present in all layers of the society, albeit 3 out of 4 adult women has never been beaten. One interpretation is that domestic violence is more associated with attitudes and individual factors, rather than socio-economic factors. A possible implication is that advocacy through awareness campaigns about the negative consequences may be an important remedy. Heavy users of alcohol have a substantially higher risk of exerting violence, (although it may, of course, be the same psychological factors that cause both violence and heavy drinking.)


In the last decade there has been an increasing demand for statistics on the various aspects of
development. Monitoring social, demographic and economic trends is important in order to evaluate
the goals and policies expressed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Poverty Reduction
Strategy Papers (PRSPs), The Beijing Declaration and other policy documents. In order to meet this growing demand, there has been a substantial increase in the number of surveys and studies in different areas. The dissemination of statistics from these surveys has so far not increased to the same degree. There are many reasons for this: In the preceding period there has necessarily been a strong focus on data collection and processing – with emphasis on survey methods and field work. And unlike the various aspects of statistical methods (demography, sampling, questionnaire design, estimation, etc.), dissemination is not a subject taught at universities, from which most statisticians graduate. The various aspects of dissemination are most often learnt by experience (“learning by doing”). Since dissemination is also often decentralized and frequently done by the same people who collect and prepare the data, this experience is still lacking in many countries.

In addition to a general lack of resources and experience, statisticians are by nature very cautious, and
they often seem to be suffering from what could be termed “fear of dissemination”. This anxiety –
which until recently has also been present to a considerable degree in most statistical institutes – has
several sources: By publishing the results, the statisticians make themselves open to criticism or
disapproval, from politicians, bureaucrats and colleagues, as well as from journalists and the media.
Also, in many countries, there is a long tradition for a more limited dissemination, mostly to
governmental organizations. This is why statistics in many countries is “under-communicated” in the
sense that its dissemination is too restricted, and often not very user-friendly.

The overall focus or goal of a dissemination policy should be user-friendliness, meaning that
statistics should be easy to find, easy to use and easy to understand. Contact with users, like policy makers and NGOs, in order to get information about their needs is both useful and necessary .

The DHS results on the situation of women is summarized in the publication Women’s Lives and Experiences: Changes in the Past Ten Years” by USAID. It analyzes how the situation for women have developed, and find that the development is going slow, and in some places going in the wrong direction.

The publication is based on the results of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for 54 countries. Only 12 of these have included a module on domestic violence. The description of the topic fills one page, giving some text one table. The magnitude of the problem is unfortunately not reflected in the coverage of the topic. Little data to build conclusions on has not made it possible to write about the development of the magnitude of the problem of domestic violence. The report Profiling Domestic Violence - A Multi-Country Study from 2004, gives a more comprehensive picture on domestic violence, unfortunately only including nine countries.

Remaining Challenges

Implementation and ownership
The module on domestic violence in the DHS, is like the other parts of the DHS designed in the US. It is not left much space for national adaptation of the questionnaire, to address issues particularly relevant in a given country. This causes two problems. First the survey will not necessarily capture all cultural habits or phenomenon. Secondly, the survey may not be seen as a national product that should be seen as part of the base of the evidence based policy making process. The DHS is sometimes referred to as a survey implemented to pay the bills, and that that it’s main objective is for the Americans to count the number of people infected with the HIV-virus.

Policies are influenced by emotions, pressure groups and what politicians think will best serve a given purpose. We want to supply hard evidence, making it easier for them to act in a rational manner. Supplying relevant information and presenting it to the users in an understandable manner is a challenge. Many users are also not sufficiently trained basing decisions on evidence.


Statistics on domestic violence often have a too narrow focus on ”women”, rather than applying a broader focus on ”gender”. This is also an issue in relation to the DHS module on domestic violence, as it only records the female perspective. Further, evidence on domestic violence is often presented in separate, often good publications, but with limited dissemination.

Gender mainstreaming – the way forward

Domestic violence affects many fields of society and is important for development in general. Thus it must be addressed at all relevant policy levels, and National Statistical Institutes must take the responsibility for providing a sound platform for evidence based decisions. Including domestic violence in core statistical publications will contribute to the integration of the topic in the statistical system, and avoid it being marginalized. Traditional attitudes may be a challenge for this integration process, and advocacy will be needed to fulfil it. But the challenge is also gives Statistical Agencies an opportunity to demonstrate ability to respond quickly to changing user needs.


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