The Abuse of Women—A Worldwide Issue - European Traditions, American Traditions, Abuse In Other Cultures
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"Violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
—United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993
Domestic violence has existed in almost all societies throughout history. Its origin can be traced back centuries to the development of patriarchal and hierarchical systems of authority in which males controlled all property. In such systems, women and children were often considered to be the property of men. The growth of male-oriented societies promoted the widely accepted belief in male superiority that in turn formed the basis for women's subordination (Vivian C. Fox, "Historical Perspectives on Violence against Women," Journal of International Women's Studies, vol. 4, November 2002). This belief in men's domination over women, which was often supported by economic, social, cultural, and religious institutions, made it acceptable for men to use violence as a way to control women. As the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated,
Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women. … [V]iolence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.
In fact, until the end of the nineteenth century, the law supported a man's right to control his wife by force, and it was not until the advent of the women's liberation movement during the late 1960s and 1970s that domestic violence gained recognition as a social issue. Today, there are social service and justice system resources, including shelters and counseling, available to victims of abuse. In the United States, victims also have legal options. Yet despite this relatively recent progress in the United States, the use of violence in family and intimate partner relationships is still regarded as a man's right in many parts of the world.
An international examination of male violence against women reveals that it is a universal constant—it appears in practically every culture throughout the world and is tolerated by many governments. Many groups, including the United Nations (UN), believe that collaborative international efforts are needed to address this farreaching health and social problem.