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Violence Against Women: definitions and forms – part 1

Violence Against Women - Part 1
Hello. In this presentation we’re going to look in some depth at what is violence against women. And in particular, we’re going to look at some of the different forms of violence against women, how it’s defined, and we’re going to explore some frameworks for understanding violence against women. It’s quite a complex issue. It has a number of different forms, but it requires a wee bit of thought, and a wee bit of frame-working, to allow us to think about it clearly.
When the member nations of the United Nations made a commitment, in 1994, to eliminating violence against women, they created a statement in their declaration, which contains an awful lot of the pathways, if you like, and some of the key concepts, which we’ll be exploring in this course. And it set the tone, based on a number of years of research and understanding, to help us. So, we’ll start with that. And what they did was, they showed us that it was not purely physical violence, that it included psychological, emotional, and sexual violence, that it could also include threats of those, and also that it was a fundamental violation of a number of women’s human rights.
And the links with gender were very clearly made. There are a number of different forms of violence against women. Some of them are legal definitions, and they’re based in the law and criminal law. Others are understandings that have come up, and I’ll be talking about that in a moment or two. And these are based on women’s experiences. Some of these forms of violence against women have been derived. And the definitions and their understandings have changed over time. If you take domestic abuse, for instance, at one time it was called wife battering. But now we recognise that it’s not only wives that are battered, and it’s not only about battering.
It encompasses different forms of violence and abuse, like the United Nations Declaration stated. Rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, the shedding of indecent images, that is something that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but is now considered a form of violence against women. Commercial sexual exploitation, that includes a number of different forms, again, which didn’t exist a long time ago either. So our understanding of violence against women is changing over time. How we define it is changing over time. And how we address it and how we eliminate it, is also changing. Violence against women, as I said, the United Nations linked this very clearly to gender inequality. And many nations around the world have since reaffirmed this.
And this is an example of the Scottish government’s statement, which links gender based violence and violence against women, because they are women, very clearly to gender inequality. And it’s understood as gender based, because it happens disproportionately to women, and those who perpetrate these forms disproportionately tend to be male. However, it must be understood– and this is where the complexity arises– because gender is no longer considered a clear binary, there are forms of this violence which can still be considered to be gender based, which affect men and boys, which is perpetrated by women, and which also occurs in same sex relationships. So these are still considered to be forms of gender violence.
And violence against women is the catch-all, which affects, particularly, women. It’s important when looking at violence against women– one of the key writers, two writers, the Dobashes, they produced some work in the 1970s. They recommended, and people continue to recommend that we take away the perspective. This is not just about individual acts of violence perpetrated by one person against another. It has to be contextualised more widely. It has to be contextualised in history, in society, and the way society operates, and its institutions, and its cultural beliefs and practises. The position of men and women, and the way we relate to each other is also socially constructed.
And it goes back to historical reasons why men and women had different positions in society. And women tended to be subordinate. So they have stated that it’s historically structured, and it’s also socially constructed. And they always recommend that you take a context specific approach, if you’re looking at these issues. If we think– bringing things up to date– just in the same period that the Dobashes were writing, the 1970s saw a resurgence in women’s activism, often called the Women’s liberation movement, which became a founding drive into creating what we would now call modern feminism. Now, feminism had existed in the 19th century, and it had different– well actually they had the same priorities.
It was to create more equality for women, to tackle violence against women, and to bring women the vote. But by the 1970s, what is often known as, second wave feminism started to create a lot of activity, all around the world, in Europe, and North America, and other countries. In the UK, the women’s liberation movement in 1978– the 7th demand on their list of six demands– and it’s interesting that violence against women was the last one to be added. And they added a demand that they wanted women to be free from all forms of male violence. So feminism is very important to our understanding of violence against women. So it’s important to see what it is.
And as I said at the beginning, definitions are very important in this work. Feminism has been described– this has been described by Nancy Hirschmann. But she uses Bell Hooks, who’s a very, very well-known African-American writer on these matters. And she describes feminism as a political and philosophical devotion to ending oppression based on gender. And that could be people of both genders and neither, or in between. And it’s also a political value system that has at its heart, the empowerment of women to direct their own lives. So you can see the twin prongs, there, about looking at gender, but looking at gender in context, and trying to change the way things are working.
So what has been the influence of feminist analysis? It’s based very much on the lived experience of women and children. And a lot of the early activities of the feminists was to bring out women’s stories, and to create spaces where women could actually talk about their experiences. And the commonalities of those experiences was something that began to form feminist research, and to create theories and better understanding of violence against women. They also helped us to define it. But also, in order to then look more at what it was. And these descriptions of physical, psychological, sexual, emotional violence, have been derived from that work where women said, well, it isn’t just the physical, it’s also emotional, it’s also sexual.
And it brought them all together. And also, they helped inform the early research that looked at just how widespread it was. They gender of the power relations of violence against women. And they developed gendered analysis. And that has continued to this day. And we look at– we can’t just simply look at violence between two people, but we need to look at the gendered social context. So interventions, everything that flows from that, how we deal with it, how we think about it, how we address it, and prevent it, these have all been derived from feminist analysis. And the gendering of the language is something that they were very particular to, actually, highlight.

In the next two steps, Anni will explore the definition of violence against women, the different forms it can take and introduce some ways of thinking about the issue.

The work of Rebecca and Russell Dobash is also discussed and you will hear more about their VAW research later this week.

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Understanding Violence Against Women: Myths and Realities

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