Militarism and violation of women’s rights

Date: November 25, 2010
  • SHARE:

The facts are grotesque and chilling. Violence against women, who constitute more than a half of the human population, is a pervasive and cold reality of social life in most societies. Its human and economic costs are simply staggering. If we are to redeem humanity for a better world, it is imperative that we awake our consciences and adopt robust and effective strategies to eradicate this mutating pathology that has become an integral equation in the calculus of domination.

In Britain, around one in ten women experience rape or other violence each year. In the USA, about 17% of women have survived a completed or attempted rape. In South Africa, stories about violence against women have become such a staple of the media that they oftentimes simply numb moral sensibilities. A study by UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) found that women in South Africa who had experienced violence at the hands of their partners were 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who had not.

In a groundbreaking and extensive research, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that gender-based violence, or violence against women (VAW), is a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world. The WHO World Report on Violence and Health notes that “one of the most common forms of VAW is that performed by a husband or male partner.” The researchers found that cultural norms are a key contributing factor to the proliferation of violence against women.

And a recently released report by the UN Population Fund titled State of World Population, 2010, paints a grim picture of a global phenomenon of prejudice against women. It states that, “In all societies, to a greater or lesser degree, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture.”

What seems puzzling is that violence against women has continued despite the formal adoption of many national laws and international declarations and legal instruments in support of equality of treatment and empowerment of women. How are we to understand the tragic paradox and address it?

It is not sufficient to simply condemn and issue formal declarations for women’s empowerment. The problem of effectively dealing with violence against women is essentially twofold.

In the first place, it requires that we properly diagnose the source of this festering pathology. At the root of the problem are values and means in society. Put plainly, violence against women more often than not mirrors the culture of war and domination in our world. It is a manifestation of the hegemonic values and the means people use in society to resolve differences or disputes. In a real sense, violence against women is a reflection of the poverty of ethical values, rational consideration and insecurity of men in society.

In daily discourse, it is found in the militaristic idioms used to express strength; in the metaphors employed to convey masculine virtue; in the way war heroes are placed on a pedestal, more or less as role models; and in glorification of war-related occasions, symbols and institutions. It can be detected in governmental priorities and resource allocation. And paradoxically, it finds sanction in some religious dogmas.

The degree to which a culture of war or militarism is more or less accepted in society can be gauged from, for example, national budgets. A critical examination of virtually all national expenditures shows a pattern of allocation of resources to the military and armament that dwarfs investments in productive sectors of society such as education, health care, agriculture, infrastructure, etc. In countries where millions of people go without adequate food, health care and education, the culture of war can be seen in the obscene purchase of armaments and their circulation in society. Even in those countries where the empowerment of women is taken seriously, it is interesting that resources given to the departments in charge of women empowerment is miniscule when compared to the resources devoted to organs handling the military or so-called security services, for example.

When the modus operandi of militarism is adapted to interpersonal relations and grafted onto habit of instant gratification, it forms a lethal cocktail. This is often manifested in a behaviour that insists on one’s way without much consideration to other people’s legitimate interests. Hence, when one is not granted what one would like, the tendency is to employ force to acquire what one would otherwise not be rightly entitled to, just as countries use military might to obtain what they would not gain through reasoned dialogue.

The simple and profound point is that violence against women is not in the DNA of men. Rather, it is a socially constructed component of power relations, which is bereft of ethical grounding or moral compass. It is a learnt habit through socialisation. This might be illustrated by analogy. Various studies have demonstrated that children who are raised in an environment where violence is used as a common means of settling differences over time internalise the mode of social interaction and regard it as normal. Once they regard violence as normal, they are likely themselves to be violent abusers in interpersonal relations. This is no less true of men in particular and people in general who are brought up in a culture of war.

It is therefore the triumph of the culture of war and politics of violence, which render the doctrine of rights and the ideals of human equality more or less meaningless for the great majority of people, especially for women.

And secondly, having identified the societal nature and source of violence against women, we should embark upon concerted and multifaceted education to raise consciousness, emancipate minds about the problem and transform the calculus of human relations. The task would require that in place of the culture of war, we should resolve to build institutions and a culture of peace based on ethical values of informed empathy, understanding, solidarity, tolerance, compassion, cooperation, reasoned discourse, dialogue and the rule of law.

Only an ecumenical movement informed by ethical values of moral and intellectual solidarity will alter the tide of history and violence against women and inaugurate a new dawn in which we treat one another in a spirit of ubuntu.

Amii Omara-Otunnu is a professor and the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights at the University of Connecticut in the United States. This article is part of a special series on the 16 Days of Activism for the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that offers fresh views on everyday news. For the research quoted in this article and more information on the 16 Days Campaign go to


0 thoughts on “Militarism and violation of women’s rights”

Lerato says:

The story foretells things in reality and do think the world needs mre peer educators to help the people fight the violence in women and know womens rights because most of these abuses and violations are due to negligence and the absence or lack of the relevant educational knowledge to tell them and lead them to the right path… Ubuntuism is not being followed or done correctly.

Comment on Militarism and violation of women’s rights

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *