Tuesday, February 05, 2013

When home is the most dangerous place for women

Honduras, like most of Latin America, has a problem with domestic violence.
I’ve been working through a research report, trying to do a Spanish summary of document only in available in English.
The report, Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, is both grim and fascinating.
Grim because women are getting battered. The study compiled the results of massive surveys from 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 
In Honduras, 9.9 per cent of women between 15 and 49 reported experiencing partner violence in the previous 12 months. That puts Honduras in the middle of the pack for the region. (The survey covered those who were or had been in a relationship.)
That’s five times the rate in Canada, where people rightly see domestic violence as a serious problem.
The Pan American Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the survey responses, which covered not just prevalence, but risk factors and attitudes.
There were some important findings.
For example, Honduran woman whose first marriage or common-law relationship was formed when they were under 15 were more than twice as likely to experience partner violence as women who waited until they were 25. Even delaying a few years significantly reduced the rate of violence.
Likewise, Honduran woman who had their first child between 15 and 17 were 75 per cent more likely to experience partner violence than women whose first birth came after they were 21.
Convincing teens to wait - not easy - could make a large difference.
So could dealing with alcohol abuse. The research looked at triggers, and found 30 per cent to 50 per cent of women cited the man’s drunkenness or drug use as the “cause” of the violence. (Mostly drunkenness.)
Then there are the cultural issues. In Canada, the number of women who would say partner violence was sometimes justified simply wouldn’t register in a survey.
In Honduras, 15.6 per cent of Honduran women between 15 and 49 who had been in a relationship agreed wife-beating is sometimes justified. That rose to 20 per cent in rural Honduras, home to about half of the population.
Legitimate reasons, according to those women, included neglecting children or housework (12.1 per cent), going out without telling partner (6.2 per cent), arguing or disagreeing with partner (6.1 per cent), burning the food (5.6 per cent) and refusing sex (3.2 per cent).
The responses raise an underlying issue. The surveys didn’t ask men about violence, triggers or attitudes. If one in five rural women think wife-beating can be justified, what would men say?
It was also striking how few women sought any kind of help. In Honduras, almost two-thirds of women kept the violence a secret. Only 34 per cent told anyone they had been assaulted by their partners - even a family member or friend.
And only 19 per cent - fewer than one in five - sought institutional help. They didn’t go to police, or social services, or a doctor or women’s group. (About 11 per cent of Honduran women experiencing partner violence sought help from police or a protection agency; nine per cent from a church or religious institution; 4.5 per cent from a hospital or health centre; 0.1 per cent from a women’s organization or NGO.)
Why not? In Honduras, 36 per cent of those not seeking help considered it unnecessary - the violence not serious, or normal. About 27 per cent were afraid of retaliation or more violence; 17 per cent were ashamed; seven per cent didn’t know where to go; six per cent didn’t believe that anyone would help.
There are some obvious lessons. Give women somewhere to go to get help. Create women’s networks and shelters that provide support, especially in navigating the system. Work to shift the shame from them to the abusers. Fight a culture that normalizes and justifies wife-beating. Make partner violence a health issue.
And make men and boys take ownership of the issue.
This should be urgent. Not just because so many lives are being damaged. Or even because the costs are so enormous, as the report sets out.
But because of the future being created. The study found “the single consistent and significant risk factor across all surveys” was a history of ‘father beat mother.’ Women who grew up in violent homes were twice as likely to endure partner violence in their own lives. 
Inaction today means children are learning to be the next generation bringing fear, violence and sorrow to too many homes.