Crimes against the female A woman’s view
By Gayle Gonsalves
Guyana Chronicle
February 24, 2002

FOR many centuries, the traditional concept of a woman is that she was docile, weak, incapable of thought. At the end of the nineteenth century around the globe, women had little or no rights; they were considered to be chattels. Our future was determined by the male figure in our lives, that is, either the husband or father. Our life’s purpose was defined through marriage and children.

The social revolutions within the Western world during the last century changed the woman’s way of thinking, impacted her life and had a domino effect on an international scale. There are parts of the world where women lead independent lives, making their own money, deciding their future - something that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers never dreamt about.

As much as there has been great strides within some societies, there are still many countries in which a woman’s voice is hushed and the chains around her are strong. She is still perceived as a piece of property. This chain silences their voices and does not allow for justice to be obtained in female-related crimes. Around the world, it has become accepted that there is bias and prejudice that breeds hate that can germinate into hideous crimes that can culminate into genocide. In the twentieth century, there have been major campaigns to exterminate portions of the civilian populations on all continents of the world, with the exception of the North America.

History tells us that minorities or social revolutionaries have recognised that their voices can be readily hushed. We do not have to dig deep in history for crimes associated with the elimination of minorities or opposing voices. Presently in the news, we hear that in North America, homosexuals experience, ‘gay bashing’; in many countries around the globe we hear the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ and are aware of the prejudice and biases that feed those crimes.

As a woman, there are crimes that are distinct to us as a sex and something that we must address. Many of these crimes have been in existence for centuries and our education has helped us to isolate them and address the problems that attack our feminine existence. It is obvious that despite our growing powers, in many regions of the world, segments of the population do not want us to voice our opinions. This has led to a trend of gender related crimes.

In some traditional societies, there is a concept called ‘honour killing’ - meaning if a woman has caused an act that will dishonour the family name, she is killed to restore family honour. Acts such as adultery, fornication, suspicion of adultery, running away from an abusive spouse, rebuking family choice of spouse, are all acceptable forms of honour killing. This ugly act of honour killing, highly associated with the purity of the female, puts the onus only on the woman when it is a human understanding throughout the globe that the sexual act requires two people.

It is estimated that 5,000 women around the world lose their lives each year as a result of honour killings. The killers are treated with leniency because the cultural mores allow for this crime to be accepted. Honour killing has been associated with many countries with a large Muslim population and nations like Jordan, Morocco and Syria have sanctioned and accepted this practice. For example, last year in Jordan, a woman was knifed to death because she wanted to continue her education and refused to marry a man chosen by her family.

Another form of killing that is distinct to India is the killing of women if their dowry is not large enough or if there is failure on the party of the family to make the dowry payment. Seventeen women are killed each day in India as a result of dowry default.

Women because of their weaker physical strength, in every society, whether modern or in traditional mode, have had to face the reality of spousal abuse. Around the globe, the numbers are horrifying. In the United States, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. In India, 40 per cent of adult females experienced spousal abuse. In Nicaragua, 30 per cent of the female population were abused by their male partners, 38 per cent of Korean women have been battered by their spouses, and in Sweden, one in every six murders is a man killing his partner. Brazil is notorious for allowing men to walk from criminal complaints against women. Up to the 1980s, men in Brazil killed their wives and used the excuse that their Latino machismo roared when they discovered their wives had been having affairs (whether or not this statement was substantiated in court). Today, in Brazil, two per cent of criminal complaints against men lead to conviction.

Changes take a long time to be accepted, especially by a group who has a vested interest in keeping the social structure in tact. As women, we must be aware of the struggle and continue to fight so that each generation will not be victimised due to gender. Inequality and prejudice has the same repercussions in society, whether it is translated through race, religion and sex. As women, we must continue to empower ourselves through education and positive actions.

For each stride forward that is made - and there are still many to be made within Caribbean society - let us never forget that we must continue to seek equality, not only for ourselves, but for all peoples so that the scourges of crimes against gender, race and religion end.