Political violence against women at the highest level since 2018

Two Yemeni women inspect the site of an alleged Saudi-led airstrike hit a neighborhood two days earlier, damaging nearby schools, in Sana'a, Yemen, 09 April 2019. [EPA-EFE/YAHYA ARHAB]

The threat of political violence towards women has grown over the past 19 months and is currently at its highest level recorded since 2018, a new report by the NGO Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) has found.

ACLED analysed over 4,000 events involving violence targeting women and over 3,600 demonstrations featuring women between January 2018 and June 2019. Almost half of the events were armed attacks and one third of them were harms of sexual nature.

Women increasingly become a target of a diverse form of violence such as physical attack, abduction or are attacked by mobs, the report states.

Moreover, new trends have appeared such as intervention and excessive use of force against demonstration featuring women.

“There are twice as many events of political violence targeting women reported during the first quarter of 2019 than during the first quarter of 2018,” the report states.

The fact that sexual violence represented only one third of all events confirms that political violence targeting women extends beyond the sexual element. However, the form of violence varies in each region and context, the researchers write.

Non-sexual attacks are dominant in the Middle East, on the other hand sexual violence is prominent in Africa and Southeast Asia.

“The motives for this type of violence are to create a high-risk political space; to humiliate and oppress women; to prevent the effective political participation of women; and to generally perpetuate an environment of high instability with violent consequences,” explains the report.

Violence might have a variety of forms including war-time sexual violence, attack on female politicians or repression of women engaged in politics.

Sexual violence as a weapon of war represents a majority in sexual violence events. The most memorable case is a story of 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad.

She belongs to Yazidi ethnic in Iraq and after attack of the Islamic State (IS) on her village, Murad and other women were beaten and raped. During the captivity by the IS terrorists, she was repeatedly abused, but managed to escape. Now, she works to help women, who are victims of abuse and human trafficking.

It is very likely for women to become a target in places where the organized violence is already high, like in Somalia or Syria. Nevertheless, women can be in a risk in places which are not considered to be at crisis level, such as Burundi or Pakistan.

Among the countries with the highest number of political violence events targeting women belongs India, Democratic republic of Congo and Burundi.

When, however, the three top countries with the highest level of other type of organized violence are compared, the picture changes and Syria, Ukraine and Yemen lead the numbers.

Demonstrations where the majority is represented by women are on the rise and in the first quarter of 2019 ACLED recorded one of the highest numbers of such events. There are women’s group which take an active part in these demonstrations – as Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) or the Free Women’s Movement (TJA) in Turkey.

In 84% of cases the demonstrations had a peaceful character without demonstrators’ engagement in vandalism or violence. However, women are met with intervention and excessive force during the significant proportion of demonstrations.

As the case of a peaceful march on International Women’s Day in Istanbul, where the police blocked the street and at the end used a tear gas against the women.

The report covered only events where women were target of political violence. However, the situation in other categories and forms of violence against women is not much better.

According to World Health Organization 1 in 3 of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, very likely committed by intimate partner and almost 40% of murdered women are killed by a male intimate partner.

Hand in hand with physical violence goes an abuse against women on social media. “It includes a variety of experiences such as direct or indirect threats of physical or sexual violence, abuse targeting one or more aspects of a woman’s identity, privacy violations and the sharing of sexual or intimate images of a woman without her consent,” describes Amnesty International.

According to a survey of Amnesty International one third of women in US and 21% of women in the UK had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once.

[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski]

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