Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

The Global Impact of Domestic Violence

The massive demonstrations last December in Tel Aviv and in other cities protesting the rising tide of violence against women in Israel was a necessary, albeit not sufficient, call to arms to end one of the most pervasive epidemics of modern times. A positive aspect of these demonstrations has been the solidarity between Arab and Israeli women in the country. 

Economic cost

Violence against women has a high economic cost for society. It includes not only the direct medical costs of those injured but also days of paid work lost, loss of productivity and those resulting from long-lasting physical and psychological effects of violence. In the United States, for example, victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work –this is equivalent to more than 32,000 full-time jobs- and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.

Extent of this phenomenon

The extent of this problem is equally serious in most countries around the world. In Israel, there are over 200,000 battered women annually, and half a million children are exposed to domestic violence. Half of the women killed in Israel are Arab, according to Israeli media.

In her book The War on Women in Israel, Elana Sztokman, who has written extensively on Jewish issues, condemns what she sees as the rising gender discrimination and attacks on women in Israel and the growing anti women ideologies of radical groups in the country.

In the US, according to recent research carried out by James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University and PhD student Emma Friedel, after almost four decades of decline, homicide among romantic partners is now on the rise in the United States. While in 2014 1,875 people were killed by an intimate partner, there were 2,237 such deaths in 2017, of which the majority of the victims were female.

Their research found that four women a day are killed by domestic violence in the United States. They also found that since 2010, gun-related murders by intimate partners have increased by 26 percent, particularly since 2014. However, murders involving other weapons such as knives, have continued to decline.

In Russia, for example, more than 14,000 women are killed every year in acts of domestic violence. And in China, intimate partner violence by the man is the most common type of domestic violence. According to a 2005 report published in the American Journal of Public Health, one in five women had experienced physical violence by a partner in the past year.

Domestic violence is also rife in most African countries. According to a United Nations report, domestic violence in Zimbabwe accounts for more than six in ten murder cases in court. In Kenya and Uganda, 42% and 41% respectively of women surveyed reported having been beaten by their husbands.

Domestic violence is widespread in Arab countries as well. Studies carried out in the Arab world show that 70 percent of violence occurs in big cities, and that in almost 80 percent of cases those responsible are the heads of families, such as fathers or elder brothers. Both fathers and elder brothers, in most cases, assert their right to punish their wives, children and other members of the family in any way they see appropriate.

Physical and mental effects

Female victims of violence suffer a wide variety of health problems such as organ and bone damage, miscarriage, exacerbation of chronic illness, gynecological problems and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Often, they also suffer long-lasting psychological problems including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep and eating disorders, emotional distress and suicide. Often, abusers prohibit their victims, mostly women, from pursuing career opportunities and other education and personal empowerment activities.

Effect on children and the family

Worldwide, the percentage of women who are battered during their pregnancy is 25% to 45%. Domestic violence by a partner has been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity.

Because children often are in the middle of such disputes, they are also affected by domestic violence. A government survey found that 27 percent of those surveyed said that their children had also been victims of violence, particularly of a psychological nature. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) there is a 45 to 60 percent chance of co-occurring child abuse in homes where violence between partners occurs.

Children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence are prone to a wide range of behavioral and emotional disturbances. One of three abused children becomes an adult abuser or victim. Often, the psychological scars on children who have seen their mothers beaten lasts for several years. Among those effects are excessive worry or sadness, guilt, frequent lying, shame, and fear of harm or abandonment.

Moving forward

Because of the extent of this phenomenon, a global momentum for more effective action is building. However, at the global level, the response is still inadequate. In the U.S., for example, there are more animal shelters than shelters for battered women. This shows the need for a more efficient and collaborative response between governments and civil society.

Ending global violence against women requires reforming civil and criminal legal frameworks; passing and systematically enforcing appropriate legislation for the protection of women; using a gender perspective addressing actions also to perpetrators of violence; integrating attention to women victims of domestic violence into sexual and reproductive health services; changing social norms and mobilizing communities using mass media strategies. It also demands that we assess the real magnitude of the problem and educate our societies on the value and rights of women and girls. Actively promoting gender equality may be the best prevention against future violence.

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.