Violence Against Women as Societal Dysfunction

Unless we change the culture, victimization of women will continue.

Posted Sep 26, 2018

Sometimes when women come forward about sexual harassment, they’re seen as a troublemaker.” —Gretchen Carlson

Although the lives of women around the world have improved noticeably in recent decades, gaps in access to rights, education, health, and jobs still remain. These are not negligible: The Commission on Social Determinants of Health of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2008) declared that social injustice is one of the causes of deaths on a grand scale.

One of the worst ways in which this injustice manifests is in the rate at which girls and women die relative to males in low-income, developing countries, where an estimated 3.9 million excess deaths occur each year, purely as a result of gender inequality. Almost two-fifths of all female fetuses worldwide are never born due to a preference for sons, one-sixth of all girls die in childhood, and over one-third of women die in their reproductive years (World Bank, 2012).

Gender-biased social injustice leads to and encourages behavioral violence. Countries in the Middle East, Central and Southern Asia, and North Africa record higher rates of gender-based violence than do Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The South Asia region, known for its poor economic status, contains 69 percent of the world’s population but suffers 96 percent of the world’s structural violence. In Bangladesh, men propagate violence on women mainly because they have witnessed violence in their families of origin, and because social systems and structures condone such violence (Cross, 2013). Studies have shown that women with little education in Egypt are far more likely to tolerate violence from their husbands, especially if they are dependent on them for sustenance.

Not all gender-based violence is necessarily behavioral violence, however; statistics of income differences in the U.S. show that in 2012 the wage rate for men was 23 percent higher than that for women, the difference being attributable to cultural biases that deny women the same opportunities as men to explore their potential. Women one year out of college and working full time earned on average $35,296 U.S. per year, while their male counterparts earned $42,918 per year (Kesley, 2013).

Another aspect of such gender disparity is reflected in the statistics on maternal deaths. In the 1980’s, half a million maternal deaths occurred annually, of which 99 percent were in poor countries. Although the number of annual maternal deaths has been declining since then, a 2010 survey report by the UN Population Fund (FPA) showed that pregnancy- and birth-related complications are still the leading causes of death among 15- to 19-year-olds in low-income countries (Mukherjee, Barry, Satti, Raymonville, Marsh, Smith-Fawzi, 2011).

Another form of injustice is contemporary slavery, which exists in the form of underpayment and the withholding of wages and salaries. An estimated 35.8 million people are victims of contemporary slavery (Walk Free Foundation, 2014), and 10 nations account for 76 percent of this number, including India, China, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Although accurate figures are difficult to calculate, this extortion of underpaid labor reaps up to 150 billion U.S. dollars annually in illegal profits (International Labour Organization, 2008). Approximately 70 percent of modern-day slaves are female, and up to 50 percent are minors (United States Department of State, 2005). Women and girls are forced to work primarily in the domestic sector or as commercial sex workers, while men and boys work primarily in agriculture, construction, and mining.

The problem is not restricted to underdeveloped countries: there are case reports in the U.S. of illegal Mexican immigrants being lured into the country with promises by wealthy American families who then deny them wages (Barner, Okech, and Camp, 2014). Similarly, many citizens from developing West African nations have become victims of human trafficking in other high-income economies. These unfortunate laborers are typically enticed to foreign destinations with promises of a better income, only to experience exploitation as commercial sex workers or as free laborers.

Given the lack of privileges of these victims, they cannot access justice for the damages they have endured. More generally, with global industrialization, the exploitation of child and female labor, urban crowding, slums, poverty, disease, prostitution, and family breakdown have grown. World conflict now occurs largely in the form of differences in interests between elites who run economic and political systems and the majority of people who do not benefit from their policies and actions. Consequently, slavery is in rapid resurgence in the context of extreme inequality, where women and girls are the biggest losers.

In the U.S., with respect to the already troubled Supreme Court justice nomination, sexual assault allegations have appeared, but they also demonstrate that the violence against women victims only begins when they start to speak up. The first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has received death threats and has been forced out of her home and away from her children. Rape and sexual assault survivors receive severe backlash, losing their job, enduring verbal and physical harassment, experiencing damage to their property, and worrying about their safety (May, 2018).

Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill suffered discrediting and harassment, as she was called “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” for testifying against the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (Nguyen, 2016). The woman who accused the basketball player Kobe Bryant of rape years ago received death threats and extensive character assassination. The accused rapist of the 14-year-old Daisy Coleman was a high school football player and grandson of a former state representative, and while he had his charges dismissed, Coleman’s home suffered two suspicious fires, and her family was harassed until they moved out of the community. Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore’s accusers suffered similar fates, with one of them having her house burned down after she spoke up (Lima, 2018).

There is a reason why only a fraction of rapes are reported, often decades later. A culture that creates the abuse of women in the first place ensures their punishment if they were to come forth. Among the very small percentage of sexual assaults that are reported, exceedingly few are brought to prosecution. Instead, the women suffer accusations much as in the president’s “tweet”: “if the attack … was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities” (Malloy, 2018). These conditions make understandable the cataclysm of the “#MeToo” movement starting in October 2017, which we can interpret as an impulse for healing a societal ailment.


Barner, J., Okech, D., and Camp, M. (2014). Socio-economic inequality, human trafficking, and the global slave trade. Societies, 4(2), 148-160.

Cross, K. (2013). The gendered effects of structural violence, Paper presented at the APSA annual meeting, Chicago, IL. Retrievable at:

International Labour Organization (2008). ILO Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings 2008. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office. Retrievable at:

Kesley, C. (2013). Gender inequality: Empowering women. Journal of Legal Issues and Cases in Business, 3, 1-7.

Lima, C. (2018). Roy Moore accuser’s home burns down in possible arson. Politico. Retrievable at:

Malloy, A. (2018). Trump unleashes on Kavanaugh accuser. CNN.

May, A. (2018). Death threats. Reputation. Safety. Sexual assault survivors risk their lives to stand up to powerful men. USA Today. Retrievable at:

Mukherjee, J., Barry, D., Satti, H., Raymonville, M., Marsh, S., and Smith-Fawzi, M. (2011). Structural violence: A barrier to achieving the millennium development goals for women. Journal of Women’s Health, 20(4), 593.

Nguyen, T. (2016). Anita Hill really was forced to put up with these incredibly sexist comments. Vanity Fair. Retrievable at:

United States Department of State (2005). Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington, DC: United States Department of State.

Walk Free Foundation (2014). Global Slavery Index 2014. Broadway Nedlands, Australia: Walk Free Foundation. Retrievable at:

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World Health Organization (2008). Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Retrievable at: